Recently, I wrote here about writing prompts, and how, in a writing class in Dun Laoghaire, the teacher’s writing prompt became the kernel of an idea that became my first novel, The Other Boy.
This week, I’m going to share some writing prompts that have worked for me and my students. But before we jump into the list below, let’s go over some of the ground rules.
I think of a writing prompt as being like a pass in a game of rugby – it’s coming at you fast and the only thing to do is catch it and run. You don’t have time to stop or stand around and think about what to do next. Or you could, but you’re not going to get very far.
If you’ll indulge me with my rugby analogy, writing prompts are a game but we’re not playing to win. This is not the Six Nations or the Heineken Cup we’re talking about, it really is one of those occasions where taking part is what counts. There’s no agenda, no deadline, no reader to impress. Our only job is to play. Oh, and to have fun playing.
One of the things I like about writing prompts is that they take you places you hadn’t planned on going, places you didn’t know you could go. Whether we like it or not, most of us have a style, a pretty well-worn way of writing our way into something. A writing prompt doesn’t just show us another path, it can blow the path clean away, so suddenly we’re dangling out in space.
Below is a list of five writing prompts that have worked for me and my students. Read through them, but read quickly, no dawdling, no note taking in the margins. Once you’ve worked your way down the list, one will stick in your head more than the others. Don’t question it or judge it, just write down what came into your head when you read it. Then you write the next line and the one after that. If you are like me and have a very vocal critic in your head, the trick is to write fast. The faster you write, the quieter the critic’s voice will become, you won’t, in fact, be able to listen to it and keep writing at the same time.
Your job is to keep writing, without stopping, for 15 minutes or 20 if you can. Set a timer, so you’re not looking at the clock. Once the timer goes off, if you want to keep writing and finish it off, that’s great. Write until you want to stop and then – this is important – put the piece away. If you want to write more, then try another prompt or work on something else. The only thing NOT to do is read back over what you just wrote. Leave that piece alone, don’t start to edit. Not yet. Not today.
Sometimes the writing prompt piece will percolate in my head overnight. The next day I’ll go back to it, edit what I wrote or add more onto it. Sometimes I forget all about what I wrote for a few days or a week or much longer. But when I do go back to it – as I eventually will – one of the things I’ve noticed is that I’m very often surprised by what I wrote, that sometimes it doesn’t even feel like my writing at all.
Whether you go back to your piece the next day or the next week, you might be surprised by what you wrote too. Your words may not be the try that wins the game, but with a little polish and tweaking, they might just get you over the line…
- Write a conversation between two characters which includes the following line: “I think I might be lost.”
- Sensory writing is vivid writing. Your character is on a beach in winter. Write this scene and include three of the five senses.
- Include these items in a story: ballet shoes, a basketball, an empty pizza box.
- Start here: “If I’d known this was how things would end up I never would have rung the bell that morning.”
- Every picture tells a story. Write this one:
Leave your pieces in the comments!
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(c) Yvonne Cassidy
Yvonne Cassidy is the New York based author of three novels. Find out more at www.yvonnecassidy.com
Yvonne’s latest novel, How Many Letters Are In Goodbye? is the story of Rhea Farrell, a young Irish girl, homeless on the streets of New York, trying to find out more about her mother who died when Rhea was only three.
Rhea unearths buried secrets of her mother’s past, all the while confronting some secrets of her own: the truth behind a childhood accident and her confusion around her sexuality. As Rhea discovers who her mother truly was, she starts to figure out just who she herself wants to be.