“I stuck, Mommy! I stuck!”
I hear this phrase at least six times a day from my two-year-old. She is consistently wedging herself into places from which she can’t seem to extract herself without some help. Sometimes she’s actually stuck, and sometimes she just needs some encouragement to get out of the predicament on her own.
I often feel like this when I’m trying to write something. It’s easy to get stuck. For some people, the ideas seem to flow smoothly for a while and then stop suddenly. For others, it takes a little more coercing to get started. Along with utilizing some of the great resources online (writing courses, message boards, writers’ Facebook groups) you can also use some writing prompts to get those creative juices flowing.
- Journal About Your Day.
Journaling is the most common piece of advice that I have seen for someone suffering from writer’s block. Just sit down and write about whatever wants to come out. Talk about the day you had today, what you had to eat, who you talked to, what good or bad things happened. Write about your thoughts, your feelings – get everything out on the page. You can refer back to it later for ideas. If nothing else, you will likely feel more clear-headed and ready to focus your writing on other things.
- Follow Your Passion.
Pick something you’re passionate about (something that makes you angry, sad, hurt, happy, giddy) and write about it. One of my favorite pieces that I have written so far came from something that annoyed me. I was ranting about it to my husband, and then I decided to write it down. It took less than fifteen minutes and a quick edit, and I had gold!
- Make Up a Word.
Make up a new word, give it a definition, and create a story around it. One of the best writers of our time (J.K. Rowling, maybe you’ve heard of her) made up words that have become household staples (muggle, quidditch, pensieve). She built a whole series of stories around them. Your made-up word might sound silly initially, but the more you use it, the less silly and more fun it becomes.
- Write From a Quote.
Pick a favorite quote from an author, celebrity, or other public figure, and build a personal essay around it. You can write your opinion or draw from experience and create a story related to this quote. You can write a narrative example of the quote in action or make it more like a journal entry where you talk about how this quote has affected your life. However you choose to use it, an inspirational, humorous, or even offensive quote can be an amazing springboard for a great fiction or nonfiction piece. (An example of a website that uses this method is Tiny Buddha.)
- Watch Your Favorite Show or Movie.
Watch a television show or a movie, and then write about it as if you were one of the characters who lived the experience. Yes, you are writing someone else’s story, but it gives you an opportunity to create emotional depth and inner monologs for a chosen character. You don’t have to write from the main character’s point of view either. You could choose an extra standing in the background observing a scene. This concept can apply to books and short stories you enjoy as well. Choose an obscure character and write the story from his or her point of view. It’s an excellent writing exercise and just might generate ideas for your own original stories.
- Open a Dictionary or Thesaurus.
Yes, those still exist. And those of us who enjoy writing often keep at least one of these handy in hard copy form. Close your eyes, flip through the pages, and point to a word. Whatever word your finger lands on is the one you write about. Maybe this word will evoke a memory, and you will write about a real-life experience. Maybe it will elicit strong emotions, and you will write a strongly opinionated essay. Or maybe it will mean nothing at all to you, and you will be free to build an entirely new story around this one word.
- Pick a Random Object.
Choose an object that is lying around your home, and write a story about it. It could be a clock, a piece of jewelry, or a dish towel. Choose whatever item strikes your fancy and write a story that brings this item to life. It might be a story centered around the item or from the point of view of the item itself. (Ever seen Toy Story?) Or you could jot down your thoughts about the item or any particular memories associated with it. Just pick something, and write about it.
- Read Someone Else’s Book.
Read a book or a story, and write your analysis or your opinion. This helps you get inside the head of another writer. Write about how much you loved or hated the story. Write about how much it resonated with you or how little you can relate to it. Pick out favorite quotes and expand on them or pick it apart and criticize every element. No matter which route you choose, this will get you thinking and possibly spark new ideas for your own stories or pieces.
- Track Down Writing Contests.
There is always someone on the Internet running a writing contest based on a particular topic. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, and some are poetry. Even if you don’t submit to the contest, you can use the required topic as a springboard to developing your own idea. A great place to start with this is Hit Record, an open production company that runs its own weekly writing contest. (I am not in any way officially affiliated with Hit Record aside from sending the occasional writing contribution. I just really love this website.)
- Use Calls for Submissions
Calls for submissions make excellent writing prompts. Just like with writing contests, you don’t have to submit to the site, but you can use the topic ideas as a starting point for your next great story, article, or personal essay. This article from Submittable gives some great information on writing from calls for submissions.
- Use Old Photographs.
Make up your own descriptions and back stories for the people in old photographs. These can be photographs of people you know or people you have never met. Go to the library and browse genealogy books related to your local area. Look at the photos of the people, and without reading the actual story (although you might want to do that eventually) make up your own character using that physical description and that particular time and place. You might be surprised where your imaginations will take you.
- Use Your Memories.
Take a personal memory, embellish it, and turn it into a story. It can be something as simple as eating family dinners as a child. Sometimes you don’t even have to embellish. You can simply write the memory as it happened, edit for clarity, and many times, you have a riveting, thought-provoking, highly relatable story.
- Check The News.
If you are struggling for inspiration, simply turn on the television and watch the news or go to a local or national news website. You will never be at a loss for stories. The only downside is that most of these can be quite sad. If you need inspiration for something happy, Humans of New York is full of heart-warming, uplifting stories of real, everyday people.
- People Watch.
This is one of my favorite writings prompts (in a completely non-creepy way). I love imagining where people might be going or what they might have on their to-do list for the day. What are their hopes and dreams? What kind of job might they have? If you are a fan of writing in a local coffee shop and are suffering from writer’s block, stop and take a look around you. Write a physical description of the barista and make up a character for him. Perhaps he’s working his way through college or perhaps he is saving to travel. Perhaps he is a spy with a secret identity and is working undercover as a barista.
Perhaps the brunette lady two tables over with her nose in a book just returned to work after having her first child and is enjoying alone time on her lunch break. Or perhaps she is meeting someone. Or maybe she is in the witness protection program, and the name she gives the barista for her coffee is not her real one. The possibilities are endless.
- Browse Old Journals.
I’ve been keeping a diary in some form since I was six years old. I have piles of old diaries and notebooks and scraps of paper. I could never bring myself to throw any of it away. I have found that they often act as excellent writing prompts for stories, personal essays or articles. Sometimes I pick up where I left off with an old story or pick out a few elements I like and scrap the rest all together.
Do you have any favorite writing prompts or ways that you generate new ideas? I would love to hear them! Please share in the comments below.