Writing Prompts 101

By Simon Kewin

writing-prompts-101Even if you are not a professional writer you probably already heard about writing prompts. They represent a very effective tool for any writing project, so it’s a good idea to know how to use them.

What Is A Writing Prompt?

If you’re a fiction writer, you may want to consider using writing prompts to kick-start your creativity. A writing prompt is simply a topic around which you start jotting down ideas. The prompt could be a single word, a short phrase, a complete paragraph or even a picture, with the idea being to give you something to focus upon as you write. You may stick very closely to the original prompt or you may wander off at a tangent.

You may just come up with rough, disjointed notes or you may end up with something more polished and complete, a scene or even a complete story. The point is to simply start writing without being held back by any inhibitions or doubts.

Here are four good reasons for writing to prompts :

  1. Sometimes it’s hard to start writing when faced with a blank page. Focusing on an unrelated prompt for a while helps get the creative juices flowing. If you write for just ten minutes on a prompt, you should then find it easier to return to the piece you intended to write. You may also find that if you stop trying to think so hard about what you wanted to write and switch you attention to the prompt instead, the words and ideas for your original piece start to come to you after all.
  2. The things you write in response to a prompt may also end up as worthwhile material in their own right. The prompt may give you ideas from which a complete story grows or you may get fresh ideas for another piece you are already working on. It’s often surprising how much material you come up with once you start.
  3. Writing to a prompt regularly helps to get you into the habit of writing. This can act as a sort of exercise regime, helping to build up your “muscles” so that you start to find it easier and easier to write for longer and longer.
  4. Prompts can be a great way to get involved in a writing community. Sometimes writing groups offer a prompt for everyone to write about, with the intention being for everyone to come up with something they can then share. This can be a source of great encouragement, although knowing that others will read what you have written can also inhibit your creativity.

Examples of Writing Prompts

The following are twenty writing prompts that you could use to spark your imagination. If you want to use one, don’t worry about where the ideas take you or whether what you’ve written is “good”. The point is just to get into the flow of writing. You can come back later and polish if you wish to.

  1. It was the first snowfall of the year.
  2. He hadn’t seen her since the day they left High School.
  3. The city burned, fire lighting up the night sky.
  4. Silk.
  5. She studied her face in the mirror.
  6. The smell of freshly-cut grass.
  7. They came back every year to lay flowers at the spot.
  8. The streets were deserted. Where was everyone? Where had they all gone?
  9. This time her boss had gone too far.
  10. Red eyes.
  11. Stars blazed in the night sky.
  12. He woke to birdsong.
  13. ‘Shh! Hear that?’ ‘I didn’t hear anything.’
  14. He’d always hated speaking in public.
  15. She woke, shivering, in the dark of the night.
  16. The garden was overgrown now.
  17. He’d never noticed a door there before.
  18. She’d have to hitch a ride home.
  19. ‘I told him not to come back too!’
  20. His feet were already numb. He should have listened.

Where To Find Writing Prompts Online

The internet is a wonderful source of writing prompts. There are sites dedicated to providing them which a quick search will turn up. Examples include :

There are also numerous blogs that offer a regular writing prompt to inspire you and where you can, if you wish, post what you’ve written. Examples include :

There are also many other sites that can, inadvertently, provide a rich seam of material for writing prompts – for example news sites with their intriguing headlines or pictorial sites such as Flickr.com that give you access to a vast range of photographs that can prompt your writing.

If you’re on Twitter, there are users you can follow to receive a stream of prompts, for example :

Another idea is just to keep an eye on all the tweets being written by people all over the world, some of which can, inadvertently, be used as writing prompts.

How To Make Your Own Writing Prompts

You can find ideas for writing prompts of your own from all sorts of places : snatches of overheard conversation, headlines, signs, words picked from a book and so on. Get used to keeping an eye out for words and phrases that fire your imagination, jot them down and use them as writing prompts to spark your creativity. You never know where they might take you.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


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22 Responses to “Writing Prompts 101”

  • Cindy Bidar

    And whatever you do, make sure you keep a pen and piece of paper next to your bed. I never fail to think of the most compelling first line ever just as I’m drifting off to sleep.

    It doesn’t always look quite as good the next day, but at least if I write it down it stands a chance of survival. If I trust it to memory, by morning it’s long gone.

  • Rebecca

    Excellent post! I recommend the Creative Copy Challenge (CreativeCopyChallenge.com). Writers are provided with 10 words and they create a short story from them. I was participating in this and discovered my short story was turning into a fiction novel. I haven’t worked on it in some time because I was writing my non-fiction novel; I’ll revisit it in 2011.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Excellent and helpful, Kevin! I’ve often told my writer friends who are suffering a block to use prompts to get their head thinking and fingers flying.

