writing prompts

Revisiting Prompts

Note_creative_author_260972_lI've been writing a lot recently.  (On my own projects, I mean.  It's one of the ironies of my life that I'm always able to write for clients, no matter what.)

And, as always, the more I write, the more I'm able to write.  Pour it all out on the page and more keeps coming.  Another irony of the creative life. 

One thing I find that keeps the flow going is a willing to be open to a variety of ways to stoke it. This morning, for instance, I used a prompt to get myself writing a journal entry.  I often return to prompts when I want a nudge, do you?  Prompts are easy to sneer at, as if we are above them, and I'm not sure why this is when they are such useful little buggers.  (As a brief aside, I recently taught my grandson, almost two, to say "buggers,"  as in the kind you have in your nose. His mother loves me, yes she does.)

I've often thought that there are several different types of prompts and this morning, as I meditated, I came up with names for them.  (And, um, that meditation session ended almost as fast as it began when ideas for writing started flooding in.  I said out loud, "sorry, I have to go write" and jumped up to return to my computer.)

As always, the best way to work with prompts is to set a timer, and write your little ass off until it buzzes.  This means that you move your hand across the page.  You do not stare off into space and ponder what the next work might be. You write.  Period.

So here goes with the types of prompts:

1.  Random Prompts.  These are sentences about anything at all that are designed to be a starting point to get the pen moving across the page.  You might start out writing about the prompt and end up somewhere completely different.  These are the kinds of prompts you'll find on my Punch for Prompt page.  They are my absolute favorite.  Here are a few more for  you:

The autumn leaves were beautiful on her walk.

Last night they had friends over and she drank too much.

If only it were sunny.

He swore he heard the angels sing.

When it was all over, she cried.

2. Designated Prompts.  These prompts designate something for you to write about.  Bear in mind these can be open-ended starting points, also. Here are some examples:

Write about a time you wanted revenge.

Write about the best gift you ever got.

Pick one of the seven deadly sins and use it in a story.

Write about a man and a woman arguing over money.

Write about a time you were hungry.

3. Project Prompts.  Sometimes you're in the white heat of a WIP and you don't want to take the time to work a writing exercise or prompt.  But you're stuck.   It can be very helpful to use a prompt from your current project as a starting points.  Some ideas:

Take the last line you wrote and use it as a prompt.

Use any one of the character's names as a prompt.  Combine it with a verb to put them in action.

Open your WIP file and point to a sentence at random.  Use it as a prompt.

Take the first line of your first chapter and use it as a prompt.

Over the years, I've written a gazillion posts about prompts.  Here are some of them:

Promptitude: A Prompt of a Different Color

Character Prompts

On Writing Prompts

Promptitude: Whiney Baby

Promptitude: Wide Open Spaces

How do you use prompts, if at all?  Please comment!

Image by christgr.

An Aid To Kicking it in Your Writing

KITW_400_wideThis is a book review for which I did not receive compensation, but did receive a free copy of the book.

"I would go as far as and I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations.  And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple.  When you hit a wall, just kick it in."  Patti Smith

Such is the advice that playwright Sam Shepard gave to singer, writer and all-around awesome person Patti Smith and it is this same advice that inspired Barbara Abercrombie's book of writing exercises and prompts.

The book is called Kicking in the Wall: A Year of Writing Exercises, Prompts, and Quotes to Help You Break Through Your Blocks and Reach Your Writing Goals.  At the top of each page, you'll find an inspirational quote on writing and then two or three writing prompts.  Abercrombie encourages writers to spend five minutes on each prompt.  At the end of the book, she includes examples of exercises completed by her students–which gives inspiration to see how far-ranging you can go in just five minutes.

Here's a sample of some of her prompts:

–Write what you know of your parents' courtsthip.  Is there one common story, or are their two versions?  Or more? Or no stories?

–Write about an apology that failed.

–Write what you are.  Start with "I am…"

–Write about a transformation you once had.  Or need to have now.

–Write an opening of a scene with someone asking a question about a pair of shoes.

