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What’s in a writing prompt?

What to do when you're stumped for an idea

What’s in a writing prompt?

I’m glad you asked. The trouble with most (but not all) writing prompts is that they don’t go deep enough. Imagine you were on a desert island with only a pen and a cucumber. OK, interesting, but now what? What if you turned out the light and heard the sound of fingernails running down the window? Scary, but what do I do with it? Here’s a fascinating picture of the sea splashing against some rocks. Inspiring, but I still don’t know what to write. A writing prompt is all very well, but it needs to go a bit deeper.

Instructions not included

The other inherent problem with many writing prompts is that they don’t necessarily come with enough instructions. How do I respond to the desert island, the fingernails or the inspiring seascape? What exactly do I write about?

Did anybody order some specificity?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again many times: specificity is the key to good writing. So prompts need to be specific OR contain within them the possibility of getting specific. Some people call this a ‘a creative constraint’. In fact I’ve used that term myself but what I mean here is that specificity is the key component of a creative constraint. It’s the quality that makes it work.

To sum up:

So the best Creative Writing prompts will:

  • Go deep
  • Contain at least some instructions
  • Be specific

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

P.S. I’ve made a list of writing prompt books here.

P.P.S. My own book for beginners, called How to Write, is full of writing prompts.


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