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Writing Prompts: A User's Guide

Do you ever find yourself staring at your computer screen, and the only words you can summon into your mind are the lyrics to the opening song from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie, and you think to yourself, how am I going to write anything with this brain? No? Just me? Okay, well, if you ever do find yourself in a similar situation, you might find a writing prompt helpful. For one thing, most writing prompts do not suggest that you write the phrase “so long, and thanks for all the fish” over and over and over again until your keyboard is broken and all your friends have deserted you—and for another, they can give you needed direction without restricting your creativity. Writing prompts can be found all over the Internet, including on this website! Here are a few ways you can use writing prompts to your fullest advantage.

Take what you need.

Writing prompts are supposed to help you. Don’t feel obligated to follow the prompt exactly, unless you really think that kind of close guidance is what you need at the moment. For instance, if the prompt says, “Think of a time you were in the woods and write about an animal you saw there,” you might find the woods aspect more compelling than the animal part, or vice versa. Just write what comes to you! The prompt is the catalyst, but it doesn’t need to be a limiting factor.

It’s okay not to feel super inspired.

Sometimes, try as you might, you just can’t find a writing prompt that feels right. You’re not in the mood to be inspired and responding to a prompt can feel forced. That’s okay. Just write. It’s excellent, outstanding, and wonderful if a prompt inspires you, but the barebones objective is to drag you from a place of not typing words to a place of typing words. That’s it. Not to invoke math, but I think this is what we’d call a matter of probability. The more you write, the more likely you are to write something good.

Finish the scene.

While writing prompts shouldn’t limit your creativity, you should still treat them as an exercise. In my experience, I go looking for writing prompts when I need to impose some discipline on myself (as I say, quoting singing dolphins is NOT creating original content). So don’t respond half-heartedly! Aim to write at least one full scene. You might find that you want to keep going.

Know any good tips for working with writing prompts? Let us know in the comments below!

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Val O.

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