Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writing Prompts - When the Muse Needs Help

"P" is for "prompt" ...

Sometimes you need a prompt because you feel stuck in a writing rut.  At other times, you might use a prompt to see a situation from a new angle.  And then there are the times when you are looking for a cure for a totally blank mind (with me this state is usually the result of a complete lack of sleep).  A good prompt can help give you new ideas and a new perspective.  It cannot, unfortunately, give you a good night's sleep.  But that does seem to be asking a lot.

I always enjoy playing with a good writing prompt, even if I am not feeling particularly blank or stuck.  I simply find prompts to be entertaining, and occasionally a solid idea for a story or poem will result from playing around with one.  In light of this, I decided I would add a writing prompt feature to my blog page that I am going to call "Prompt the Muse".  At this point, I'm not planning to put each prompt in its own blog post, but instead I'll be putting the prompts on the home page of the blog itself.  I've started one blog post, my last one, to use as a prompt archive.  I will update that post with each new prompt.  My reason for not blogging each prompt separately is that for the time being I'd rather blog less frequently and make the posts more substantial, rather than have a lot of very short posts.

The internet is gorged with pages offering writing prompts of one form or another.  Sadly, a large number of these pages are themselves gorged with ads.  I find ads very distracting, and will avoid pages that have too many ads, or have them placed obtrusively.  However, there are a few places I've checked out for prompts and found something inspiring.  I thought I'd share one or two of those here.

Having just said I don't like ads, I'm still going to mention HubPages: 101 Writing Prompts.  Yes, too many ads for my taste, but I liked the list.  The only issue with a long list of prompts is that it can be overwhelming, rather than liberating.  A list like this is nice to have for reference, but usually when I look for prompts I'd rather encounter them one at a time.  I find I am more likely to think harder and move out of my comfort zone if I 'must' work to a given prompt, rather than have the complete freedom to pick one that I find appealing.  So I generally gravitate to places I can find daily or weekly prompts such as Sunday Scribblings and What's Your Story.

Better yet are daily/weekly prompts that suggest a time or word limit.  Not that you can't simply choose to limit any prompt you encounter with time or length, but again, I like the structure of having the task defined for me.  I enjoy the challenge of working up against a limit; again, it inspires me to move out of my comfort zone and the limit on the task makes it feel more manageable.  A couple of prompt providers of this nature include The One-Minute Writer (pretty obvious what the limit is there) and the Writer's Digest Writer's Prompts which are nominally 750 words or less.

Do you have a source for writing prompts?  I'd be very interested to hear your favorites and see if they become mine, too.  I'm particularly interested in prompts that cater to fiction writers, especially in my chosen genres of SF/F/H/Spec.  Happy writing.


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Andy said...

I've never tried using a prompt per se (though my outlet is more music than writing). Do you find taking verbal suggestions ("Hey, write a story about X") to give you the same response? Have you ever tried collaborating on writing something?

Sorry if this is tangential at best. :)

JA Grier (ee/em/eir) said...

Andy - Those are two good questions. Sometimes a verbal prompt or suggestion works very well. I think that happens when the prompt is stated and then not elaborated upon (i.e. 'write about X' with no explanations or excuses.)

I have not collaborated on a work of written fiction. All the other collaborative efforts are things I believe you know about - two songs, a textbook, and some papers. None of those efforts were based in an exchange of writing prompts. Although it might make for a fun workshop-style exercise to try something like that.