Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Prompting Ideas, pt 2

Last week, I wrote about the different kinds of prompts that I use to inspire my writing. This week, I want to talk about the "Story Starter" rut. It's easy to fall into the habit of using prompts to start a writing project. I want to explore some of the other ways prompts can help us grow as writers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to use prompts to start my story. It’s just that writing prompts are about so much more than that! Here are a few of the ways I use prompts to improve my writing skills and practices:

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My writing routine is continuously challenged. I am a notorious procrastinator. Family obligations, appointments and the normal chaos of life often eat up my writing time, my motivation, or worse, my inspiration.

I’ve found that starting every day* with a fifteen minute writing prompt can help set the tone for your writing time. Then, on those days when the universe seems to conspire against me, at least I can say I wrote something!

*Full disclosure: This is much easier in theory than practice! I’ve yet to truly succeed at this, but I keep trying!

Story Elements

Prompts don’t always have to result in a whole story. Improvement comes from practice! (I talk more about my struggles with that here.) I like to start with a particular skill in mind—“This morning, I’m going to write strong dialogue.”—and then use a timed prompt to create a practice session for that skill. This can strengthen character development, world building, sensory description, vocabulary or any of the many different elements that go into creating amazing stories.

Sometimes, I use the same prompt to practice multiple story elements over time. Other times, I’ll focus on one element across several prompts. Bonus Fun: I can use the writing samples from my practice sessions to improve my revision skills! 

No More Spiders! (AKA the “But Why?” method)

Beginnings are easy for me, but my endings often feel as though they’re fizzling out like fireworks in a downpour. I am a huge Stephen King fan, and I’ve long often suspected that he knows my pain. “Uhmmm… I know! A giant spider attacks!”

I recently read an article about the many ways writing your ending first is helpful. I want to practice starting with the resolution of my story and working my way back to the beginning. I’m imaging it will feel a little like talking to a toddler:
“The princess returned to her castle, smarter and stronger.”
“But, why?”
“Because she defeated the evil wizard.”
“But, why?”
“Because he wanted to imprison all the fairies.”
“But, why?”
And so on … 


The best thing about prompts is that I can make them work for me. They can provide structure when my ideas are running wild, or they can force me to get crazy to break out of a rut. I’m a natural “pantser” (writing by the seat of my pants), so it’s good practice for me to use prompts that require me to develop a beginning, middle and end. I have friends who are excellent “plotters” (planning the whole story ahead of time). They benefit from prompts that force them to jump right into the writing. There are so many types of prompts available, I can always find one that’s perfect for any writing task.

Cooperative Writing

Prompts aren’t just for solo writing, either. I like to participate in parallel writing sessions with other writers. We work simultaneously on the same prompt and then share our finished products with one another. It’s fun to see what similarities and differences our passages contain. Knowing that everyone is using the same starting point challenges me to dig deeper instead of using my first cliched thought. 

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I’m sure there are many ways to use writing prompts that I haven’t mentioned or even thought about. Leave a comment below to share how writing prompts have improved your writing.


  1. Love your "But, why?" technique. I don't use prompts much; starting is never a problem. Finishing all the starts is the challenge.

    1. Mama Hen, we sent you a note in your Twitter feed. We would like to contact you to thank you for your comments on the blog and discuss doing an author interview with you.

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