Wednesday, January 28, 2015

To Prompt, Perchance to Pen

“Where do you get your ideas?”
“I don’t know where to start.”

“What should I write about?”

These are a few of the questions and comments I often hear from people who know there is a writer tucked away inside them but they don’t know how to tease her out.

This blog is about using writing prompts to awaken the writer in you.

Getting to Know You as a Writer
Remember the first day of school when your teacher asked you to write a story called “What I did on my Summer Vacation” or a paragraph about you –your family, your hobbies, and so forth?

Your teacher was getting to know you as a person as well as getting to know you as a writer. He or she could evaluate your writing skills, vocabulary, sentence structure, use of punctuation, spelling, and creativity with that beginning of the year assignment. If your teacher had you write a similar piece after Christmas break, he or she could compare the two pieces to note growth. A simple assessment.

You can do the same thing. I look at my early writing and try to see what worked and what didn’t. For example, I can clearly see my skill in writing dialogue has improved over time. Additionally, as my understanding of point of view (POV) has grown, I can go back to earlier work and revise it accordingly.

Image Credit: Tracy Marchini
You can do this using a writing prompt. Try your hand at writing to the same prompt once a year or every few months. Put them in a file and pull them out once in a while to assess your own writing skills. The same prompt? Sure. Think about it. Though you may have had some similar experiences every summer as a child, each summer vacation held new experiences and insights as well.

You may already have a sample. Do you write a Christmas letter every year to include in your Christmas cards? Pull those letters out. Look past the content and study your writing.

Writing Prompts as Warm-up Exercises
Ever have a tough time getting those creative juices flowing? Writing prompts are often used as warm up exercises in writing. Engaging in writing of any sort will engage your brain. While writing to the prompt, you will likely find yourself thinking of other writing you want to do or the prompt will trigger an idea about something totally different.

For example, even in the midst of writing a novel, I sometimes use a prompt to get me in my “write mind.” While writing Breathing on Her Own, I warmed up with a prompt called “Home Sweet Home.” The directions said to write a story about a remodeling project you undertook. I completed the exercise writing about the time my husband and I tried our hand at wallpapering the bathroom. While composing it though, my mind flew to Laney’s house in Breathing on Her Own. With the injuries, Laney sustained in the accident, she would be in a wheelchair when she came home from the hospital. What modifications would they need to make to her house to accommodate her?

Finding Prompts
Of course you can create your own list of prompts if you like. Some authors keep a running list of interesting topics, names, communities, or situations.

If you are not sure where to begin, here are a few ideas for you to check out.

Chicken Soup for the Soul

I often write to the topics presented by Chicken Soup for the Soul. Two of those “exercises” were accepted for publication. The prompts are descriptive and offer suggestions for the direction you might take. I use the prompts as exercises even if I don’t have a great story to share.

Writer’s Digest

Brian A. Klems offers great prompts though the online Writer’s Digest. One of the perks is that you can write to the prompt, post it in the comment section and get feedback from Klems as well as other writers.

Daily Teaching Tools

Wish you could slip back into Mr. Lopez’s English class? Pick through these 180 prompts to get those creative juices flowing.

Awesome Writing Prompts

Interesting prompts that include scenes, objects, and characters. This is the adult version of Mr. Lopez’s class.

The Bible

Yep, the B-I-B-L-E. Use your daily reading in God’s Word to trigger your creativity. Use a verse from Proverbs or a chapter in Ecclesiastes as your writing prompt. Try your hand at writing your own Psalm. And here is a great one to get those creative juices flowing. Read a parable Jesus shared and retell the story from the perspective of one of the characters. One of my favorite examples of this was when a friend wrote the story of the Good Samaritan from the victim’s point of view. And you might want to take a character or story from the Bible and create a modern day version of it. They make movies out of those, by the way!

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