Are writing prompts a waste of time? Perhaps this question occured to you, because you are remembering back to when your sixth grade English teacher had you write a story about a paperclip. But now you’re a respectable writer and realize almost nobody wants to know what a paperclip, pink eraser or a salami sandwich is thinking. But don’t worry, writing prompts have come a long way, and besides being super fun, they get your writing juices flowing. In addition to being used in Creative Writing 101 classes they are employed in contests, writing groups and game nights, to name a few.
The prompts can be prewritten or done by a blind selection. In one writing group, someone thumbs through a dictionary until someone else says ‘stop.’ The person then counts down to the tenth word, reads the word and definition, then we have ten minutes to write something using that word.
Another group I belonged to a couple of years ago had a different approach. Each writer wrote a prompt, placed it into a jar, then the leader of the group pulled one out and read it. We had fifteen minutes to write, then took turns sharing what we’ve written.
Contests are famous for using prompts. While some use a photo and challenges writers to write about it, some give a simple prompt, like, “He peered through the door and….”
My fiancé and I have discovered a great game for prompt writing called The Storymatic. It comes with two sets of cards, one for characters and one for suggestions. There are numerous ways to use these, but the main one we use is selecting two cards about the main character and then one card which suggests what happens or what the main character has to go through. For example, I just picked he or she is “a person with a devastating secret” and a “subject of a medical experiment.” The suggestion is he or she has a “suitcase that is too heavy to carry.” We then set a timer for ten minutes, write, and then share.
You could even spice it up a bit by using dice. After you’ve got your prompt, roll the dice, add the dots, and that’s how many words or sentences you can use to tell that story.
I’m not sure how many novels were born from using a prompt, but we certainly have a list of some interesting short stories started. We also do a writing prompt exercise twice a week to keep our creative energy going.
For fun, write a story in fifteen words or less using this prompt, “I heard she was a psychic” and post your story in the comments below.