Writing Prompts for Rebels


Exploded pen

Exploded pen (Photo credit: quinn.anya)

In the interest of delaying Christmas prep, I started the day by checking out Facebook.  After hearing whispers and sniggers yesterday, I saw it; Facebook has changed their writing prompts.  They’ve done this before, when I first joined it just said my name and … Then it said “write something.” Today, it wanted to know how I’m feeling. I hit refresh, and it asked “what’s going on?” Really?  I thought this was social networking. Wouldn’t be very social if I began each day telling about my midlife aches and how many times I was awakened during the night.


I understand, the powers that be are experimenting with prompts to encourage conversations and drive traffic. Maybe users reposting all those memes instead of chats are bad for business.


Naturally, this made me think of writing prompts in general, and how very bad I’m always been with them. I just don’t find inspirational-you too-can tomes to be effective for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got enough books on writing and the publishing business to stock the reference section of a medium sized bookstore. But the feel good, court your muse, take out a fresh sheet of paper, “I’m a good friend…” 20 minutes of stream of consciousness, GO! Mmyeah, no. I know Anne Lamott works for many, but she isn’t my gal. My favorite is Stephen King’s On Writing, but I’m also quite fond of Some Writers Deserve to Starve, by Elaura Niles.  Really, no treatise on how to write has ever touched the elegance of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.



No Spitting sign

No Spitting sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do so many books on creative writing include these squishy prompts and exercises? Whenever I read one, I feel like every elementary school teacher I had has me locked in an overenthusiastic hug while chanting, “What did you do on summer vacation?” And Mr Talbot has a little issue keeping the spittle inside his mouth, some might say slobbery.

So when I see these feel good, meaningful prompts, I shudder. And roll my eyes. If the prompt/exercise instructions actually includes the word muse, I giggle. No matter what I do, I do not feel inspired to write. Not just uninspired, but frozen, locked, hard pressed to remember that I’ve ever strung more than two words together to form a sentence.

Why are all these prompts designed to be feel good? I know many who feel great about themselves and their writing isn’t very good. They don’t see it, because they’re busy feeling good. I know others who question their every word, torture themselves over each comma, also not a surefire recipe for enjoyable work. Can’t tell as easily with this group, because their manifestos are locked in the attic next to the absinthe, waiting to be discovered posthumously.

This has me wondering thinking about what type of writing prompt will work for me. In the past, deadlines have worked. I’m pretty sure a paycheck would work. It’s self evident that looking at the laundry pile will get my fingers tap dancing across the keyboard. But a single phrase or sentence designed to let my not so inner verbose self loose?

Maybe if it was a clear direction to shut the fuck up.

What works/doesn’t work for you? If you read (or have read) books on writing, do you prefer the inspirational ones, dry and simple mechanics, or stories of other, successful writers?

omit needless words. repeat as necessary.

omit needless words. repeat as necessary. (Photo credit: darkmatter)



  1. I hate books that tell there is one correct way to approach writing. Had that been true, e.e. cummings would have been screwed. Outlines constrict me and prompts are just annoying. Or perhaps I am simply menopausal, so I am cranky in general.

    Here’s what Kurt Vonnegut had to say and I love it:
    “If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite
    hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is how you’ve been to college.”



  2. I was quite stressed when my status window seemed to care and knew my name, it had clearly taken all those hours on fb the wrong way. Did this count as infidelity I wondered, or was it still stalking if it only came from it? Now the panic has subsided I am fighting facetious answers to it’s queries, if I am not careful my status updates will be full of: what’s it to you, mind you own and bugger off 🙂
    Writing books? Not got any, shocker I know. Prompts? What moves my genius is yet to be written, snigger 🙂


    1. I’ve warned my FB friends to protect their hearts, it doesn’t truly care for us. 😀

      Hah! I’ve yet to tap my inner genius, it appears to be trapped behind the loquaciousness that comes of blogging 😉


  3. I laughed when I saw it, and was immediately inspired to respond with sarcasm. And in keeping with FB already stripping us of privacy one year… trying to restore a modicum the next… and so on, my reaction was “ok, this is funny and stalker-ish all at once.”

    Writing prompts first filled my heart with dread in this house because they were objects of horror to Boy #1. There it was, the first half-sentence followed by ten intimidating blank lines. He’d write HUGE, trying to fill the space. Yet he could write entire stories of his own making, just don’t tell him what to write! Boy #2 seemed to like them. Give him an idea and it just flows. He’s the creative sort and it blows me over. His one page would be crammed and filled the back of the page too and a second age stapled on would contain an elaborate drawing. He’s never spontaneously written anything, though.

    I know nothing of what you real writers are talking about with your real books and writing styles. 😀


    1. Wait. Let me amend that. Boy#2 writes beautiful poetry. 😀 Which is incredibly amazing to me. Not at all the topic of this post, but must be added so as to give him credit after what I stated in my post!


        1. He really does. I can remember being frozen when we were expected to write poetry in English class, especially of a specific type. Composing X type of poem is essentially a “prompt” and it just flows for him- once given that bit of inspiration. It kinda just stopped for him for a few years when he was especially struggling and to see one on the board for meet the teachers night a couple months ago made me so so happy.


          1. I can just feel the rush of pleasure to see one of his poems unexpectedly up in the classroom. I hope the poetry gives him an outlet and pleasure that he undoubtedly provides his readers. ❤


    2. I’m with Boy #1, lol!
      And you know a lot more than you think. A basic command of the language carries you quite far, add in an appreciation for a lovely image, a point to be made, voila!


      1. Thank you. ❤ I do like to express myself in words, and I am finding I like to do so even more the longer I blog. But I think a substantial part of it at times is because I have difficulty expressing myself verbally as there are no do-overs that way when it comes out wrong and editing myself to make the words come out "right" satisfies some bizarre inner need. So writing prompts would annoy me more than anything else when I am trying to fill some inner need already to write.

        I've never read any kind of book on how to be a writer because I've never had aspirations to be a writer. I've read a few of the WP blogs on how to blog effectively out of curiosity but when they get into the post a day things the topics they suggest (writing prompts) just don't grab me. It would seem artificial to post about something because they tell me to. I am sorta interested in the ones involving photos though and may try one of THOSE.


        1. Understood. I’m a talker when I know someone, or if it’s something I feel passionate about. Ultimately, I like speaking with people because it feels informal, I don’t feel I have to be edited (except in certain situations, of course). The post challenges don’t interest me either, but I would love to see what you come up with if you decided to try the photo challenge. 🙂


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