Elements of Style

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)