How to work your imagination:
- Dismantle your box.
- Push yourself.
- Risk everything.
Everyone lives inside a box they’ve built for themselves. I know a lot of writers who only write fairy-tale retellings, or only write female MCs — because that’s what they’re comfortable with. There’s nothing wrong with having a niche or a specialty, but don’t think that just because you like to work within a limited set of parameters that those parameters define you. Some of my favorite stories are from authors who typically write in one genre who have crossed over into another because they bring their personal flavor with them and create something entirely new. Look at your Medium or Twitter or Facebook profiles. How do you define yourself? Consider the words you’ve chosen for your self-representation. Do they do you justice or do they limit you? Are you willing to step beyond those limitations and break out of your box for a while?
Time frames and deadlines are excellent forms of motivation. Write a short story a day for a week and see what you churn out. Write a short story in four hours, in one hour, in 30 minutes. These time restraints will stop you from second guessing yourself. If you only have thirty minutes to write a story, there is no time for self-doubt. Even if the result is a total mess, you’ve completed something. You will improve with every single story you write — not that every story will be better then the last, but you’ll learn or perfect something new each time. The best form of motivation is completion. Complete small, messy, beautiful things everyday.
Writing is a non-contact sport, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any risk involved. I hate public speaking, it’s terrifying. Posting your words online is like standing on stage in the Lincoln Center, except the spotlights are so blinding you can’t tell if the place is empty or if there’s a full-house. Either way, putting your words out there is important. Fans or no, critics or no, allowing your work to be public is allowing it to live. It also officiates the completion of it. Once you hit publish, be it on Medium, your blog, or a forum somewhere, those words are free to influence, inspire, and entertain.
Okay some of that was hard and I told your writing should be enjoyable, so let’s play a game.
This game is inspired by the NYC Midnight short story contest as it shares the writing prompt format. I’ve made three lists for you to randomly select from. The genres are all within the speculative fiction umbrella because that’s my box and I thought I’d share it with you. Even if you are also a writer of speculative fiction I’m sure there are many sub-genres here you aren’t comfortable with.
Grab two dice (or use a random number generator) and roll three times. Once for genre, once for subject, and once for character. Each category must be relevant to the story, i.e. if you roll a beggar he must have an impact on the plot, he can’t just be briefly mentioned. That said the character you roll doesn’t have to be your main character. The same goes for the subject category. The subject must be important to the plot, but you also have a lot of freedom there to interpret the subject as you wish. The point is to stretch your mind.
Try to set a limited amount of time to write this story. You can do it in a day or in an hour, whatever you prefer, but try to push your boundaries.
Then post it! Post it in the comments, on your blog, or wherever, but make it public. Make sure to tag me so I can check out your beautiful stories. Happy writing.
I am not sure if anyone has done this, but when I was a teenager, 20 odd years ago, I used to keep a notepad by my bedside and write my dreams as soon as I woke up so as not to forget them.
On recalling this I thought that it would be a good idea to get back into this habit and use the dreams as inspiration for my writing even if the amount of info remembered from the dream would only serve as a writing prompt.
These are by far my favourite writing prompts. I need more like these. I like to use them for chapter openings and prefer them to the usual prompts.
In my writing group we have a short story contest once a month. We can write whatever we want and are given two or more words that we have to use in the story. I have used several of the writing prompts listed above to get an idea. I not only won on an idea from #8, but I’m now turning it into a novel. Your prompts are very simple and help get my imagination going. Thank you so much!!!!!
Reddit has an entire subreddit dedicated to user-submitted writing prompts: http://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts
You can simply grab a dictionary or a newspaper and then a random word. And see what you can make of it!
Go to the above website or Penny’s Creative Writeshop on Facebook for a prompt a day.
Excellent and quite informative!
Thank you so much for this post. These are awesome writing prompts.
