The Benefits of Writing Prompts

When you think of writing prompts, you probably first think of writing school essays. The essay prompts your teacher comes up with are usually either very vague and tricky or extremely strict and inflexible. These kinds of prompts are not so conducive for creativity and inspiration and end up being super boring and difficult to address.

But creative writing prompts are actually very helpful tools for any kind of writing from poetry, personal essay to short story. You can use them to start a piece, finish it or add some spice to whatever you’re working on. Here are several common kinds of prompts:

  • Open ended: This kind of prompt poses a situation by giving you characters, setting, objects, words or plot ideas to work with. Seemingly unrelated objects can be put together for a great story by forcing you to come up with unique ways at looking at things. Be creative in how you use the elements by changing verbs to nouns or treating words literally or metaphorically.Mystery writers will find this a great exercise for learning how to create connections between clues and suspects.

Write a story with a black ribbon, a subway and a psychic girl.

  • Question: Self-explanatory, this prompt asks you a question and your story is the answer. There are so many paths to go on, so it can be overwhelming. Resist the urge to decide on the “best” course of action and just go with the first idea that pops into your head.

You are late to your next class. You’re just about to go in when you peer in through the window to see a fellow classmate pointing a gun at everyone in the room. What do you do next?

  • First lines: This prompt gives you the first line or more of a story, which you then have to continue. You can interpret the lines however you want, but what you write must make sense with what you’ve been given. Headlines in newspapers and magazines are also great first liners that you can use and you don’t have to follow what actually happens in the article.

“I wish you hadn’t said that, but it’s too late because I already threw it away.”

  • Picture: A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well that’s why photos are great story sparkers adding a lush, visual element that you can then continue to illustrate with your words. Make the story come alive with your own angle explaining what’s in the photo, how it came to be or what the subjects are thinking.

Picture taken by Sukanto Debnath

Write for as long as your mind will let you and allow yourself to think freely. You don’t have to write to a certain word count or even finish the entire idea. The point of prompts is just to get you to write, find a direction and hopefully spark other ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of before. It’s a much more fun way to brainstorm.

Try devoting a journal to doing writing prompts or open up a document on your computer and bang out a story starter whenever you have time. The more you get used to writing about different topics in different mediums, the more practice you’ll have and see ideas spring out of nowhere. The better you get at this, the better you will be at entering short story or flash fiction contests-a great way to start getting published online or in magazines.

A lot of times what happens to me is I’ll use a writing prompt for fun and end up writing some amazing piece of dialogue or figure out how to better describe a character in another story that I’m working on. The  projects might be vastly different, but somehow the problem I had been stuck on solved itself while I wasn’t thinking about. Pretty cool, huh?

You can find many websites that offer daily writing prompts and inspiration:

Happy writing!

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