Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why use Writing Prompts as Sparks? (including resources)

“Why do you need prompts? Shouldn’t you just get stories out of your own head?”

Um, yeah. Every story you tell or write is (or should be) a story out of your own head. And sometimes, ideas just pop up and want to be told, and that’s a fun and exciting thing.

Tap, ta, tap…
Excuse me, but isn’t that a “prompt”?

Why yes, yes it is! Anything that “sparks” a story has “prompted” it…

But sometimes you want to write and don’t have an idea. Or you’re in the middle of a story and you don’t know what to write next. I suspect most writers would admit (at least to themselves) to feeling more like Salieri than Mozart in the wonderful movie Amadeus!

Anyway, prompts of all sorts can be useful to inspire stories, whether the beginning, the middle, or the end. When I started this blog in 2012, my goal was to write more, and also to help inspire other writers, perhaps to engage in a quick exercise based on my prompts. Some have done so and shared their results here, and I absolutely love to see the variety of ideas that spring from the same source.

This summer, I started to think about how I could build the value of this site, and one of the ideas was to share sources of prompts, in addition to the sheer volume of 18 months’ worth of daily prompts. This post will become the genesis for a new section of resources both print and internet-based. I will be pleased to grow that new area, so I hope you’ll share some of your own favorite sources for inspiration!

One of my early writing experiences was a “meditative journaling” group. In one of our first meetings, the first prompt was “water”. I started rambling and ended up writing about the memory of visiting a waterfall with a high school friend. When I read it to the group, someone commented that it could be incorporated into a story. The light bulb went on over my head, and that is exactly what I did, and that memory is now the basis of a major scene in my novel WIP.

Another time, the prompt was “window”, which ultimately turned into a reminiscence about my mother’s love of cooking. Food does also play a significant role in my WIP, but that didn’t stem from this prompt. Although it might well have been inspired by a childhood full of home-cooked meals and daily family dinners. So, you see, writing to, or being inspired by a prompt doesn’t mean that you have to literally write about that exact thing!

So what are the sources of my daily prompts?

Sometimes they really are ideas that I have, or that someone gives to me. One way that these often come to me is in a sort of meditative, reflective, or receptive state of mind. Driving my car seems to inspire all sorts of ideas – then the challenge is to capture them! But for those days (nights, when I usually write and blog) when I don’t have an idea readily spring to mind, I do have several sources that often provide great inspiration. Here were some of my first go-to’s:

·      The news. Especially the “strange stories” section. I just scan the headlines and see if something jumps out at me.
· I always ask permission (and will talk more about this in a future post). I scan the Daily Deviations and I find that some images stand out, not just for their quality, but in that they inspire a story idea right away. I make a few notes and save it until I receive permission. So this is a good activity to sit and do as a batch, then wait for permissions before fleshing out the stories. I have sometimes gone ahead and written the story, holding it from the blog until I receive permission. I have a couple I never heard back from, so I tend to wait instead.
·      Random words. Some of my prompts follow this format:
“Amazing, Sleep, Support, Saving, Patience – Use at least 3 of these”
These are literally words on papers next to my computer that I randomly glanced around and chose what my eyes first focused on. I’ve done this with words from book titles, too, just by scanning my shelves. And DVD titles.

What’s one of the hardest things about prompt-writing? Actually choosing the prompt! I can spend an hour on that, then write 15-30 minutes and have the beginning of a story. So I tried to look for sources that would make it easier to generate the prompts themselves. I found a bunch of tools on Amazon and my family kindly supplied some as Christmas presents last year. My two favorites so far:

·      The Amazing Story Generator by Jay Sacher. In this fun book, every “page” is cut into three, and you can flip through and mix-and-match a setting, a character, and an action/plot.
·      The Storymatic set of over 500 cards. You draw two to define a character and two to set the scene. The have some sets with different themes you might check out as well.

Online I still have some go-to sources, in addition to

·      One of my frequent favorites is
·      Another early favorite: (which is so huge, you might want to start here

Of course, most of my prompts are science fiction or fantasy:

Some more general/broad-based prompts and tips can be found at these sites:
·[]=writing|autocomplete|1&term_meta[]=prompts|autocomplete|1 (Now, with Pinterest, it’s harder to find the original sources, so depending on how you intend to use art, especially, you have to decide how to handle that…)

I still struggle some with sticking to my first “choices”…I have a tendency to think either “oh, nothing comes to mind” or “I don’t want to write about that”…but that’s another blog post for another day.


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s one I love:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.

Dogs in House
Houdini, Brindle

Time writing
90 minutes

September word count

1 comment:

  1. Writing report:
    Novel editing, Ch 32 and 33
    Time: 12 min