When I was just a wee writer, having “published” my first book in elementary school with rubber cement and wrapping paper, I kept a box of “Write On!” next to my typewriter. A brief search on the internet reveals that you can’t buy Write On! anymore. At any rate, Write On! was a heavily shellacked, yellow and black box of heavy flash cards. Each card inside had a goofy line-drawing illustration and the first few sentences of a potential story. From those few sentences, you could go anywhere, write anything.
Long after I had grown out of the goofiness of the “Write On!” box, I decided to make my own. (This was back before the ubiquity of online shopping.) I bought a file card box and a few packs of index cards and started filling them with magazine cutouts, random sentences, questions… I even filed some photos in between the cards. If I get stuck for writing, I can just pull out the old box and see where it takes me.
I have also dreamed for a long time about having a flash fiction night for writers. Okay, so it can’t be called flash fiction anymore, because we all know that means short short… Maybe we could call it On-spot writing or something (like something much better). Turns out, this night is now in existence in Chapel Hill and is run by another local author. Everyone shows up, the head writer gives a prompt, and everyone writes for like fifteen or twenty minutes. Then, if you’re brave, you read. It’s just how I had always imagined it, except I wanted an applause-o-meter and a prize for the best on-the-spot writing.
All that to say, prompts are cool. They can take you somewhere you had no idea you could head, and they can do that when you feel like your brain in already fried, or just plain empty. We all have those days. And even if you don’t, we could all do with a little mental stretching. It’s like Luminosity for writers. So here are some great writing prompt ideas for you, just in case you need it:
- 642 Things to Write journal (and 712 More Things to Write and 642 Things to Write Young Writer’s Edition). In just a word or phrase, this journal prompts you and gives you the (small) space to write it. Prompts vary widely.
- The Amazing Story Generator, Jay Sacher. A flip-book in three sections: situation, character, and event. Combine options at random to get your prompt.
- Rip the Page!, Karen Benke. Including ideas, experiments, and inspiration, this book meant for middle grades has been popular even with adults. Most like an activity book.
- 1,000 Awesome Writing Prompts, Ryan Andrew Kinder. A very highly recommended book of prompts that cover a wide breadth.
- 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2. Highly introspective and sometimes philosophical, these prompts are perhaps more apt for bloggers than story writers.
- Write Starts, Hal Zina Bennett. More than just prompts, this book promises encouragement and other types of writing exercises.
- Writer’s Digest Creative Writing Prompts. Basically, it’s a blog kept by Brain A. Klems, listing writing prompts. Effectively, it a list of prompts, for you.
- Teacher’s Corner Daily Writing Prompts. Listed by month, a writing prompt for every school day of the year. Definitely more juvenile, but if you write about history, this might be a good one for you.
- Poets & Writers Prompts. Smaller lists fall into three categories: Nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.
- The Prompt Machine. The site randomly generates a number of scenarios for you based on the equation Character + Desire + Conflict = Story. Sort of fascinating.
- The Writer Writing Prompts. I liked this list because it wasn’t just story starters, but included actual thinking, life experiences, and activities.
Of course, there are always these tried and true ideas:
- Go for a walk. In the city or in the woods or along the beach. Let your mind wander.
- People watch. Let your mind fill in the gaps in people’s lives and personalities. Just don’t attack anyone.
- Take a shower or go for a drive (but not at the same time). These are two of my personal creative spaces.
- Get together with a friend or three. Let the conversation flow. Explain to them whey you are jotting notes.
- Watch a movie. I would prefer one with great ratings, but even a bad movie can generate ideas. Don’t fall asleep.
- Read! Read widely and read often. Read cereal boxes and read classic novels. Read what moves you.
- Look through magazines and old photos. Pay attention to details and images, not just the obvious.
- Talk to kids. You can even tell them why. What story ideas do they have? What did they do on recess today?
- Join a club or get a job. A different one. Customer service is a great way to want to write about something, even if just for revenge.
- Do something you’ve never done before. Take up kayaking, or knitting, or join Durham’s Pop Up Chorus.
- Relax. Do yoga. Take a nap. Feed yourself and slap on some chapstick. Just don’t do it all the time.
- Uh, journal. For getting that going, see the blog HERE, where I recommend some great (and inspiring) journals.
And always do these things with a pad of paper and a pen (or a recording device)!
Lastly, here’s a few of my own making, to go on with:
- Write a flash fiction story in a genre you have never written in before: fantasy, horror, romance, YA…
- Grab your most recent antagonist and plop them in a place and time they don’t belong. What happens?
- Make your childhood self a child superhero (or teen). What would be the coolest superhero power? Make sure to keep yourself in your familiar childhood world.