(Cole, here! I’m so glad to introduce you to my writer friend, Connie Kinsey! She’ll be a presenter at our WV Writers Summer Conference in June, and she’s got some tips for how to utilize creative writing prompts in your writing! If you can’t join us in June, this is the second-best opportunity to get Connie’s ideas. <3 Here’s Connie.)
The lowly creative writing prompt works to tap into my creativity. I want it to work for you too. A prompt is a miniature writing assignment – a few words or an image to spark your imagination.
Prompts can be anything. I have used photographs, music and other people’s poems as a prompt. You can also buy books of prompts; many with a theme. I regularly attend a Sunday workshop where we work with writing prompts to process grief. (I’ve had a right-awful few years and the grief workshop has been a real blessing.)
I’m one of those writers who needs an assignment to terrorize me more than the blank page. It seems, I must be provoked to write. Much of what I have published began as a prompt. Fiction is especially hard for me as I am a Pantser. Pantsers write with no outline and only a vague idea of where the story is going. They are the opposite of Plotters who write with outlines, story arcs, beats, and know exactly how their story is going to end.
No matter which kind of writer you are, I believe in the power of the prompt to get your creativity flowing — especially if you’ve gotten stuck while working on your work-in-progress.
Prompts are a great way to mine childhood memories and other forgotten details of our lives. I have been surprised at where a prompt takes me. One good prompt for memoir is to draw a diagram of the house you grew up in. Then pick your favorite room. Write about why it was your favorite. A good prompt for fiction is a piece of visual art: Write a story about what you see. Songs can provoke a story: I used Moonshiner’s Daughter by Rhiannon Giddens’s as a prompt that produced The Plum.
To begin the New Year the right way, I signed up for a Diane Zinna’s 31-day Winter Writing Circle. Every day for the month of January, a group of us would gather on Zoom at 8 a.m. and write to a prompt provided by Diane. Sometimes before giving us the prompt, she would give us a quick craft lesson, but mostly it was just a prompt. After writing for 45 minutes, we would come together and some of us would share what had been written. We wrote memoir, essays, short stories, and poems. Some of it was raw and needed editing; other works came unbidden as if of whole cloth needing very little in the way of revision.
It was astounding what people came up with. And I was astounded by my own creativity. I can write character all day long, but plot and story are hard for me. They often end up sounding contrived. However, racing through 45 minutes of writing time with a clock ticking, I surprised myself. I came up with full-fledged stories out of stream of consciousness writing
This is the power of the prompt.
Of course, prompt writing usually needs editing and shaping, but I started the year with 31 draft essays, short stories, and poems to work with while taking a break from my work in progress. It was a great way to start the year.
It’s not too late to do your own 31-days of prompts. I would suggest that you gather the prompts ahead of time and do your writing first thing in the morning. I do believe that we are most creative in the zone between asleep and awake. Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way recommends doing so even before coffee, but that’s taking thing just a little bit too far. She also recommends writing longhand for maximum creativity.
I compose at the keyboard and writing longhand just doesn’t work for me. And that’s the point. Do what works for you whether it be longhand, typewritten, beautiful cursive or a scrawl in a lovely journal or in a spiral bound notebook. Find your comfort place and write to the prompt. I think you’ll be surprised where it will take you.
Connie Kinsey is a former military brat who has put down deep roots in a converted barn on a dirt road at the top of a hill in West Virginia. She lives with two dogs and a cat and is pursuing happiness, one cup of coffee at a time. She is currently serving at the Writer-in-Residence for the Museum of the American Military Family.
Her writing has won awards and has been published online and in print. One of her stories can be read at https://thewritelaunch.com/2020/02/something-blue/. Her 4th grade memoir during the Vietnam war is available at https://longridgereview.com/connie-kinsey/. She blogs at http://wvfurandroot.com and is wild about comments.
You can reach her by email at email@example.com