I think it’s much easier to write from prompts of fanfiction, because there’s already an background universe and characters that both the reader and the writer are familiar with. Also, they tend to be more specific, which can really give an idea of what to do, but still giving you freedom to choose how the prompt’s events will take place. It’s a win-win for writer, prompter and random reader.
Really useful, thanks!
Silk. It flowed like water, a shining, slippery green stream, tumbling down Jill’s arm like a waterfall. It would be perfect for her bridesmaids’ dresses.
“It’s lovely,” she said to the sales clerk. “How much does it cost?”
“Ten dollars a yard,” said the clerk.
Jill hurriedly folded the silk and put the bolt back on the shelf. She couldn’t afford that. Four yards, and three bridesmaids, was a hundred and twenty dollars.
She wandered through the store, trying not to look at the rows of silks. Then, between the acrylic felt and the organza, she caught a glimpse of silk again and averted her eyes. But instead, they fell on a sign.
Jill looked where the sign pointed, back to what she’d thought was silk. The same shining fabric as silk. The same drape, the same smoothness.
She grabbed for the price tag. It said: six dollars a yard. At half off, that was… Jill scribbled on paper. Math was never her strong point. Thirty-six?
“Twelve yards, please,” she said to the woman at the cutting counter.
I have been a fan of writing prompts for years. Good golly knows I have bought enough books of the sort over the years. They can be anything that gets one’s mind working and the words flowing. It can be as simple as a random word from the dictionary or an idea from a news story or some crazy event from a “reality” TV show. The prompts are endless.
Thank you for this post. It’s provided a new start for myself as well.
writing a daily journal can help, i guess , or just writing about a movie you enjoyed so much.
my own writing prompt is to start writing as if i am writing a diary.
Then, the conversation with dear diary will do the rest of the work.
But the prompts that you mentioned kevin are also very helpful.
After reading on writing prompts i look back to finish my project of unleashing my non fictional novel.
Thank you so much! The first moment my eyes landed on the prompts a complete plotline of a story instantly snapped into my mind. This helped me a lot ^^
Helpful post, Simon. Family members provide myriad writing prompts.
Wonderful post. A while back I found a writing prompt on a contest which spurred me to write a flash fiction piece. I’ve also had writing prompts give me scene ideas. For those days where the words just aren’t coming, writing prompts provide excellent sparks.
Thanks for the feedback. Strange how you can miss typos despite much proofreading!
Excellent and helpful, Kevin! I’ve often told my writer friends who are suffering a block to use prompts to get their head thinking and fingers flying.
Three prompts I often recommend:
1. Take any ordinary object (a soda can is the example I use) and describe it well enough that anyone can read your words and know precisely what you were describing — the trick is that you can’t use certain words, like “can” or “soda” or “Coke” etc., in your description;
2. Go to an antique dealers shop (really, any ‘I’ve never been in a store like THIS before’ kind of place will do) and pick an object, then write about it, who owned it before, what exotic ports of call it passed through on its way to the store, what the longshoreman who schlepped the crate it arrived in did in his leisure time, etc.;
3. Listen to some music outside your comfort zone — if you like rap and hip-hop, listen to some old school country, for instance — and write what the music makes you feel or think about.
The music prompt is from my own experience. I have an album that (almost!) never fails to ‘get my juices flowing’ and unleash the writer in me when nothing else will do it.
Again, Kevin, great post (although you should proofread better).
Excellent post! I recommend the Creative Copy Challenge (CreativeCopyChallenge.com). Writers are provided with 10 words and they create a short story from them. I was participating in this and discovered my short story was turning into a fiction novel. I haven’t worked on it in some time because I was writing my non-fiction novel; I’ll revisit it in 2011.
And whatever you do, make sure you keep a pen and piece of paper next to your bed. I never fail to think of the most compelling first line ever just as I’m drifting off to sleep.
It doesn’t always look quite as good the next day, but at least if I write it down it stands a chance of survival. If I trust it to memory, by morning it’s long gone.