I recently attended a writing conference in Cleveland where I met a woman who was told her manuscript was about 15,000 words too short. Mine is currently 10,000 words too long, so I couldn’t really relate. But I did offer her some advice that I took along the 15-year-journey that I’ve spent writing my novel (more on that here).
The advice? Writing prompts.
Seriously, they’re the best. You can find free ones online, there are books filled with them—or best yet, attend a writing workshop, class or retreat. Chances are you’ll leave with a handful of prompts that will continue to inspire you.
Writing prompts can make a blank page less intimidating, giving you a little direction in midst of the emptiness. They can be a great tool to help kick-start a brand new idea, or help you enrich something you’re already working on.
Over the (many) years I was writing my novel, I approached every single prompt with my main character in mind. Not only did it help me get to know her a little better, but a few of the prompts found their way into the story.
One scene that comes to mind came from a class I took at Story Studio Chicago (If you live in the windy city, I highly recommend their classes!). It was a multi-part prompt where the instructor led us through a series of events: approaching a restaurant, sitting down at a table, ordering, then finally eating a meal.
Since my character takes a road trip from Atlanta to Destin, Florida, I decided to write about a road-side diner in a small town somewhere in-between. If it weren’t for that prompt, my character would have missed out on quite an experience at the Phenix Diner. (And for those of you who think you just found a typo, it’s not. The city spells their name wrong.)
So instead of trying to drag out the scenes that you already have, play around with some prompts and write them with your character in mind. You never know what you’ll end up with.
Here are a few of my favorite prompts. Share yours in the comments!
WHAT NOT TO SAY
First, write a list of all the words you would use to describe a rainy day (puddles, drops, clouds, storm, etc). Think you’ve listed them all? Write ten more. Then write a scene that takes place on a rainy day.
The catch? You can’t use any of the words on your list. (This prompt helps you push past the expected words, although it does work better when you’re giving it to people who don’t know they won’t be able to use the words on the list!)
Poet Joe Brainard wrote an entire book where every sentence starts with “I remember.” Here’s an excerpt. Write a story or a scene with your own “I remember” statements or pick another phrase to repeat. I’ve been in workshops where people have used ‘Isn’t it funny’ or ‘I’ll never forget’ or ‘My mother always said’. Use one of those phrase or pick your own.
Find a photo on google images. Any photo will do, but the best ones give a sense of mystery and leave you wondering. (Whenever I find an interesting one, I save it in a folder on my computer for future use.) Study the picture, then write a scene inspired by what happened before the photo was taken, what’s happening in that moment, or what’s going to happen next. Here’s a photo to get you started.