Writing prompts can be a source of contention in the writing community. Some people browse for hours looking for inspiration while other’s look down their nose at the idea of starting their masterpiece with another author’s thoughts. If you’re in the second category, or utterly new to the idea of using prompts, I’m here to defend their worthiness. Nay, I’m here to cheer them on. Writing prompts are excellent tools for professionals and hobbyists, experienced authors and writing rookies. Here’s why:
They release what’s already in you. A great novel is in you, coursing through your veins and gnawing at your brain. You can’t stop thinking about it. Your mind has already written it. You just have to get it down on paper, but when you sit down at the computer, your fingers freeze. The story churns inside you but it’s stuck behind those first words. Then you find it. The perfect prompt. Five, ten little words. You type them out, hesitant but hopeful, and the next thing you know you’re thousands of words into the story you’ve been dying to tell. A prompt is just that: a prompt to open your own floodgates.
They’re fun. My second NaNoWriMo I decided to embark in an adventure. Instead spending a month focusing on kicking off my next project, I would create a work exclusive to that month. It’s own entity based solely on prompts. November 1st, I found a prompt that spoke to me and I wrote. I wrote until the spark of that first great ember was nothing but smoke, over 12,000 words. When the emerging story hit an impasse and my inspiration ran dry, I found a new prompt. A radically different prompt that would change the course of the tale and take my story to exciting new places. Over 30,000 words later the end of the month and close of my experiment were in sight and I found one more prompt to see me the rest of the way through. I finished November with 70,000 words and a novel that I truly enjoy. Will it be my next published masterpiece? Maybe not. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I took my writing to new places and had a great time doing it.
They’re an excellent exercise. If you were/are a writing major or have been involved with any creative writing class, you’re familiar with prompts as a writing tool. If not, it goes like this: the teacher gives you a prompt (or maybe a small collection of prompts) and you formulate a story around it. The goal is to stretch your mind and adapt your ability to embrace inspiration. For a lot of us though, after school’s out we forget the value of prompts. Maybe you’re sick of forcing a story into a collection of assigned ideas. Maybe you’re so focused on writing your own words, you don’t have room for other people’s. Maybe you’ve just fallen into a writing routine and forgotten the value of exercising. But, like keeping a healthy body, exercise is a necessity to keeping a healthy mind. Use those prompts. Even if you don’t think you have time, browse for anything that piques your interest. Force yourself to write a page, even a paragraph. Throw yourself a few curves to get to the end of the story. You’ll be a better writer for it.
You can always ditch them. Alright, so you’ve written a work of art but you’re hung up on the fact you’ve got someone else’s words stuck in there. Or the end of the story no longer fits the beginning. That’s the glory of the delete button. You can let the floodgates open, see the story to the end, then go back and delete whatever doesn’t fit. You’ll be doing it anyway. No work is ever complete on the first (or fifth) go. Just delete whatever you’re not comfortable with or not proud of during the editing process.
They were created to be used. It’s not plagiarism, it’s a prompt. The creators put it into the world to be utilized. Their sole purpose is to inspire others to travel down this absurd but awesome road of writing. Let them fulfill their destiny. Let those bare lists of words be suggestive to your imaginative and excited mind.
Do you have experience with prompts? Share your story. Have prompts you’re looking to share? Put them in the comments to help others start their journey.