Wednesday, 16 May 2018 03:41

Writing Prompts - Helpful or Pointless?

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When I first joined my local writing group (over twenty years ago now!) I thought writing to a prompt was a lazy, hit-or-miss approach to getting a story. I thought, if you're a 'real' writer, you should have so much to say about life, you'll have stories bursting out of you. 

I've since come to change that view. It seems to me now that writing this way is like going fishing - with the prompt as your bait. You throw out your line and hope for a nibble. If you get a bite and it's something interesting, you 'reel it in' by writing more about it, going deeper, exploring what's there.

This method works not because writers lack ideas but because they have far too many. Our choices for subjects are truly infinite. It's like asking someone, 'What do you feel about every event, every situation and every person you've ever encountered, real or imagined?' That is literally what every author has to work with. Hard to not be overwhelmed - where do I begin?

A writing prompt gives me something to focus on. How do I feel about the colour green, or a specific scent from my childhood? It's taking a single drop of water from an endless ocean and examining under a microscope. There might be something there or there might not. And sometimes we writers don't even know what we think about a subject until we write about it.

Don't get me wrong, ideas still come to me out of the blue. Stories and characters waking me at night, wanting to be written. But every now and then it's good to go off and do a little fishing on the side.

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Jim Sunday, 18 November 2018 17:25 posted by Jim

    I came to writing a few years ago with absolutely no experience. I joined a local writer's group and left that first meeting, feeling as if I were in over my head. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about! A few members suggested I get hold of "Writing Fiction" put out by the Gotham Writer's Workshop. Essentially it offers exercises in the craft of writing: POV, scene vs summary, character development, plot ... etc. Although prompts, per se, are not given, each exercise does encourage you to focus on one specific aspect of writing. For me, that felt like the "hook" - a nudge in a specific direction to explore. In some way, I suppose this could be considered similar to prompts in that it gave me a starting point. What I did from there was up to my imagination. I have written a few short pieces that grew out of a prompt. It always surprises me where I end up ... sometimes for the better, other times, not so much. But it always helps to get those creative juices flowing! Btw, love this blog!

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