Writing Prompts: Making Them Your Own

I used to think that writing prompts were stupid and useless. “Write a story about a ball of string, an inquisitive fish, and a shovel.” But even mocking a prompt – or writing prompts, in general – can prove useful when the flow of inspiration is backed up. There are no rules but this: Use the prompt as a springboard for your own ideas and writing.

The boy tied the twine around the handle of an old shovel, then tied the other end of the string around a writhing earthworm. He threw the worm, overhand, into the lake. Then he stood on the blade of the shovel, rocking back and forth. Tommy didn’t even like fish. One ugly, inquisitive bass surfaced to stare at the boy. “Shoo!” said Tommy. He’d heard one of his dad’s friends say, once, that fishing was little more than “drowning worms.” That was all right with Tommy; he wasn’t overly fond of worms, either.

Sometimes, the prompt seems so silly that you drop all pretense of writing something good, and just start writing. Paradoxically, that can lead to some amazing work, as the inner critic rolls his eyes, makes dismissive noises, and goes off to sulk in a dusty armchair in the attic.

Places: Today’s Prompt on The Daily Post

Beach, mountain, forest, or somewhere else entirely?

When we moved, a coworker who had come to Tulsa from Houston gushed, “Oh, you’ll love Houston! The Park ‘n’ Ride makes it so easy to get around. You’re only about an hour from the beach! You’re going to love it there!”

“Beach?” I asked. I really never associated Houston with beaches, although I did realize we were not far from the Gulf Coast.

“Yes, Galveston! You can swim and surf and –”

“You know I’m originally from Daytona Beach, right? So of course that’s my gold standard for beaches. How does Galveston stack up?” I still miss the dunes and the level, hard-packed, clean sand of Daytona, and so far, Bal Harbour is the only beach that’s come close to rivaling that. I love the wild, rocky beaches of Northern California and Oregon, but it’s too cold to swim there, and I have no desire to be dashed against the rocks. The same is true of Maine, although I did swim there – just to say that I had, and not to chicken out when the cold water stole the breath from my lungs and left me wide eyed with shock.

“Daytona? Did I say there was a beach near Houston? I meant to say they have a great symphony, lots of museums, a wonderful theater, a world-class ballet – you’ll love it! But there’s no beach…”

It’s true. The first time we went down to the Galveston beach, I had to grab my child and dodge a Portuguese Man-o-War, a hypodermic syringe, and a bunch of broken confetti eggs. I haven’t climbed down off the sea wall since. I do love to go there for seafood and a gorgeous view – of freighters and oil rigs on the horizon. The beaches are nicer on some parts of the island than on others, to be fair. But poor Galveston cannot compare to Daytona – nor should it have to. It has its own charms.

More Prompts, Pronto!

Here are a few good places to find writing prompts:

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/ – look for the orange box on the right side of the screen. If the latest prompt doesn’t pique your interest, just click Try Another.

http://www.marianallen.com/ – at the end of every post, Marian includes an original writing prompt that ties in with what she’s written. So you can see her spin on it, then take it off in your own direction.

http://creativecopychallenge.wordpress.com/ – instead of a “prompt,” you get a list of words. Make them your own – use them all in a poem, a short story, or even a bit of creative non-fiction. You can post in the comments, or on your blog, or both. Here are a couple of mine:  Culinary Arts and Letters and Valentine Valley Vintners.


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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11 thoughts on “Writing Prompts: Making Them Your Own”

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  3. You never know what might set you off on a writing binge. My latest poem, “If Heaven Exists,” was sparked by a recent get-together with friends, salted with memories of my Aunt Ressie’s wake 38 years ago, and prompted by my oldest daughter sharing a poem by Shane Koyczan on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.

  4. I’m not a huge fan of prompts, but they are great for exercising those writing muscles. 🙂 If the subject interests me, I’ll participate now and then; even won a contest, once. They do help when you’re stuck for a post idea. Thanks for the resources.
    Debbie D. recently posted…FUTURE MUSINGS AT THE DENMy Profile

    1. I usually roll my eyes at prompts – BUT, as you say, they can be good for exercising the writing muscles. Sometimes, I find weird constraints oddly liberating (probably the reason I like to write sonnets – and the eye rolling is what results in sonnets like my ode to roadkill: Two Armadillos’ Strife). I don’t approach prompts with any sort of reverence. The real fun is in turning them on their heads and doing something unique and unexpected.

      Try the one linked below, Debbie!
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Spring! 1000 Words + a PictureMy Profile

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