5 Reasons to Write is an ongoing series highlighting writers who love to write. Topics can include writing with certain genres, writing with prompts, or writing with various types of technology (text, voice, and more).
Five Reasons to Write with Prompts
By Laurel Garver
Some writers feel that using writing prompts is like riding a bike with training wheels—fine for beginners to get them moving, but too restraining for the more experienced. The fact that creative writing teachers often include them in courses can also give them an elementary flavor.
But prompts are useful beyond mere apprentice-work practice stories. Writers at every level can benefit from bringing prompts into some part of their process. Here are five reasons to write using prompts beyond “so I can get an A in my undergrad fiction writing course”:
1. To warm up
No Olympic track star rolls out of bed and walks directly to the blocks, nor does a dancer simply strap on her toe shoes and dance The Rite of Spring. The pros know you can't perform your best unless you first warm up and stretch. And because the biggest obstacle to writing is one’s resistance to simply sitting down and beginning, a low-pressure warm up can be a helpful way to ease you in. Write to a prompt for ten minutes before you turn to your larger project, and you may find that, like the athlete, it enables you to go faster when you do "hit the track" (work on your manuscript), and like the ballerina, it enables you to move with greater ease and grace.
2. To overcome writer’s block
Writer’s block usually has one of two root causes: hitting a wall with a project or being in a creatively dry period. Essentially, a wall or a desert. Prompts are an excellent way to step away from the sense of frustration and simply play with words. Rather than stubbornly clench your fist around a plot problem or characterization glitch that has you stuck, take a creative vacation by writing to a prompt. It will enable you to mentally relax and give your intuition space to work. And rather than despair about having no ideas, pick up a collection of prompts. These germs of ideas from other creative minds that can often kick-start your creativity.
3. To experiment in a new genre
If you’ve always written one genre, prompts can provide excellent starter ideas to experiment in another genre, to try it on for size and see if it is a fit for you. Genre experiments can also help you avoid getting stale—even if you return to your genre of choice. For example, writing a romance short could help you develop skills with adding subtext to dialogue; experimenting with horror could help you become more deft at tension building and slow reveals. Spinning a prompt in an unexpected direction will open you creatively, help you develop your problem-solving skills, and widen your writing range.
4. To deepen parts of an existing story
Many early drafts suffer from lack of development of either the characters or the plot. Prompts can be helpful tools for doing this development work. They can helping you delve deeper into who these fictional people are and what they’d naturally do in certain situations. They can also provide new ideas for conflicts and obstacles to incorporate into your story, expanding the kinds of experiences your characters have—things you might not have come up with on your own.
5. To overcome burnout
It’s not unusual while writing a novel to hit a stage that you hate your story and have no motivation to continue working on it. Or perhaps you’ve finished the manuscript and are growing weary of the revision process. Your energy has been expended in one direction so long, you feel you can’t take another step on the same path. When experiencing this kind of burnout, writing to a prompt can be a way of having a little creative vacation elsewhere. Writing about your own past—taking prompts in a memoir direction—can be refreshing. So can imagining a character from your current project in a scenario unlike anything in your novel. Let the characters reveal new facets of themselves to you, and you may find your enthusiasm returning. Or simply play in another genre, writing a short story from a prompt for fun to restore your faith in your creative gifts.
Laurel Garver is the author of young adult fiction, poetry, and resources for writers. She holds degrees in English and journalism and earns a living as a magazine editor. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys pulling jinx pranks at Ravenclaw alumni events and plotting how to hijack a Tardis. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.
About the book
1001 Evocative Prompts for Fiction Writers
Ideas, emotions, images, intriguing questions, perplexing dilemmas—these are the raw materials from which great stories are built.
1001 Evocative Prompts will stimulate your thinking wherever you are in your writing journey and get you writing today. It provides story starts and writing inspiration for a wide variety of genres by focusing on emotions, character development, and pivotal moments.
You can face a blank page with confidence when you use these prompts to warm up, beat writer’s block, develop and maintain a writing habit, change up your routine, start a new project, experiment in a new genre, deepen parts of an existing story, or overcome burnout.
What are you waiting for? Dig in and get writing right now!
Available as an e-book, pocket-sized paperback or workbook.
A Note from Tyrean: Since I started following Laurel's blog serveral years ago, I have noticed that she creates some wonderful writing prompts and great articles about writing. I highly recommend this book!