Monday, November 8, 2010

Are writing prompts of value?

It never seemed of value to me to take advantage of writing prompts. I have dozens of ideas in my brain waiting for transfer to the written page. Another writer cannot think of an ending to a book or how to integrate a subplot. After reading a plethora of web sites on writing prompts, I can see the advantages.

Authorities say writing prompts can meet various needs for both new and experienced writers. For new writers, it gets them into writing mode by producing a subject immediately without having to think up a topic. “I saw a bumblebee…” should send a writer off into any number of scenarios such as killer African bees building a hive, a child in danger or nature at its most interesting. Experienced writers can use the same prompt to write in a new genre. We can create a science fiction story based on bees as the main characters, a children’s story or a nonfiction article on how to treat bee stings.

The goal when writing in response to a prompt is not to end up with a grammatically perfect, ready-to-print essay or story. I don’t have to use spell check or write full sentences. The goal is to give me experience writing. The goal is to take me outside my comfort zone and into a different genre; the goal is to force me to write. The goal is to enhance my writing skills with no competition or stress associated; the goal is for me to learn. Stress free. No consequences. Forgiving. It is as fulfilling as a piece of Godiva chocolate.

The web site gives a writer excellent prompts for all genres. The author, Mary Deal, categorizes prompts by genres: romance, mystery/suspense/thriller, science fiction/fantasy, historical fiction, horror/dark side, and fairy tales/folk tales/tall tales. She lists specific ideas for each category. This allows a writer to use the concrete ideas as the beginning of a story, the theme or opening sentences. It takes the burden off of thinking what to write so that you can write.

Web sites suggest using pictures as writing prompts. Does the Eiffel Tower make your creative thoughts flow? Or does an email showing pictures of cowboy stars like Roy Rogers or Gene Autry generate an idea? Maybe a picture of the damage of earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ tips something in your brain. Bookmarking web sites related to writing prompts or keeping an ongoing list on your desk can spur you to follow through. We often hear the excuse, “I don’t know what to write about.” Your problem is solved. Well-established authors tell us to write every day. They do not say you have to work on your now five-year-novel-in-the-making. They say write!

Remember the book and movie Julie and Julia about a young woman in New York who challenged herself to cook one recipe every day for a year out of Julia Child’s cookbook, Julia Child and Company? Maybe that is the prompt we all need to improve our writing: decide to use a writing prompt every day for 365 days and see if it helps our creative flow and expands our writing abilities. We do not have to write for an hour but the results of fifteen minutes may surprise us.

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