How to Get Ideas: Prompts

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. I’ve written about what if questions and titles, and today I’m going to write about prompts.

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To be honest, I usually don’t like writing prompts. When I think of prompts, I think back to my writing classes in college. The teacher would give us a prompt and everyone would write silently for ten minutes, and then people could share what they’d written.

For me, those ten minutes dragged on forever. I can’t write on cue. I especially can’t write on cue if it’s not one of my own ideas. Instead of trying to write something in answer to the prompts in class, I’d ponder them for a moment, then turn to the back of my notebook to write down ideas for something I was already working on. Then when my classmates would share what they’d written I was always amazed by what they could come up with so quickly.

But when I’m stuck on the ideas I already have, prompts are a great way to come up with new ideas. There are so many prompt books available, and all of them are full of ideas that could spark a new story idea. Most prompts are short, a one-sentence situation or a first line of dialogue. One book I’ve enjoyed is The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts.

Prompts can help to spark an idea in you and get you writing, but if you’re like me and don’t usually like prompts, what I’ve learned is that you need to make the prompt work for you.

What I mean by that is that you take the prompt and find some element in it that can help you. For example, if you’re stuck in the story you’re working on, but then hear a prompt about a character in a situation, you might want to try using that prompt with the story and characters you already have. You could insert the prompted situation into what you’ve already started, and that might give you enough help to keep going. Prompts can help you find what’s missing in your story to help you get unstuck.

Do you enjoy using prompts? How do you make prompts work for you?

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