Each day, I begin my Creative Writing classes with a writing prompt. It seems, regardless of the prompt, someone doesn’t like it. I’ll often garner a few complaints about how the prompt is “stupid” or “lame” or “too hard.” To which, I say, “Too bad. Do it anyway.”
While I may come across as a heartless ogre (admittedly, my trollish face doesn’t do much to convince them otherwise) there are a few simple reasons I insist on opening with writing prompts.
PUTS PEN TO PAPER: We get busy. Insisting on a daily writing prompt ensures that my students (and I) put pen to paper and write, even if only for a few minutes each day. We can only improve our craft if we’re actively practicing it. Ten minutes of daily writing will do more to improve our craft than the occasional, once-a-week writing marathon. Consistency helps us develop good habits—that is, the daily practice of our craft.
ENCOURAGES THINKING CREATIVELY: Even if you don’t like the prompt, writing it may spark something in your imagination that will launch the plans for an entire story, novel, world, or even planet-eating death star. Often, it is not the prompt itself that results in the formation of a novel, but the spark that prompt encourages.
THE HARDER IT IS, THE BETTER IT IS: Another complaint I get is this: “Do I have to do it that way?" Yes. Yes you do. But thanks for asking. Why? The harder it is, the better it is for your development. Working within a structured set of rules will force you to be more creative within those boundaries. We throw the term “rules” around when discussing craft, and as soon as the word leaves our lips, someone stands up and shouts, “Nonsense! Writing has no rules! It’s all subjective!” When they do, I hear the their true cry: “It’s too hard! I don’t want to do it!” There are rules for good writing. It is not subjective. And, as in poetry, the breaking of those rules can be a powerful, strategic literary move. But only if it’s strategic. If you don’t know the rules, you can’t break them. Working within boundaries makes us stronger. Think of it as a work out. You may lift weights, but doing bicep curls doesn’t do much for your calves. Writing prompts are like structured work-outs to help a specific aspect of your writing. When you do enough of them, the whole body benefits.
RESOURCES FOR WRITING PROMPTS: Here are a few links if you’re thirsty for some prompts. Go, therefore, and create.