Writing craft

How To Use Writing Prompts

Good, so you have your writing prompt. What now? How many possibilities does it offer? What kinds of exercises can you do with it? And, most importantly, how can you use it best for your development as a writer?

There is, of course, an infinite number of possible uses for writing prompts, but I decided to focus on five that are most common and useful. It doesn’t matter if you just want to get a nice little writing warmup or would rather focus on something specific in your writing. In all cases, there is a way writing prompts can be extremely helpful to you. So let’s check out what you can do with them.

1. Just start writing

The first and most obvious option to use the writing prompts is simple: just write. Sit behind your computer, take a notebook and a pen, or set up whatever else gets you in the writing mood. Then just start writing, wherever the ideas you got with the prompts take you. One thing to look out for, however, is that you still manage to create some sort of story arc in whatever you are writing.

It might be good to set just a little frame for yourself. For example, if you are doing this to warm up for writing something else, try to bring your story to the end within one page or two pages. On the other hand, if you are doing it for some other reason, the sky is the limit. This is not meant to be an exclusive rule, but just a soft touch of guidance so you can navigate the plot as you write.

2. Additional tasks

While writing completely freestyle might sound freeing, it can also get a bit boring. That is why including some additional tasks can be awesome. It keeps your writing mind sharp, gives you a sense of direction, and makes the exercises a lot of fun.

What kind of tasks or rules can you add? My advice is to just have fun with it and experiment a little. It usually depends on the kind of prompt you are using, but make up some rule that goes along with it.

If you are working with random parameters, try to not openly reveal one of them, but rather let the reader guess it. Let’s say, for example, you get a description of the weather as a parameter. Try to not mention it directly in your story, but rather show it through the characters’ actions. If you are working with a sentence starter or a dialogue prompt, be mindful of what the prompt gives you. Notice where your mind goes first when you read it. Then do something different, if not the exact opposite. Chances are the reader’s mind will go the same way, and as a writer, it is good to practice surprising your audience. Basically, whatever prompts you are using, try to do something different with it than the first (obvious) choice.

3. Practice plotting

Another super fun and super helpful exercise you can do with writing prompts is to practice your plotting. I especially recommend this for beginner writers, who might not yet be so skilled in establishing a strong story structure. But this exercise will benefit everyone, no matter where you are on your writing path.

So the idea is to take the writing prompt and use it as an inspiration to plot out various stories. You can set a number for yourself, like five or ten possible story plots. The number serves to encourage you to find more plots, so if it’s easy for you to come up with five different ones, go ahead and do some more.

The point of this exercise is to train your mind to think like a writer and find strong story arcs in whatever story idea you get. There is no need to actually write the stories you plot out. But this type of exercise can offer a great way to start a personal archive of story ideas.

4. What do you need to work on?

Is there an aspect of your writing that you need to specifically work on? (If you answered no, then you are either Stephen King or a liar.) In addition to setting extra tasks for yourself, you can adjust those tasks to suit your needs. Find your weak spot or just something you would like to improve in your writing. Then modify the exercise in a way that will help you practice.

This can really be anything. Maybe you want to focus on more general writing aspects, such as setting description, dialogues, scene structure, stereotypical characters, and so on. So maybe try to write an entire story with only that. Yes, that’s right. Write an entire story as a setting description. It will help you bring it to life. Or you can write the entire story in dialogue. Or maybe you have noticed something more specific that you would like to improve. Then focus on that. Anything goes.

5. Exercise for your WIP

Although (or maybe specifically because) the writing prompts you find are random and made by strangers who don’t know you, they can be an awesome tool for your work in progress. One cool thing you can do is use the prompt to create a situation and then throw your character into it. You can also use the prompts to spark up your imagination machine if you get stuck with the story. Pretty much like in the previous point, here you have to find what you would like to work on and adapt the prompt exercise to it. It can be an awesome way to get you to look at your WIP through a new lens.

Have fun!

The most important thing to remember is to relax and not rush it. Have fun with the prompts, and have fun with the exercises. Moreover, try to take them as a playful game. I know this is easy to say, but not so easy to do. That’s why I am simply inviting you to try it. And remember that enjoying something is not a reason to feel guilty. I often notice that people have some kind of notion that in order to be productive you have to hate the activity or suffer at least a little bit. News flash: you don’t. Just find whatever works for you and enjoy the exercises!

I hope the tips above helped you in any way or maybe gave you some ideas of your own. Let me know what you thought.

Happy writing, my friends!