Seven Reasons To Use Writing Prompts

“Every writer I have ever met has an almost pathological predisposition to procrastination.” – Adam Maxwell, Lost the Plot?

NaNoWriMo has begun. Hundreds of writers are staring at pages or screens, countless words hovering in their subconscious, waiting to be written. It’s write, or die. I’m fairly relieved to once again not be taking part.

Maybe you’re one of the fearless crowd taking on this vertiginous challenge. If you are, I salute you. It’s not for me.

Yet writing marathons such as NaNoWriMo have their upsides: for one, they’re the best cure for an ailment that plagues nearly every author in my acquaintance, including myself.

This ailment is, of course, procrastination.

So what can the doctor prescribe for a procrastinating author like me, who is severely allergic to writing marathons generally, and NaNoWriMo in particular?

Ta da! Writing Prompts!

The reason writing marathons kick procrastination in the butt is because they give you a time constraint: you have no option other than to write, so away you go.

But writers of delicate constitution such as myself can benefit from the softer approach of using writing prompts, which — rather than constrict your time — simply give your muse a little nudge out the door.

Not convinced? I procrastinated by coming up with the following list:

7 Reasons To Use Writing Prompts

  1. Defeat the dreaded white page. Do you freeze up at the sight of a blank page? Put a writing prompt in big bold letters at the top and voila, blank page is no more.

  2. Improve your craft. Practice makes perfect. Writing prompts make great ‘homework’ assignments; I like using them to quickly flex my writing muscles when I don’t have enough time for a full-blown writing session.

  3. Create an ideas box. Mine’s more of a messy pile, but keep those prompt-inspired scribbles in a box somewhere. You never know when you could reuse that material, and often reading through old scribbles helps inspire new ideas.

  4. Explore new territories. Get outside your comfort zone. An unusual prompt can take you down unexplored paths and encourage you to explore new writing styles and genres… and you never know what gem of an idea you could discover.

  5. Focus your mind. Rather than spend ten minutes getting ‘in the zone’ to work on your masterpiece, use those minutes to freewrite from a writing prompt. It’s a good warm-up to get you into the writing mindset before you work on a project close to your heart.

  6. Increase your creativity. Writing prompts make you question the world, developing your skill to see ideas in absolutely anything. Soon you won’t need to go looking for writing prompts — they’ll come looking for you.

  7. [Your reason here]. Yes, I couldn’t think of a seventh reason, although I’m sure there is one. Why not give a girl a hand?

Ultimately, it is not really the content of writing prompts that matters, but how they can be used to help overcome procrastination. Administered properly, writing prompts improve your craft and creativity, and can help develop more regular writing habits.

What about you? Do you use writing prompts? Why or why not?

Writing prompt resources: Lost the Plot? by Adam Maxwell; Seventh Sanctum; 3 Word Wednesday; Daily Photo Prompt… there are thousands!

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4 thoughts on “Seven Reasons To Use Writing Prompts

  1. In my writers group we have challenge months every other month – basically, we take turns at picking a (usually, themed), anthology or market, we put it to the group, and everyone is meant to give it a go! We’ve had some interesting choices, and I find it quite a challenge, but also quite exciting, to write to spec. Thankfully, most of them are broad enough that should the story not fit, you can find another home for it elsewhere :-)

    • I think it was Neil Gaiman who once said he prefered it when people asked him to write about something specific – eg, write a story about a cat – rather than something vague like “Can you write a story for us about anything?”

      I definitely prefer to write to spec, too.

  2. Pingback: WCDR Short Story Contest [with Sarah Selecky]: Get Writing! | The Writers' Community of Durham Region

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