Nine Creative Prompts for Writers
It’s not original, but it’s true: I love writing.
I love the act of clacking out a few hundred words on my computer and moulding this mesh of text into something worth reading; something that will click with another person. I love pondering over whether I should use this word or that, like a chef gliding his finger across a spice shelf in search of that perfect supplement.
But even those whose minds swim in a sea of words can get stranded on a desolate island. And that desolate space – that white void – is a writer’s greatest adversary: the blank page.
No, we’re not going to slog over 9 top tips for surmounting that scary blank page. Because most of the time these tips are just collated from another list, and you don’t want to read something that’s been regurgitated any more than I want to eat leftovers from a week ago.
The best writing brings something fresh, something human, to even the most unoriginal of topics.
But how do you do that? Well, that’s what we’re gonna look at right now: where this writer finds inspiration; how the gears get going and keep on turning in my head; what gets me writing.
How do I get started?
The start of anything is the hardest: a new diet, a new exercise regime, learning a new skill – you name it. You see where this is going. Writing’s no different. It’s just you and that blank page, having a stare-off to see who gives it up first.
Now, I’m no Stephen King, but I’ve got the ability to get my thoughts down pretty cohesively and seem to know what cranks up my motivation levels from ‘off’ to ‘off the charts’. And there’s one thing that I know for certain helps me get started:
Inspiration comes to me when I feel prompted.
That sounds redundant, doesn’t it? ‘Being inspired’ and ‘being prompted’ are synonymous, surely? Well, I think there’s a very telling difference.
Think of writing as being part of an ongoing dialogue. What’s characteristic of almost every conversation? Everyone contributes their thoughts, and when you’re telling a story or talking to someone in real life, you’re not just randomly saying words; you have a focus. But what exactly is that focus? What are you trying to get across? What are you trying to add to the conversation?
And more importantly: what prompted you to share that?
I repeat: inspiration comes to me when I feel prompted; when something metaphorically asks my brain “what do you think about this?” and when I’ve got something to add to this ongoing dialogue.
And then I wonder: how do I convey this in writing?
That is what gets my fingers clacking on the keyboard. I feel inspired when I’m prompted to add my two cents; something from my perspective.
This is true of any piece of writing, no matter what its genre.
The best stories have a strong voice – and I don’t just mean those with complex characters and elaborate themes like all the classics and number 1 best sellers. I’m talking about stories that offer us something unique from the writer’s point of view; something that’s come straight from their mouth as if transcribed not a moment ago; something through which they’ve opened up their heart and soul.
And something got them writing that. Something compelled them to write about a certain character’s struggle or the portrayal of a particular place, fictional or not. Something prompted them.
So, why do I need prompts again?
So far this might all sound a bit like generic advice. “Write from your heart!”, “Write something only you can tell!”, “Just get writing!” All these statements do hold truth, of course, but when it comes to sitting down and actually writing, they’re not all that useful.
What you really need to be presented with is something that incites a spark. And writing prompts do exactly that.
What’s a writing prompt? Well, just about anything can be a writing prompt, and as a writer you will have encountered at least one at some point. It’s whatever floods your mind with thoughts and ideas that compel you to fervently pour word after word onto the page.
It could be an evocative sentence, an image, a piece of music – anything.
And I love writing prompts. They’re to a writer what warmup exercises are to an athlete.
They take you within your own mind to find something you really want to write about; they help you find something to focus on, and to get in the habit of just writing. Even if what you write strays from the original prompt, it doesn’t matter! What’s important is that you got writing; ideas started flowing.
Nine Creative Writing Prompts
Below are 9 writing prompts that I’ve picked to show how they effectively start cooking ideas in a writer’s mind.
Let’s start with one I created by using a random scenario generator:
1. You’ve bought an old chest of drawers and discover a piece of paper stuck inside. What is written on that piece of paper?
This is evocative because it prompts you to ask questions. For example:
- Where did these drawers come from? How old are they exactly? Is there something special about them, e.g. a hidden compartment where the paper was discovered?
