Lately I’ve been writing a lot of one page prompt responses instead of working on a longer piece. This is essentially cultivation of the soil of my imagination, so that when I hit on something that really speaks to me, I’ll be able to keep going, and if I don’t, I have pages of potential material that I can return to at a later date. In my last post, I talked about potential sources of “inspiration kindling,” things that can get you thinking of the world in a different way and stimulate your imagination. A couple of the things I mentioned can also be great sources for writing prompts, such as the color names and the OED daily words. But there are many more sources for writing prompts.
If you google “writing prompts,” you’ll find tons of websites. Heck, I’ve even started putting daily writing prompts here. I chose to do images for two reasons. One, I hope they’re interesting even if you’re not looking for writing prompts! More importantly, though, I love using images as prompts. I think they’re rich treasure troves of ideas in a way that a short text prompt isn’t. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone. Some people like the directness of a text prompt and feel overwhelmed when presented with an image. That’s absolutely fine. Everyone works in their own way.
At the moment, though, I’m mostly working with titles. In his book Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury recommends sitting down and writing a list of titles, all in the format “The blank.” Fill in the blank with something that stirs you: a memory, a fantasy, a fear. The first story that Ray Bradbury ever wrote that he felt was truly him and not an imitation of someone else was called “The Lake.” Many of his stories have retained the titles that inspired them, and many have had their titles changes. The title of the finished piece doesn’t matter, only what the initial title evokes in you. I keep my list of titles tucked in my writing journal. They include “The Mangroves,” “The Autodidact,” “The Smugglers,” “The Monk’s Graveyard,” “The Silent Treatment.” Each of those titles draw forth an image in my head. When I sit down to write, I look over those titles, pick one that has a particularly strong voice at that moment, and go.
There are many more, of course. Ask a friend for a title, or a word. Pick up a random book, write down the first sentence, and continue from there (you re-write the first sentence later, of course. If I remember correctly, this is how Anna Karenina started). Where do you find your prompts?