Monday, January 17, 2011

Writing Prompts, Rebellion & Inspiration

I've never been a fan of writing prompts. Frankly, I've found that most of the time they suck. Or maybe more accurately, I suck at writing to prompts. But, most of my students despise the open prompt. Even those who, like me, do not write well to prompts, seek some specific guidance if only to rebel against it. So, a prompt can be useful if only to cure a blank page of excessive space.

Take, for instance, the assignment that I introduce to my Introduction to Creative Writing course:
Find a classified advertisement online (at Craigslist or in the newspaper), one that you find interesting. Then, create a character based on the person who wrote this classified advertisement. Tell me what their first date might be like in under 1,500 words. The story may be told through any perspective, but it must contain some sort of change. The character must somehow be altered by the end of this date.

Pretty specific, eh? And, yet it's open enough that the writer can take the assignment in a dozen different directions. The story could be told from the perspective of the date, for instance, from the waitresses's point of view, or from that of a fly sitting on a coffee cup, listening in. But what's more important is that this assignment also sets a stage, which makes it easier to write those first words.

After making this assignment, I decided to try it out, and guess what? I've written four stories in the past few months (very prolific for me) just because I've been so inspired.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, after years of totally disregarding story prompts, I've found a new fondness of them through teaching. In fact, I do all of the work that I assign so that I can experience the class as a student and also keep up with my craft.

If you happen to try out this assignment, let me know how it went. It really is a fun one.

(Here's some funny classified/ads: )


  1. I use to do a lot of writing prompts in blogging. When I had a hard time getting my head on something worthwhile to write, they would help nudge me along. Currently, I'm not using any, but I do like your suggestion.

    BTW, I never reviewed your book which I was looking forward to doing. I lost my copy (which can be replaced) along with a copy of my journal (which can't be replaced and had a years worth of trips to Central America and along rivers in Michigan and out west). I enjoyed your writing style.

    Why is my verification prompt "losest"?

  2. Check out the book The Poet's Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. It's loaded with great prompts for poetry or prose. I do agree with you, generally. Most writing prompts are badly written. Someone needs to publish a book of writing prompts for the writing of writing prompts. How po-mo would that be? This piece is so very well written. A+ readability. You thoroughly engaged this reader. Cheers.


Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...