- Who put the paper there? When? Why?
- What does it say on it? Does it look old or new? How is it written? Is the handwriting elegant or disjointed?
- Is it a generic letter or an extract from a diary? Or is it addressed specifically to its discoverer?
- How does the main character respond to what is said on the paper?
You could keep going with brainstorming questions here. And as mentioned earlier, this is exactly what you want to get started with writing: to be metaphorically asked “what do you think about this?” You’re invited to answer these questions in your own unique way and write a story in response.
Let’s take a look at another randomly-generated scenario:
2. You and a stranger go down in a lift that doesn’t stop for hours. When it finally opens, where do you arrive?
This is another great prompt because the mundanity of the situation of being in a lift with a stranger is instantly relatable, but when contrasted with the unusual circumstance of continuously descending for a long time, suspense is created and curiosity invoked. It prompts you to ask questions such as:
- Where did you get on the lift? Why? Where were you headed? What do you do the whole time you’re descending?
- What about the stranger? Why did they get on? Do they talk to you? How do they respond to this situation?
- What is the lift’s environment like? What can you see? What can you hear?
- What is the explanation for the lift’s prolonged descent? Is this normal in the context of the story’s universe or is this an exceptional circumstance?
- Where do you arrive? How do you and the other person respond?
Here’s another prompt for you to look at on your own. Take a few minutes to brainstorm some questions like I did above and see what you come up with. You can always leave a comment at the bottom of this article with your thoughts!
3. He told me he was not there yesterday, but many people saw him. Who exactly was that?
Another excellent form of writing prompt is the use of random words.
When completely unrelated words are thrown together, your mind tries to figure out how they could make sense in the same context. In what situation would these words be related? You don’t necessarily have to use every single word, but some will instantly fit together in your mind like puzzle pieces and generate a story idea. For example, these words suggest to me the following scenario:
4. Green, orchestra, cart, theft, entertain, marble, harbour.
- An orchestra has just finished their concert for the night in a venue on a harbour. A few of the members witness a theft taking place nearby as they leave; they see a green cart loaded with goods that flees the scene. Strange-looking marbles are left behind in the thieves’ wake.
The best assortment of words will contain ones that make you think of who your main character or characters are, where they are situated, and what’s happening, such as words like orchestra, harbour, and theft.
And these prompts are so easy to come up with. Find a random word generator online and pick the words that jump out at you – they’re the ones to which your mind really wants to respond.
Here are a couple more lists of random words that could prompt you to get going:
5. Presence, risk, student, short circuit, radiation, mile, assembly.
6. Penalty, temple, highway, wreck, engineer, route, drawing.
Concrete words are generally the most evocative because it invites you to respond with your own interpretation of how people would feel or react. And that makes for the most creative responses – ones that you become wholly invested in and that really get you writing.
Another great way to find writing prompts is by looking at news content.
Isolating a news headline or quote, or simply skim-reading the stories, makes your mind ask questions to fill in the blanks, just as you would with a scenario writing prompt. For example, here are a few headlines and a quote from news stories:
7. Elephants rescued after villagers hold herd hostage for destroying their crops.
8. “There are many people who are in a train a lot of the time. That’s not so unusual.”
9. Journalist runs from tear gas during a live broadcast.
As with the other prompts we’ve looked at, what questions do these headlines make you ask? What do you answer with? And how can you answer these questions in the form of a story?
Get into the habit of warming up with writing prompts
Now you can see why writing prompts are mentally stimulating. The act of sitting down and thinking of a story is truly intimidating to a writer because the avenues they can explore are quite literally endless. By limiting yourself to a few words or a couple of sentences, a route is mapped for your mind to follow.
Of course, all the ideas I’ve thought of throughout this article are just immediate brainstorms and are certainly not the makings of bestsellers; they would need to be fleshed out into more comprehensive stories with arcs.
But responding to the questions that prompts invite you to ask is a great warm-up exercise that gets your mind pumping with ideas and ready to run: to simply start writing.