I love writing prompts.
I taught myself how to write using them. It started with prompts from Tristine Rainier’s book,”The New Diary” then I found Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and began filling notebook after notebook with writing practice.
I knew I had to write and not just read about how to write to, you know, actually be a writer. Prompts got me writing. They bypassed the the censor and let me just get directly to the writing. I didn’t have to think up what to write about.
Prompts are a springboard that let me dive into the deep end instead of lingering at the edge, dipping my toe in as I try to decide what exactly to write every single time I sit down to the blank page.
When I began writing fiction, I still used prompts only I wrote them from the POV of my characters. Sometimes nothing came of them except that I got words on a page (always a good thing). But often some new, crucial information was revealed about the character or plot. Those days felt magical.
This story published on literary mama.com began as an exercise in a class from a prompt using a photograph of a chair by the side of a house.
My finished novel-in-stories began as prompt from this black and white photo by Mary Ellen Mark:
It’s not that I imagine the characters look like the girls in this photo. The energy between them, the juxtaposition of tween girls in a kiddie pool and the cigarette just intrigued me and led me to explore (for years) that energy that first sparked something in me.
While photographs work really for me (I keep a board on Pinterest) I’m also drawn to other types of prompts as well. Contributions to Post Secret can provide rich material. And I have written through every prompt in Judy Reeves’ “Writer’s book of Days” several times. I once wrote a short story based on something I overheard a man say on a cell phone while at the airport.
Prompts allow me to get back to that playfulness of writing that I had when I first started out. They allow me to get out of my head and into my subconscious where all the juicy things wait.
But mostly they just get me writing no matter what my mood or energy or anxieties. For that reason, prompts are priceless.