You have decided to write. You have your first, blank page staring back at you. Maybe you write a few words, then delete them. You type a few more words. Then delete. You do this a few more times until doing laundry or dishes sounds like a better alternative. Sound familiar?
At some point, every writer, including me, has gone through the write-delete ritual. To break out of this cycle, try using the best creative writing prompts for unlocking your imagination. Prompts can be a great way to jump-start your writing.
Let’s take a closer look at what writing prompts are, how to pick the best prompt, preparing to use prompts, and a few of my favorites to get you started.
What Are Writing Prompts
Writing prompts are a writer’s best friend especially when the writer has a case of writer’s block. The purpose of a prompt is to make you think about something else. A prompt that asks you to recall your favorite smell and the last time you encountered that scent may open the doorways between your brain and fingers to allow the words to flow.
Think of prompts as an alarm clock for the creative side of your mind. They help wake up the connections in your mind. Maybe your favorite smell is that first cup of morning coffee. As you write about that first cup of joe, maybe your mind wanders back in time to the setting of the Western you wanted to write and a scene where cowboys are fixing coffee in a pot hanging over a campfire.
Prompt work may not always take a direct turn into the story you wanted to write, and that’s alright. The important part is that the work helps you start putting words on the page and keep writer’s block at bay.
Preparing to use prompts
Let’s talk about preparing to use writing prompts. If you aren’t in the right frame of mind, you can select the best creative writing prompts and still struggle to get your first few lines. When using prompts, remember
- No matter what you are trying to write, a prompt can help. It doesn’t matter if you want to write poetry, memoir, short fiction, a novel, or something else. The purpose of a writing prompt is to get the words on the page.
- To permit yourself to write badly, fast, and on whatever topic or image that comes to mind. Turn off your inner editor and write; you can fix punctuation and spelling later.
- To be open to the prompt, no matter of absurd it seems or how different it may be from your original story idea. Again, the point is to write. If the prompt suggests writing about chewing gum, write about chewing gum for five to ten minutes. Then try starting the story you want to write.
Picking the Best Prompt
Prompts come in a wide variety—a single word, a phrase, sentence, elements of a story, a photo, an activity, or a thousand other things. If you search online, you will find curated lists for poets, kids, teachers, horror novel writers, and much more. The secret here is that any of them may work for you even though you aren’t a poet, kid, teacher, or horror writer.
The key isn’t to find the best prompt for the format or type of writing; the key is to find what works best for you that day. Keep in mind, the type of thing that works today, may not work tomorrow or the next day. Challenge yourself to try different things.
Try writing about a single word or object. Then you may want to try using a full sentence as the first line of your prompt work. The next time, you might try going for a walk around the block or through a park with your notebook in hand to jot down everything that catches your attention.
When you see a prompt that makes you think: “oh, this will be fun” or “oh, this will be really hard” that is the prompt you want. Both will get the gears turning in your mind and the words flowing onto the page.
A Few of My Favorites
The good news here is that writing prompts are all around you. I’ve recommended a few of best creative writing prompts for me, and hopefully you, below:
- Forget going online to search for prompts. Look around your desk, room, or house or even outside your window. Pick an item or object and tell that item or object’s story. Where did you get it? Who had it before? Did you or a family member make it?
- Play the Why Game—Ever been around a little kid that seems only to know the word “why?” Do that and make up answers as to why. You can start with something like: I’m writing a sentence. (Why?) Because I want to tell you about turtles. (Why?) Because turtles are cool. (Why?) Keep going until you don’t need the “why” anymore.
- The Amazing Story Generator—I’ve used this book for about four years. It is a spiral bound “choose your adventure” style book. The divided three-part pages make a flip book that allows you to select several hundred combinations of setting, characters, and conflicts. This book allows you to flip each part independently to create a whole new prompt by mixing and matching the different parts. You could start out with something like: “While on a second honeymoon, an identical twin, is reunited with a long-lost twin.” Then, flip one section, like the character, to get: “While on a second honeymoon, a pathological liar is reunited with a long-lost twin.”
- Rory’s Story Cubes—The story cubes come in sets of nine dice with simple pictures on each side. Roll two, three, or all nine and use the images to start writing. How you interpret the image is up to you. For example, one die may include a clock face. Depending on which way you turn the die, the hands are either pointing to 4, 7:15, 10:30, or 1:45 and you would also decide whether it is morning or night.
- A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life—This is my go-to book when I need a writing prompt for writer’s block. There is a prompt for each day of the year interspersed in chapters. I have to admit that I haven’t read the chapter material even though I use the prompts. Whenever I feel particularly stuck, I grab this book and look up the prompt for whatever the date happens to be.
Using prompts can be a great way to conquer the blank page. Prompts can open up a pathway for you to start thinking about one thing and leapfrog into any number of other stories. Focus on what works for you, on what helps your writing get started and don’t worry about whether a prescribed list is targeted you or the writing you want to do. Allow yourself to be free of your inner editor and set the words inside you free.