The Advantages of Writing Prompts

When I think of writing prompts, I always first think of writing school essays. The teacher’s prompts were usually too vague, or strict and inflexible. I often found them extremely boring, so when I heard that some writers use writing prompts, I thought it absurd. Nonetheless, when I found myself in need of some inspiration, I reached out for writing prompts and I was surprised to acknowledge them as actually conducive to creativity and inspiration. Ever since then, I occasionally use them to start a piece, finish it or add some spice to the story I am working on. They are not only effective for fiction writing but also for journalists, content writers and even in the academic field.

by Brad Stallcup

There are several reasons why writing prompts are so useful. We all know that sometimes it is hard to start writing when faced with a blank page. Focusing on an unrelated prompt for a while helps get the creativity flowing. For instance, if you write for just ten to fifteen minutes on a prompt, you might then find it easier to return to the piece you initially intended to write. This works because when you stop trying to think so hard about what you wanted to write and switch your attention to the prompt instead, the words and ideas for your original piece start to come to the surface of your conscious.

Moreover, writing to a prompt regularly helps to get you into the habit of writing by eliminating the habit of procrastination and by focusing your mind. This can act as a sort of exercise regime, easing you to write for longer periods.

Prompts can also be a great way to get involved in a writing community. Sometimes writing groups offer a prompt for everyone to write about, with the intention being for everyone to come up with something they can then share. This can be a source of great encouragement, although knowing that others will read what you have written can also inhibit your creativity.

Here are some writing prompts to try out:

  1. Someone walks by my table and drops a folded napkin in front of me, trying to be discrete. It is a note, saying: ‘Get out now. While you still can.’

 

  1. The window in the garden wall has been boarded up forever, but tonight a dull, violet light pulses in the cracks.

 

  1. All of my body’s functions (breathing, digestion etc.) require constant conscious effort.

 

A piece of advice is to write for as long as your mind will let you, and allow yourself to think freely. You are under no obligation to write until you reach a certain word count or even finish the entire idea. The point of prompts is to get you to write, find a direction and hopefully spark other ideas that you would not have thought of before.

I will end with a quote of one of my favorite authors, Walter Moers. It was the sentence that finally dissolved the writer’s block that had inhibited the author from starting work. I have since used it whenever I have been gripped by fear of the blank sheet in front of me. It is infallible, and its effect is always the same: the knot unravels and a stream of words gushes out on to the virgin paper. It acts like a magic spell and I sometimes fancy it really is one. But, even if it is not the work of a sorcerer, it is certainly the most brilliant sentence any writer has ever devised. It runs: ‘This is where my story begins.’”

***

Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University.  She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria.  Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands.  Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015.  When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.

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XMAS Writing Prompts

by Daria Nepriakhina

The Xmas season is a joyful period, usually associated with love, happy memories and companionship. It is a boisterous time while we plan ahead for holiday requests, managing absences, and family reunions or parties. Afterwards, we usually have more time for the activities we have put aside during the working months and the build up to Xmas. Thus, it can be a great opportunity to get creative and have fun writing.

The act of writing gives us the chance to organize our thoughts. During a time as hectic as the holiday season, it is good to step back and think about one’s own reasons for celebrating—as well as to savor all of those special moments. We can write in the style of stream-of-consciousness, with few restrictions, or we can adopt more structure like a journal entry with length recommendations or suggestions for details to include. The main goal should be to lose our inhibitions and to write for the sake of writing. Once we get the hang of letting our thoughts flow, we can really enjoy it.

So if you are able, somehow, miraculously, to write during the Xmas holidays, then maybe these prompts can help:

  1. ‘Look!’ she said, laughing awkwardly and pointing to the mistletoe above their heads…

 

  1. I found myself trapped inside a snow globe…

 

  1. A nicely wrapped present shakes furiously under the Christmas tree…

***

Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University.  She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria.  Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands.  Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015.  When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.

 

Writing Prompt: The Importance of Plot

by Finn Gross Maurer

When discussing how important plot is in a piece of fiction, I think it’s important to think about what happens when you ask a person what they’re reading. Take a second and imagine it. You pose the question. They reply with a title. Now stop, and think about what your next question is? More likely than not, it’s: “Oh what’s that about?”

