Recently I shared some exercises I use with my students at Fordham for revising fiction and narrative nonfiction. But a lot of us need inspiration at the other end of the process, too — right at the beginning. So below are some of the best writing prompts I’ve used over the years. Some I made up, some I gathered from other writers, and some I found in books.
You can approach these any way you wish: write about yourself, another person, or a character you’ve created. Don’t think too much — just start. Here’s an idea from Monica Wood, in The Pocket Muse: ”Set a timer for forty-five minutes, and don’t get out of the chair until the timer dings. Even if you sit staring at the page the entire time, you’re ingraining the habit.” And another piece of advice from Monica: “Tempted to quit early? Make yourself this promise: One more sentence. Say this every time you want to quit early: One more sentence.”
So — to write! Here you go:
- Write about your hidden talent.
- Write about the first time you felt dispensable.
- Write about a disagreeable person who, for whatever reason, you have an attachment to.
- Write about a photograph that means something to you, and why.
- Give me your morning. Breakfast, waking up, walking to the bus stop. Be as specific as possible. Use the five senses. Take it slow.
- Write about “leaving.” Approach it any way you want. Write about your divorce, leaving the house this morning, a friend dying, packing for a trip.
- Everyone has a secret — some dark only because hidden. Give a character a secret and a reason for hiding it.
- Write about a family story. The one you don’t like. The one your mother always tells on a third glass of wine.
- Write a story about two overlapping triangles in opposition, the most obvious being two lovers and their four parents.
- Finally, a great one from The Pocket Muse: Almost any situation includes insiders and outsiders. Most human beings, no matter what their stations, consider themselves outsiders. Write about being an insider.