Creative writing prompts can help you to enhance your writing and are one the best solutions for writers that are stuck or looking for ways to get out of their comfort zone. In this article, we’ll take a look at how we can use creative writing prompts to our benefit, as well as non-traditional uses that can be useful.
What are Creative Writing Prompts?
A creative writing prompt is a short entry for writers to follow that detail a topic or an approach to writing. Essentially, they’re guidelines that can stimulate a writer’s creativity by narrowing the range of topics down to specifics.
Here’s an example from Reddit.com:
“You’re 80 years old and time travel is possible. You sit down for dinner with earlier versions of yourself at age 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70. Conversation ensues.”
How to Use Creative Writing Prompts
The interesting thing that happens to me—and perhaps I’m not alone in this opinion—is that right after reading a writing prompt, my mind instantaneously fires off a series of images and story concepts. In other words, I just conjured up a story; now I have to write it.
The best part about creative writing prompts is that there are an unlimited amount of uses to stimulate your creativity:
Think of creative writing prompts as “assignments” that you’d receive from a teacher. Because there aren’t deadlines and quotas for most creative endeavors. Make them up and hold yourself to these parameters. This can be anywhere from creating a finished document in fifteen minutes, or by having a rough draft of a 30,000-word novella completed.
Shorter assignments may be easier to swallow, especially if a particular writing prompt isn’t your cup of tea. But these self-appointed challenges can give you a realistic idea of your creative abilities. You may surprise yourself.
Try to pick a unique angle based on the prompt. Obvious plotlines appear just after reading a prompt—these ideas shouldn’t necessarily discarded, but you can try to stretch your creativity to find offbeat ideas and unusual approaches that are uniquely “you”. Think about it: if another writer creates the same story arc or follows the same plot, that person is essentially writing the same story.
If you get into the habit of writing along to creative writing prompts frequently, be sure to go back and review your work. You can become aware of phrases you overuse, common oversights, and patterns that appear in your work. Related to the “Be unique” use above. It can be invaluable to arrive at the same plot and view how another writer used their unique talents to arrive at the same place. This can be your ticket to viewing your own style.
Most creative writing prompts are open-ended. Unless you are following strict guidelines, why not try unfamiliar forms or structures that you’ve avoided? Could you stretch a story into twice the length, or make micro-fiction? Heck, people are even crafting stories that fit only into Twitter’s 160 character count. Bear in mind that creative writing prompts don’t necessarily need to be stories, either. Poetry is equally adaptable to writing prompts.
Essentially, creative writing prompts offer you a chance to hone your skills. You can reverse-engineer how other writers tack on the meat of the story from just the kernel of an idea.
Think about it—most novels and short stories can be boiled down to a creative writing prompt of their own. The Great Gatsby can be reduced to: “One man’s tragic struggle to win the love an indifferent woman during the Roaring 20’s.” Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment? “An unstable and impoverished man becomes infatuated with ideals of great men like Napoleon. What happens when he acts upon these notions in Tsarist Russia?”
Prompts in Action
Let’s take a simple creative writing prompt as an example of stoking the creative process:
“Imagine that you suddenly became invisible.”
This is a clichéd concept, but let’s see if we can explore the concept further…
Suppose that a small segment of the population were becoming invisible at random in NYC. This would make commuting on a busy Manhattan subway train all but impossible to the other riders who consider this an inexplicable nuisance. Eventually, their property becomes seized, their family cannot recognize them, and they become ostracized. These individuals lose their identity—becoming invisible in a symbolic sense. Does this not describe the plight of homeless people in an indifferent world? Perhaps…
The creative writing prompt doesn’t necessarily need to be used in full or adhered to if you don’t choose to. Remember, the point is that it’s the spark, not the flame.
Community and Competition
The other byproduct of creative writing prompts is that because someone else created them and released them to the public, writers get a chance to rub elbows with other creatives. Writing is often a solitary endeavor, and writers need a place to belong. Having a community of writers, even if they only exist as correspondents on the Internet, makes the world seem less lonely and offers insight that would normally only be offered by editors, agents, and patient friends/family that read your work.
Similarly, competition naturally arises when things are in the public arena. Steel sharpens steel, after all. For me, stoking those competitive fires makes writing much easier. It’s like children playing in a sandbox, where one toddler picks up an unused toy, only to have another toddler dive after the toy. Creativity can be that neglected toy that inspires us to action when there are others who use it.
Some online communities even offer contests to participate in based on creative writing prompts. It can’t hurt to win cash, prizes, or even just public recognition for your efforts.
As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, websites like Pendana regularly hold user-generated contests based on creative writing prompts. The ever-popular website Reddit regularly features creative writing prompts on their front page (the most popular page on the website). Reddit’s system of upvotes and downvotes gives you the fringe benefit of developing notoriety among other writers. It also gives you feedback to your ideas.
National November Writers Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, has been a popular way for writers to motivate themselves to start a work in a supportive and fun environment. If you think about it, NaNoWriMo is a literal type of creative writing prompt. The prompt is simple:
“Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days of November”
Additionally, if November rears its ugly autumnal head and you don’t have a creative idea in your mental arsenal, just grab a writing prompt and start from there.
For more information on NaNoWriMo, visit the website.
Creative Writing Prompts for Non-Fiction?
If you’re scratching your head wondering how a creative writing prompt applies to non-fiction, hear me out:
Just as science fiction has a speculative nature to future events, why can’t these same creative writing prompts highlight the hypothetical scenarios? If someone creates a creative writing prompt, that person is taking elements from their life. Just like the “Prompts in Action” example from before, you can boil down each one to an archetype that can inspire you for writing magazine articles, books, and other non-fiction endeavors.
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As you can see, creative writing prompts are more than just words on the screen/page—they are gateways to your creativity and a gauge of your talent relative to other writers.