In writing, plot equals structure, and structure happens to be crucial. Plot is not the only means of providing structure, but it’s certainly the most common, and arguably the most reliable. This is because plot provides the roadmap of where you’re going as a writer, and where you’re taking the reader. It’s point A and B and everything in between. Yet its importance as a structural element is largely contextual, depending on the kind of work you’re producing, and how much you can comfortably ask of your reader in terms of their time and attention. Read More

Writing Prompt: Pacing

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia

When I’m reading fiction, pacing is everything. It’s because I see literature as a dance. The author takes the lead. The reader follows. The sentences wind and, hopefully, the reader makes the pages turn.

Though reader and writer remain two separate entities, the connection that binds them is intimate—it flows out of the language. Yet there is a temporal component as well. Writing as an art form is overwhelmingly linear, perhaps more so than any other. Each piece of writing is read word by word, line by line, regardless of size or complexity. To achieve basic coherence, let alone literary quality, the sequence of letters, words, and clauses must be exact. The sentence is a finely tuned mechanism. String enough of them together into a story, and you have something much larger, grander.

Imagine a freight train, a machine of pure language barreling forward in time. Read More

Writing Prompts: Settings

Courtesy of Kirsten WürthMy favorite novel of the past ten years is almost certainly Light Boxes by Shane Jones.  I love it for all sorts of reasons, too many to name, not the least of which being its ability to make me feel like I’m deeply inhabiting its setting.  And this is all the more impressive when you factor in that Light Boxes is a surrealistic text.  Little of what happens in this book is possible under the known laws of physics and rationality.  Yet when I read it, I feel like I’m there.  I feel like I’m in snowbound.  I feel like I’m one of the villagers in this town that cannot exist, part of a war effort waged against the month of February, which casts a long shadow over their lives, and refuses to end.

I feel this because Jones’ prose emphasizes the tangible.  He highlights the physical.  Part fabulist, part poet, he uses simple, direct language to draw the reader’s attention to equally simple and direct elements, which he often repeats.  A kind of rhythm develops.  Again and again we see balloons, snow, clouds, birds, moss, honey, smoke.  These are simple, tangible building blocks, yet they come together to build a rich and fascinating world.  Despite a surface-level simplicity, Jones’ world conjures its own kind of complexity through the use of familiar language in unfamiliar contexts, and the depth of feeling this relationship evokes in the reader. Read More

Writing Prompts: Characters and Momentum

photo-1473147654241-a26ffc2146bbI find it hard to care about most characters in the books I read.  I think it’s got something to do with me being a writer as well as a reader, with my background in poetry just making it worse.  I’m always mulling over word choice, weighing the significance of sound and rhythm, why the author made the decisions they did.  My attention skews to the micro rather than the macro, and the broader sweep of character arc and narrative structure holds less of my interest than the smaller choices an author made in arranging their words.  Over time it has become difficult for me to turn this analytical side of my brain off, and simply enjoy a text for what it is: a story.  My reading brain is always scavenging sentences for new techniques, tricks that may one day prove useful in my own writing; strip mining each row of words for images, influence, and inspiration.  So characters become hard for me to care about, because my default mode is to regard them as illusion, a ghost an author built from a long sequence of decisions. Read More

Writing Prompts: The Unexpected

SurrealismWhen I open a book I’m always hoping to be surprised.  It’s what I look for above all else.  Whether it’s in the narrative, or the language an author employs in its construction, I don’t ever want to know where I’m going in advance.

What I crave is uncertainty—that rush of possibility.  I want to be in free fall through a text.  I want to turn a corner and end up at some place unexpected.  Then take a few more steps, and enter somewhere stranger still. It’s this sense of discovery, of stumbling headfirst into the unfamiliar, that appeals to me most about surrealist and magical realist writing.

In its most interesting variations, the reader is discovering a space whose strange nature extends beyond the material.  The fantastical elements push beyond the physical realm, into something deeper.  These spaces, after all, are purely linguistics in nature.  They are built from and sustained by language, and, as such, basic laws of physics—our understanding of probability, space, and time; all the disparate threads woven through the fabric of reality are suddenly made malleable. Read More

Bring It To the 21st Century

Classics have often been used as a basis for new, and sometimes quite popular, stories.

They can be given a modern twist like these:

  1. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding (based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)
  2. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)
  3. The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy (based on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre)

Or the story can be retold from another perspective:

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