How To Use Writing Prompts To Kickstart And Improve Writing

Whether you are trying to defeat writer's block, practice writing, or increase your creativity, writing prompts are a great tool to incorporate into your writing routine. Writing prompts are nuggets of ideas and creative questions that can be used as inspiration for your writing. They can also help guide your writing by providing a starting point for your work. Plus, what's better than practicing your creative writing while also honing particular writing skills? Do you want to practice writing dialogue? Or creating a funny story? Or crafting a compelling scene in a love story? There are prompts for that!

How writing prompts can turn into writing inspiration

Picture this: you're just trying to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. But all you're actually doing is sitting there wondering, "What should I write?" Debut authors and experienced storytellers have all been there. That's where writing prompts come in. When you have a writing prompt, it makes it easier to just start writing. It's like a little kindling you can use to light up with writing inspiration. Writing prompts are particularly great for getting you writing in ways that you normally wouldn't. It's like trying out a new exercise at the gym—you're flexing muscles that can make you stronger overall. Really off-the-wall writing prompts might seem totally out of your wheelhouse, but may actually lead you to something that you could incorporate into your next writing project. And you don't have a to be a writer for writing prompts to be useful. If your job requires you to be creative or to think on your feet, writing some strange prompt responses may help you hone those skills. They also may help you build your vocabulary and incorporate new words into your everyday speech, which can also impress during presentations or work conversations. Some examples from Thesaurus.com are:
  • Animal Fun! Pink Fairy Armadillo is a real animal name! Invent your own funny animal.
  • Use these four words in a conversation: "uncanny," "gruesome," "running," "occurrence."
  • Write a story that is not about love at first sight, but love at first smell.
Next time you're searching for inspiration, or just want to stretch some unused writing muscles a bit, try a writing prompt that you'd normally pass over. You may be surprised with the results you get!

How to use writing prompts in the classroom

If you're an educator teaching your students how to write short stories, informational essays, or opinion pieces, writing prompts are invaluable. In fact, you might be using them without even realizing it. In an education setting, writing prompts are often as simple as Write about a time when ____ or In 400 words, describe the effect of ____ on _____. However, especially in the classroom setting, creative writing prompts can make writing seem more exciting for students. Our writing prompts for elementary, middle, and high school students are a great way to kick off a lesson or have students demonstrate the skills they have already learned in class. For example, if you have upper elementary or middle school students creating plots for narratives, you might give them this writing prompt: Write about an adventure you and your best friend had. Make sure it has a beginning, middle, and end. If they're working on informational writing, a prompt like Outline a step-by-step plan for achieving a big goal would be a great opportunity for students to show what they know.

How parents can use writing prompts at home

If you have a budding writer under your roof, you can support their passion by sharing creative writing prompts with them. For young writers, the sillier the better. Or, even better, you can both write a response to a single writing prompt and then share your responses with each other. It's a great way to model that writing is fun. And—bonus!—it's fun for both of you to work side-by-side on creative writing and then share the results. Some children, like many adults, struggle with writing. Between the dread that a blank sheet of paper can inspire and the difficulty of using proper grammar and spelling, writing can seem like an impossibly daunting task. That's why practicing creative writing at home can be incredibly useful. Writing for fun takes the pressure off of writing (which is one of the major causes of writer's block). There are no grades, no judgement—it's just fun. 

How to start writing with prompts

Pick one!

The first step to using a writing prompt, whether it's for yourself, your student, or your child, is to pick the right one. You want to make sure the prompt is appropriate for your age group. For example, if you are working with a high school student, you may want to pick a slightly more complex writing prompt. You'll also want to pick a writing prompt that is tailored to the skill you want to work on. There are different writing prompts for practicing daily creative writing or for specifically focusing on a writing skill. We have a whole collection of writing prompts, for example, just for helping you practice writing dialogue. Some of our favorites from the list are:
  • Craft a conversation only of questions.
  • A group of travelers from different countries meet at a bar. How do they discuss their similarities and differences?
  • Recreate—and finish—a conversation you once heard in a public place between strangers.

Brainstorm!

Once you've picked the perfect writing prompt, the next step is to read it carefully and brainstorm. You'll want to list the first ideas or concepts that come to mind. These ideas don't have to be written in complete sentences.

Write!

After you've brainstormed, pick the one or two ideas you feel are best. And by "best," we mean the ideas that get you the most excited. Then, just start writing. Don't worry too much about spelling or grammar. You can always go back and edit your work later. For your first draft, just try to get all of your ideas down on paper. Aim to write until you're completely out of ideas. Was that too abstract? Well we never miss an opportunity to use a fun prompt, so here's an example of how we'd get started ... Say you're an aspiring novelist working on your first romance novel. You might choose the writing prompt: Draft an outline of a romance novel in which the two main characters don’t meet until the final chapter. The next step is to brainstorm all of the ideas that come to you after reading this prompt. Here are a few ideas we came up with:
  • one character is an astronaut and the other works at mission control, so they talk but can't meet for a year
  • the characters are online sleuths trying to solve a missing person's case at either end of the country, and when the case is solved, they meet at the trial
  • one character is a writer who leaves their notebook at a café in Paris, the other character finds it and then spends months trying to find them based on the clues they find in the notebook
Of all the ideas, we like the second one most. Now that we've picked our idea, we can write our response to the prompt:

Laci is a dog lover living in California who stumbles on a missing person's case in her hometown. She joins an online forum and dives in to try to solve the case. Another person in the forum is Aoife, a cat lover living in New York who found out about the case from a TV news report. Aoife, under the handle CatLover123, and Laci, DogFancier456, start to work together to gather new evidence about the case and find out what happened to the missing person. As they work long hours online together, Laci and Aoife start to talk about things other than the case and find they have a real connection.

Sparks fly over long nights analyzing evidence. The novel includes excerpts of their texts and the online forum. After months, Laci and Aoife find out that the missing person was kidnapped by someone in Kansas. They inform the police, who arrest the suspect and find the missing person. Laci and Aoife finally meet at the sentencing trial for the case that brought them together. They go out for drinks and find out that they have a lot more in common than just being citizen sleuths.

Ooh là là, who wouldn't read this romantic thriller? That's the power of a good writing prompt. What can you come up with?

WRITING TOOL

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