As you can see, this book is not a book that you read for information on writing, there's none of that in it.  Rather, this is a book you keep beside your computer and use when you get stuck.  So often we writers tend to stare off into space when we're blocked, when really the best thing to do is figure out a way to get writing again. 

Prompts and exercises can be very useful to get words on the page, and I recommend using them in a variety of ways, which is why I think this book can be very helpful for writers from beginner to professional.  (I have my own page of prompts, which you can access here.  Mine are of a bit different type, simple made-up sentences which encourage creative responses.)

Kicking in the Wall is due out May 13th.

Do you use writing prompts to jump-start your work?


Announcing…Punch for Prompt

If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you've probably noticed a new tab here.  It is called Punch for Prompt, and it's basically a place where you can punch a purple bar and get yourself a prompt.  And then another.  And then another.  A nearly endless supply of them, to be exact.  You can keep coming back and coming back and coming back and every time get a brand new prompt.  Cool, huh?




This all came about because I mentioned to Jessica Baverstock of Creativity's Workshop that I wanted to find a way to easily get prompts to people.  I love prompts and think they can encourage amazing writing.  However, the key to encouraging lots of amazing writing is having an endless supply of prompts.  When I discussed all this with Jessica, she brought up an idea she'd had–Punch for Prompt–and volunteered to write the code.  Of course, it took me about one second to say yes.  The new Punch for Prompt page is the result.

Now, before you do anything else, like choose a prompt, head on over to Jessica's blog because she's also featuring Punch for Prompt today and she's doing something way cool, I must say.  You'll have to find out what it is for yourself.  So go check it out.  Oh, and I must also mention her brother, Tristan Ward, a programmer of international repute, who also helped with writing the code.  Thanks, guys!

As a reminder, here's one way you can use a prompt:

1.  Punch for Prompt

2.  Choose a computer or pencil and paper

3.  Set a timer for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes

4.  Write without stopping or lifting your pen from the page

5.  Punch for Prompt again; rinse and repeat

Here are a few other posts on prompts:

7 Ways to Use Prompts With Your Current Project

Promptitude: What Makes a Good Prompt

On Writing Prompts

Happy Writing!

Please comment.  Do you use prompts?  What are your experiences with them?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Punch for prompt.  Follow the instructions above.  Remember, you can aim the prompt at your current writing project or work on something totally new and different.


Promptitude: Photo Edition

It's been awhile since I've given you a prompt in my ongoing Promptitude series, and earlier this weekend I had a brainstorm.  (That said brainstorm was on Saturday morning and i'ts now Sunday evening and I'm finally getting around to posting gives you some idea of how busy this weekend has been.)

So here's the brain flash:

use a photo for a prompt.  Ta da!

There's alot to be said for this approach.  You can take any element of the photo, or the entire thing.  Write about one person,  a relationship between two of the people in the photo, or what you think is going on in it.  Use one person from the photo and create a whole life for them.  What's their ordinary day like?  Is what's going on in the photo a usual part of their ordinary day, or is this an unusual event?  What will they do when this happening (to use a phrase from the swingin' sixties) is over?  Go eat lunch?  Drink in a bar?  Meet their lover for an assignation at a ritzy hotel?

Okay, I'm getting carried away.  Now its your turn.  Have at it.  Oh, one last thing.  With the help of Jessica Baverstock, we are cooking up something really cool around the idea of prompts for the new year.  You're going to love it!

Here's your photo.  Go write. 

(Photo form Everystockphoto.com)

When you're done with your writing session and still hungry for more, here are some of the other Promptitude posts:

Saturday Prompitude (the one that started it all)

Promptitude: LA

Promptitude: New Moon

Promptitude: Wide Open Spaces

Promptitude: What Makes a Good Prompt?

The Return of Promptitude (complete with juicy medical prompts)

There's more prompt posts, but I'm too lazy to list them I've got to go get ready for dinner at my sister's.  And wine.  It's been awhile since I've had me some wine.

Promptitude: Summer Vacation

Beach_sand_warm_247390_l Alas, I have been alarmingly somewhat remiss in my project of providing you with prompts.   But seeing as how I'll be on a plane to Orlando tomorrow (for the Suzanne Evans 10K Coaching Club business intensive) I thought I might extract some summer vacation type prompts from my fertile brain.  Even though I'll be working, not vacationing.  And on my birthday, no less.

