Prompts that get you writing

I have very little idea HOW creativity works, I only know that it DOES work on many levels. The end product may or may not be any good, but so long as there IS product after honest effort, that’s what’s important to me.

Yes, in art we want quality over quantity, but it takes a lot of trial and error to make great art, thus the need to keep producing. It’s like mining for gold: a huge amount of effort and cost goes into moving many hundreds of pounds of soil and rock to find a single ounce of gold.

Direct and Indirect Prompts (or, “Prompt” can be used as a noun, a verb, and an adjective):

Some artists use prompts to help them produce their art. There are two types of prompts: direct (where a work of art is produced specifically to follow some set of rules) or indirect prompts (where something inspires a work of art).  An example of a direct prompt is when a student paints a bowl of fruit in class  after a teacher sets out that bowl of fruit. Indirect prompts are things which spur us on with no forethought – a muse just comes and whispers softly and then art is created. This happened to me one night as I ate grapes. The last few were so over-ripe as to almost be bursting with wine, which got me thinking about my divorce from years ago, which, in turn, prompted me to write what became a published poem.

When muses’ whispers are rare, direct prompts are sometimes of incredible help. Even if they just generate work, that work will one day pay off as technique-building, gestation ground for ideas and themes, or one perfect line amid the 99 or so other not-so-perfect lines.

For this reason alone, writing prompts are valuable things every writer should have at his or her ready disposal. They’ll keep you going, creating work promptly. (Get it?)

Sources of Direct Prompts:

Writing magazines such as The Writer and The Writer’s Chronicle have prompts in every issue. There are several books comprised solely of writing prompts such as 300 Writing Prompts and 500 Writing Promps, both from There are countless writing prompts available simply using “writing prompts” as a Google search. The WordPress site People Who Write offers a free pdf book 365 Writing Prompts.  And here are another year’s worth of creative writing prompts from the site Thinkwritten.

(Countless, I tell ya!)

I use direct prompts with creative writing classes and workshops I teach, and while I don’t use them all that often for my own writing, I am not averse to them and understand fully the important place they have in every writer’s toolkit.

Sources for Indirect Prompts:

As you’ve probably read many times, keep a notebook or journal handy at all times, everywhere you go. Even if this is just an inexpensive wire-bound notebook, a pricier Moleskine, texting to yourself while on-the-go, or some other organized method of taking and keeping notes, it is vital you jot down remnants of a dream upon waking, snippets of conversations you hear, character ideas for a play you’re working on based on who you see standing in line at the movies, possible titles for your next book, or anything else that may become fodder for your future writing. Again, much of these notes may end up on the proverbial cutting room floor, but some will go on to become major works in your oeuvre

So keep several lists of prompts at-hand to fuel you when you suspect your muse is off whispering in some other writer’s ear. Have notebooks at the ready. Make sure a pencil or pen (or your phone) is always nearby. Doing these simple things will ensure that you’ll never be at a loss of things to write about.

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