Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt


Image by Kristendawn from Pixabay Modified using PhotoShop

Writers are famous for getting “writer’s block” - that dreaded syndrome in which we are presented with a blank page and have no idea what to put on it. Or we’ve had a million ideas floating around in the creative wonderland that seems to be at its height of activity when we are walking, working, swimming or doing absolutely anything else, and when we sit down to harness those ideas, they’ve gone dormant.

And sometimes we just try too hard. Maybe this has happened to you. You sit down to write an award-winning novel or a short story that will no doubt be picked up by the New Yorker, and then immediately realize you are not worthy, and your words are just plain crap.

For all those reasons, it’s great to write from a prompt. And a prompt can be anything that sparks imagination. I used to have a writing teacher who would pick three words, and we would spend half an hour writing something that would incorporate them.

The three words might be cloud, raisin, and truck. Or silver, pants and flowers. It didn’t matter. Having three words as a prompt and a quick deadline for writing a short piece that included them got us writing. And it prevented us from being all stuck in our heads, going “Why can’t I write like Hemingway?”

A writing prompt can also be a picture. Just go to Pixabay for instance, and choose a picture like the one at the top of this post. Doesn’t it get your curiosity going? Who are those people? What are they doing? And why? In other words, a picture prompt can make you think a little like a reporter. It’s almost like the story is already there, and you just have to take it down. Just make some notes and get some questions answered. And Bam! You’ve got a story shaping up that just needs some refining.

Anything that sparks your imagination can be a writing prompt, such as a particular writing device, plot mechanism or genre. If I said, “Write about a 12 year-old boy who wakes up in a chamber on another planet, surrounded by gorgeous female aliens,” I bet you could take off writing because the hard work of coming up with the seed of an idea isn’t standing in your way. It’s like that moment in a rodeo when the bronco is released from the pen.

@raj808 is providing weekly prompts. Use them. This is your opportunity to clear away the cobwebs and start writing based on a seed of an idea. Don’t think too much. Just start writing. Once you get your ideas down, you can do an edit and improve the story. But the first step is to let your imagination fly and get some words on the page.

When a whole group of people is writing from the same prompt, one thing people worry about is that everyone will come up with the same story. But there’s not a chance. For you and I to come up with the same story, the same characters, and the same storytelling style, we would have to be the same person. Because in fact we all bring our own sensibilities, life experiences, ideas and writing skills to the task. Just grab an idea and write. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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