So here you go:

They ran through the airport.

The plane was late.

The problem with the tropics is the heat.

Ah, sunshine.

Sand has an annoying habit of collecting everywhere.

Her feet hurt from walking all day.

She enjoyed the perfect qualities of a trashy beach book.

Vacations are important because.

Her favorite thing to do on an airplane was…

The car ride made him sick.

*For more inspiration, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free book when you do!  All you have to do is fill out the form to the right.


Photo by ohinsanity, from Everystockphoto.

Promptitude: Departing for Another World

A friend wrote and told me she seems to be surrounded with people who are having their own personal earthquakes and tsunamis.  I, appparently am no different.  So if you are not in the mood for a short, downer post, click away now.  I'll forgive you.

I was going to do a prompt this week around journal writing, specifically, something to do with writing your way back to yourself.

But right now I'm sitting with a dying pug.  My poor sweet Ally's health problems are overwhelming her and she's got a foot in each world right now.  I'm just happy I got to have her for a few months.  And that she is having a peaceful, loving death.

Here's the prompt of the week, snitched from the book of prompts that I'm creating:

And then we came to the end.

Send a little prayer for the safe passage of my beloved writing companion, would you please?

7 Ways to Use Writing Prompts With Your Current Project

Writing prompts…love 'em or hate 'em.


Some people swear by them, while others shudder at the thought of using a writing prompt in their work. Because, too often, using random writing prompts can lead you astray.  And let's face it, most prompts are a bit on the random side, aren't they?  Those books of prompts are great, but they have about as much as common with your novel in progress as flying to the moon does to a wedding dress.

Say you're stuck on your writing project, so you open one of your books of writing prompts, choose one and begin writing.  All well and good.  Except that you're just writing, not really writing about anything of much interest or use to you.

Now, I'm a great one for writing something, anything, on a regular basis.  And I often exhort people to do just that–particularly when they are stuck.  But writing mindlessly for any great length of time can be as frustrating as not writing.   Writing aimlessly is bad for your creative morale, because your heart and soul won't be in it.

The trick is to find a way to make your writing prompts relevant to your current project, so that they are enhancing your writing, not taking away from it.  When used in this manner, writing prompts can be wonderfully helpful in a couple of ways:

  • To generate actual writing
  • To get a flow of ideas going
  • To get yourself unstuck

And, remember, the best way to use prompts is as freely and loosely as possible.  Take your prompt, write it at the top of a sheet of paper, and set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes.  Then write.  And write and write and write, without stopping, until the timer goes off.

If you want to use writing prompts with your current project, here are some suggestions:

1. Take the last line of the previous scene or chapter and use it as a prompt.  Or take the first line.  Using a sentence from your work is a great way to drive deeper into the writing.  Because you are writing freely and loosely, your inner critic is silenced and you may be surprised what you come up with.

2. Put a location from your book into a sentence and use it as a prompt.  You can do this for the city or area your book is set in, or do it on a smaller scale, using a building such as your character's workplace or his home to write about.  This technique can help to uncover details you'll later use in description, or even ideas your character might have about her surroundings.

3. Put your character in a sentence.  Of course, this is sort of the whole point of writing a novel, but do this in a random way, having your character do either something unexpected or completely mundane and then write about it for 20 minutes.  You'll be amazed what you'll learn.

4. Use a line of dialogue from your project. 

5. Use keywords as prompts.   Quick, tell me three words that describe your writing project.  Now use those words as prompts–either one at a time or putting them into a sentence.

6. Use theme as a prompt.  Maybe you don't know what the theme of your book is–don't laugh, it takes many a draft to figure it out sometimes–or maybe you have a vague idea of it.  Make a sentence out of what your don't know or that vague idea and use it for a prompt.

7. Riff on the title.  Most works-in-progress have a title, even if its only a working title.  Use that for a prompt and see what comes up.

Those are some ways I've used prompts with my work-in-progress.  Any more suggestions?