    Three prompts I often recommend:
    1. Take any ordinary object (a soda can is the example I use) and describe it well enough that anyone can read your words and know precisely what you were describing — the trick is that you can’t use certain words, like “can” or “soda” or “Coke” etc., in your description;
    2. Go to an antique dealers shop (really, any ‘I’ve never been in a store like THIS before’ kind of place will do) and pick an object, then write about it, who owned it before, what exotic ports of call it passed through on its way to the store, what the longshoreman who schlepped the crate it arrived in did in his leisure time, etc.;
    3. Listen to some music outside your comfort zone — if you like rap and hip-hop, listen to some old school country, for instance — and write what the music makes you feel or think about.

    The music prompt is from my own experience. I have an album that (almost!) never fails to ‘get my juices flowing’ and unleash the writer in me when nothing else will do it.

    Again, Kevin, great post (although you should proofread better).

  • Simon Kewin

    Stephen,

    Thanks for the feedback. Strange how you can miss typos despite much proofreading!

    Simon.

  • Reena Jacobs

    Wonderful post. A while back I found a writing prompt on a contest which spurred me to write a flash fiction piece. I’ve also had writing prompts give me scene ideas. For those days where the words just aren’t coming, writing prompts provide excellent sparks.

  • Ken

    Helpful post, Simon. Family members provide myriad writing prompts.

  • Olivia

    Thank you so much! The first moment my eyes landed on the prompts a complete plotline of a story instantly snapped into my mind. This helped me a lot ^^

  • michael

    After reading on writing prompts i look back to finish my project of unleashing my non fictional novel.

  • zaynab

    my own writing prompt is to start writing as if i am writing a diary.
    Then, the conversation with dear diary will do the rest of the work.
    But the prompts that you mentioned kevin are also very helpful.

  • tita bondoc

    writing a daily journal can help, i guess , or just writing about a movie you enjoyed so much.

  • David Stoddard

    I have been a fan of writing prompts for years. Good golly knows I have bought enough books of the sort over the years. They can be anything that gets one’s mind working and the words flowing. It can be as simple as a random word from the dictionary or an idea from a news story or some crazy event from a “reality” TV show. The prompts are endless.

    Thank you for this post. It’s provided a new start for myself as well.

  • Grane O.

    Silk. It flowed like water, a shining, slippery green stream, tumbling down Jill’s arm like a waterfall. It would be perfect for her bridesmaids’ dresses.
    “It’s lovely,” she said to the sales clerk. “How much does it cost?”
    “Ten dollars a yard,” said the clerk.
    Jill hurriedly folded the silk and put the bolt back on the shelf. She couldn’t afford that. Four yards, and three bridesmaids, was a hundred and twenty dollars.
    She wandered through the store, trying not to look at the rows of silks. Then, between the acrylic felt and the organza, she caught a glimpse of silk again and averted her eyes. But instead, they fell on a sign.

    SATIN
    50% OFF

    Jill looked where the sign pointed, back to what she’d thought was silk. The same shining fabric as silk. The same drape, the same smoothness.
    She grabbed for the price tag. It said: six dollars a yard. At half off, that was… Jill scribbled on paper. Math was never her strong point. Thirty-six?
    “Twelve yards, please,” she said to the woman at the cutting counter.

  • KJ

    Really useful, thanks!

  • Mariana

    I think it’s much easier to write from prompts of fanfiction, because there’s already an background universe and characters that both the reader and the writer are familiar with. Also, they tend to be more specific, which can really give an idea of what to do, but still giving you freedom to choose how the prompt’s events will take place. It’s a win-win for writer, prompter and random reader.

  • Racheal

    Thank you so much for this post. These are awesome writing prompts.

  • TN K Venkatraman

    Excellent and quite informative!

  • Penny Wilkes

    Go to the above website or Penny’s Creative Writeshop on Facebook for a prompt a day.

  • Martin Haworth

    You can simply grab a dictionary or a newspaper and then a random word. And see what you can make of it!

  • Danny

    Reddit has an entire subreddit dedicated to user-submitted writing prompts: http://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts

  • Christine Carson

    In my writing group we have a short story contest once a month. We can write whatever we want and are given two or more words that we have to use in the story. I have used several of the writing prompts listed above to get an idea. I not only won on an idea from #8, but I’m now turning it into a novel. Your prompts are very simple and help get my imagination going. Thank you so much!!!!!

  • Gina H

    These are by far my favourite writing prompts. I need more like these. I like to use them for chapter openings and prefer them to the usual prompts.

  • Nicky White

    I am not sure if anyone has done this, but when I was a teenager, 20 odd years ago, I used to keep a notepad by my bedside and write my dreams as soon as I woke up so as not to forget them.

    On recalling this I thought that it would be a good idea to get back into this habit and use the dreams as inspiration for my writing even if the amount of info remembered from the dream would only serve as a writing prompt.

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