“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath
Flashback! Go back to your school days – Recall the essay writing classes and competitions. The first step of these activities was the “topic.” Cut back to the present day. As a writer, you must be aware of the concept of writing prompts. Simply stated, writing prompts are topics on which you focus to create various forms of literary output – blogs, stories, nano-tales, poems, essays, novellas – the list is endless.
Writing prompts occur in many forms – a single word, a phrase, a situation, a foreign word, an image, an opening sentence, a first and/or last word or phrase, three terms that must be used somewhere in the passage, words that should be used for inspiration but not actually used in the piece of writing, a popular song, a word whose antonym or synonym should be used, or a character/situation sketch. Prompts may be genre-specific, example, horror, fantasy, romance, science-fiction, and so on.
An Internet search for writing prompts brings a flood of sites and blogs containing thousands of prompts, inspiring you to write everything and anything from zombie romances to pirate tales. There are many books that offer 365 days of writing prompts, just like 365 days of devotional passages.
I started using poetry prompts in April 2016, when I indulged in Twitter poetry or poems in less than140 characters. I fell in love with the medium, the word limitation, the poems, and the prompt hosts on Twitter. In this fabulously alive community, the hosts are breathing life into the world of prompts and poetry. The hosts give beautiful words, art and thoughts to work with each day and then painstakingly tweet the poems to promote and encourage commendable work. As William Shakespeare famously said, “Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.”
When I started using prompts and related hashtags through my Twitter handle @tweetoeuvre, my Twitter following grew by leaps and bound. These followers were like-minded lovers of verse and words. It was a great outreach approach and it brought feedback and reinforcement. Without these prompts and the strong community indulging in these, my words were lost without an audience. This close-knit community of micro-poets is ensuring there is never a lonely or boring moment and an amazing collection of poems are created in the process.
Following and using prompts helps to build readership and feedback community. You can read and respond to other writers, and get innumerable viewpoints a single prompt can generate. It can give you a benchmark since other people will also be tackling the same prompt in their own styles. As numerous human minds and personalities create, varied perspectives and notions emerge. This gives you an impetus to give each prompt your best shot. It is not just writing for your self; it is an exercise that will be rewarded with feedback and applause. Words are magical; writers are magicians; reading prompt-based writing is a great way to see the myriad connotations and expressions a word can have for people.
Writer’s block is a reality. While this malady is often caused by a dearth of ideas and concepts, the absence of writing discipline also adds to the slump. Prompts provide stimulus to work on new concepts and promote a daily or frequent writing habit, which is an antidote to the malaise of the writer’s block and procrastination. When your little muse is playing hide and seek, go and search for a writing prompt!
As is true with any form of exercise, regularly writing for prompts helps to build your skill through practice, boosts your writing stamina, and enhances your penmanship and your portfolio. Goals make striving for something, easier. Writing prompts give you goals. “The discipline of writing something down is the first step towards making it happen.” Lee Lacocca
Prompts provide varying levels of challenge. Sometimes a prompt can enable a smooth flow of words but many a times it can make you reach out for the dictionary. Interesting words can encourage background research and reading related and available material. Prompts, as mental joggers, enhance vocabulary, knowledge, and keep your interest alive; all of which are essential ingredients to banish writer’s fatigue. “How do you know what you know until you have written it? Writing is knowing.” – E.L. Doctorow
If you are working on a novel or any literary piece with the intent of being published, you can use your responses to prompts to create short stories and incorporate excerpts into your work. Prompts are idea-generators to embellish a work-in-progress. Did you know, Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind in random chapters and then put them down together into a bestseller. As Neil Gaiman says, “Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you will like to read. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.”
If writing for prompts doesn’t allure you, there are some other strategies to promote your writing habit and fill up your idea kitty:
- Journaling: This is usually a personal exercise and the output is private. The writer jots down random thoughts, may be dreams, and personal experiences. Journaling essentially demands self-discipline and is as addictive and useful as writing for prompts. It can promote a writing schedule and pattern. Small chunks of material add up to a presentable piece. Journaling is promoted as a way to deal with issues and troubling thoughts. But it is a popular creative tool providing outlet and insight to many beginners. It slowly builds confidence through development of writing mechanics.
- Chasing a Word Count: NaNoWriMo or writing a 50,000 words novel in 30 days is the best example of a targeted approach towards completing your writing project. There is a similar challenge for poetry – 30 poems in 30 days. The Write Life lists them all. Challenging yourself and working within a community of writers, with a set target of time and words, can be the impetus you need to make to the finishing line. However, many creative writers find the prospects daunting and many editors find the manuscript quality discouraging. This methodology can be helpful to get your ideas on paper and solicit feedback. Well begun, is half done!
- Blogging: This is another addictive tool with its promise of an online fan following and faithful critics. Blogging can easily become a rewarding habit. It changes the writer’s outlook by rewiring the mind to be always on a lookout for topics and the best ways to present ideas and information to readers.
- Writing Bursts: An interesting concept where you employ short, timed bursts of writing, example, writing about anything within a 10-minute time frame, or whenever you have time. Robert Graham advocated this method and used it in his writing classes: “Every class I teach begins with a 10-minute writing exercise, which I call writing burst. I give a stimulus and ask the class to start writing, keep writing for 10 minutes and not to worry for one second about the quality of the work appearing on the paper.” This exercise combines the benefits of personal writing, prompt-writing, and creating for consumption by a writers’ community.
- Becoming a Prompt-Master: Writing is as much about training the mind as about mechanical skills. You can create prompts for daily writing by using a quote, phrase, word, situation, or image that excites and inspires you. Your prompts could just be thunderbolt of an idea; carry a writing device so that you do not let brilliant strokes slip through your fingers. If you are getting published, you can start a prompt-based writing or thought-collection Twitter handle to publicize your work. Prompts can help you leverage social media for self-promotion.
- Competing: It’s a new year and the Internet is abuzz with competitions lined up for the year. I found some interesting ones in the Writer’s Digest. There is another interesting prompt-based competitive exercise available for both storywriting and poetry – it is a challenge of writing 12 stories and/or 12 poems in 12 months. Check out more here – Writers Write.
This article has given you many ways to start writing promptly. If you use prompts or are going to use them to fuel your creative pursuits, I would like an answer to a question that often comes to my mind. If prompts are the source and means of your ideas, who has the creative ownership on your work created using prompts? Ideas are intellectual property; do you still have a right over pieces created using writing prompts and ideas shared by others? Definitely, a question to ponder upon!