Writing Resources Week 1 - Prompts
I’ve decided to break down my writing resources into sections in a 3-week series. The first week will focus on writing prompts and getting started.
I am a huge believer in writing with prompts to help come up with ideas for short stories, novels, essays, whatever. Several of my published or accepted short stories started as writing prompts. I typically give myself a prompt, set a timer for fifteen minutes, and try to complete the skeleton of an idea in that time. Often, I’ll write a “complete” story in those fifteen minutes (usually 500 words or more so it looks more like mediocre flash fiction than anything else) and flesh it out into a short story draft. I don’t care how the prompt looks when it’s done. In fact, I usually wait a while before returning to a prompt to flesh it out.
So, here are some of my favorite prompts and exercises to work with:
1. Now Write!
This is a series of books that give thorough writing exercises written by actual novelists, short story writers, and writing teachers. One of the reasons I love this series so much is because there are genre-specific books in it. So far, there’s general fiction writing, speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror), nonfiction (creative nonfiction, memoir, journalism), screenwriting, and mystery. Even if the prompts don’t produce anything you ever want to see the light of day, these are great for practicing your craft in general. It is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
2. How to Write Poetry: A Guided Journal with Prompts to Ignite Your Imagination
So I’m not much of a poet, but this book is for all levels, so a beginner like me quickly got into it. It provides examples of great poetry—classic and modern. Then, it gives you three prompts related to a theme of poetry. I may have fallen for it because one of the first examples was one of my favorite poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. It is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
3. Random Image & Word Generators
You’d be amazed by how many stories you can come up with using only one or two words or images to inspire you. With words, I’ve found it’s best to select two at most. With images, I’ve found two or three to be helpful. Also, with pictures, you might want to just take one detail from each image—a single feather in a woman’s hat, the snow falling in a city, etc., etc. If you try to make a story based off of a complete image, it may not be as original as you’re hoping for. You can find my favorite generator here.
4. Story Engine
This is one of my favorites. In the time I’ve had it, I’ve produced several short stories and a novel outline based on the prompts. Story Engine is a set of prompt cards that you arrange into a specific order to get a basic story idea, and then you flesh it out from there. There are genre-specific cards as well (science fiction, fantasy, and horror plus sub-genres like steampunk or mythology). You can read my full review of Story Engine here. Or, you can check out their website here.
This is perhaps my least favorite way of coming up with a prompt, but even I have to admit it’s useful. Sit in a corner somewhere, or maybe on the classic park bench, and take in the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Catch a snippet of conversation, or perhaps an expression that speaks to you. Take notes. You’d be surprised by what real-life situations can inspire us.
Now, you have your material or exercise. Time yourself anywhere between ten and thirty minutes, and just write. Don’t lift up the pencil (or if you’re like me, don’t stop typing) until the timer goes off. Then, put your prompt away. Take a break. Look it over with fresh eyes and see if it’s anything you can work with. It could be the start of something fantastic.