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Writing Prompt Guidelines
- All prompts are 10 minutes. Set your timer. Stop when it goes off (for real). You can do more in revision later.
- Writing by hand is recommended.
- Don’t overthink; keep your hand moving. If you get stuck, write the last sentence over and over again.
- The prompt is a jumping-off point. Don’t worry what you end up writing about. There is no requirement to “stay on topic.”
- Title the piece as soon as you are finished.
- You can re-use prompts as often as you’d like. Try writing the same prompt for a week, starting from the same place. You’ll be surprised what comes up/changes. 🏋🏻♀️
- Like all writing, prompts like a little organization. If writing by hand, plan to type and print out everything once a week. If you’re typing your prompts on your computer, print out a copy after you’ve titled it. Learn about my binder system (coming soon). Organize your work chronologically, and keep an informal Table of Contents or Index regardless of whether or not the pieces go together or if you plan to do anything with them. Just … organize.
In Defense of Writing Prompts
If you are trying to build a writing practice and want to open the floodgates of your creativity, say hello to the 10-minute writing prompt. They’re especially helpful if you are blocked with your writing project, be it a novel or poetry collection or a book of essays, because writing prompts are the backdoor into your subconscious and genius. It is possible to overthink, self sabotage, get in your own way — writers do this all the time. But writing with a prompt, and adhering to a previously-agreed upon time frame, can get you where you want to go, just not in the way you thought.
There are many well-respected teachers of writing who are not fans of writing prompts. They are proponents of “just doing it,” of not being distracted, of not veering into any “woo woo” or touchy-feely creative writing mumbo jumbo. Writing prompts and exercises are time stealers, they claim, when you could have been doing the “real” work of your project. According to them, writing prompts are too unfocused and random, the result unrelated to whatever it is you are trying to do.
Maybe they’re right. But as the author of multiple books in different genres (fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, anthologies) published in varying formats (hardcover, trade, large print, book club, audiobook, ebook/digital, foreign editions), I have come to value the immense usefulness of a 10-minute daily prompt. It gets you writing, for one. It (almost) always uncovers something interesting. Is it specific to a scene in your novel you’ve been struggling with? Will it help you figure out the perfect ending to your memoir? Probably not. But that is not its purpose, friends. What writing prompts do, I believe, is help the brain, and the heart. They are (forgive me) part of the process. The process of writing and of being a writer is a living, real thing. It is organic and needs to be fed. Writing prompts are like breakfast. If you are stuck and beating yourself up, writing prompts can help you regain your confidence and footing.
In case there’s still any confusion, writing prompts are not meant to take the place of the hours you need to put into your book. They are not meant to become the book, though never say never (see the work we do at Haliʻa Aloha in which many of our writing prompts result in polished micro essays or micro memoirs that end up in the author’s published collection). The purpose of the writing prompt is to remind you that you are a writer, to help fuel your writing practice and make it more robust. It is a way, as the MFA folks like to say, of making your writing more muscular.
Writers often write alone. You can join a community or jump into a workshop or have a writing buddy, but at the end of the day, the words on the page are yours and yours alone. You are the person getting them down. Ten minutes of warm-up can be clearing the fog or helping you hone in. It can also serve as an antsy starting point to get you writing the “real” stuff. This is where I may seem like the rebel standing on top of a hill of writing prompts. If you are writing, and connecting with your own inspiration and creative guidance, that is the “real” stuff. It will help get you where you want to go. And if you end up on a roll with your novel or memoir, you’ll know if the 10-minute prompt is necessary that day. You don’t have to do it every day, though I recommend it if you find yourself struggling.
And again, it’s 10 minutes. Hardly worth getting worked up about, don’t you think?
I’ll be adding new prompts each week. If you have a suggestion, send it to me here.
BEJEWELED. Set the timer for 10 minutes and write about a piece of jewelry you’re currently wearing. If you aren’t wearing any jewelry, hair ties and tattoos or even a scar will do just fine. Include what it is, what it’s made from, where you got it, why you wear it. If you end up writing about something else, go with it. The prompts serve as a starting point — there are many paths you can follow.
AND SHE SAID. Set the timer for 10 minutes and begin with the phrase, “And then she said…” Make it prose, poetry, a list — whatever you want. Write for the full 10 minutes — keep your hand moving. If you get stuck, repeat the prompt again.
RAFT. Close your eyes and take a breath. Picture a body of water in front of you. Imagine a raft floating towards you — there is something on it. When you’re able to see it clearly, take another breath. What’s on the raft? Write until the timer goes off.
I’ll be adding new prompts weekly; check back for more. ❤️
© Darien Hsu Gee and Gee & Co LLC