If you have just finished NaNoWriMo, congratulations! No matter what word count you reached, the fact you spent a month focusing on your writing is worth celebrating. We applaud you for pursuing your craft!
Later in the month we’ll talk about what to do with your manuscript now you have a rough draft and share tips for editing your work. This week, though, we want to take you away from your work-in-progress. We want you to give it space to breathe while you refresh your creative cup with something fun and different. If you feel like NaNoWriMo—or your writing life in general—has been hard work recently, this is especially for you.
In this oldie-but-goodie, Leslie talks about using writing prompts to reinvigorate your practice, and make writing fun again. Enjoy!
Reinvigorate Your Writing with Prompts
There is a great podcast episode from Writing Excuses in which they discuss writing for fun. The hosts talk about how sometimes writing can feel like hard work and how maintaining the fun is essential to creativity and sticking with it for the long haul. I totally agree. So, how do I make writing fun? My answer is writing prompts.
Writing prompts are an integral component of my writing practice. I use them to start a project, to solve problems, and of course, just for fun. Some people suggest that writers eschew prompts, and get down to the real writing. Well, to me this is the real writing. Prompts help me focus my mind and, when combined with freewriting, keep it wide open to possibilities. This approach almost always yields the solution to a problem, a new way of looking at things, or new ideas. If you haven’t tried it, I urge you to experiment with one of the ways suggested below.
1. Shake things loose
A fresh topic can help you when you feel stuck. Drop your main character in a location that is completely foreign to her. Write your character’s dying words. Tell the story of an inanimate object. Imagine that you can take only one book with you to Antarctica. These constraints channel your creativity, requiring you to make choices you wouldn’t otherwise make, and thus shape the writing that pours out. If you get stuck, rewrite the prompt over and over until the jam is cleared.
You never know what will emerge when you try a different angle. Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, recommends writing with a prompt and then using its opposite. For example, start with I remember and then try I don’t remember. This gets at what she calls the underbelly, dipping into the unconscious. Different approaches are worth exploring.
3. Stretch and grow
I had a yoga teacher who encouraged me to do inversions and twists. She said that the experience of being in a challenging physical position is good practice for life. It’s true of writing too. Trying out challenging prompts can make your mind more flexible. For example, put your main character in a dire situation and write her out of it. Then write the scene again, withholding any object, person, or experience that contributed to her success. How will she get out of it now?
4. Practice and experiment
You can experiment with different points of view, tense, and genres. What if your literary fiction character suddenly found himself in a murder mystery? How would he be different? What might you learn about him?
5. Lower expectations
If you keep low expectations, the writing that shows up could pleasantly surprise you. When I do writing practice, I don’t expect anything amazing. I’m free to write with abandon. There’s a lot of chaff, but rich kernels rise to the surface. Sometimes a whole blog post will come out as the result of a writing prompt.
6. Warm up
Writers can use prompts to warm up just as visual artists use sketching. It’s a way to loosen up your mind and let go of preoccupations before you start on your project in earnest. Try picking five words and write for two minutes on each. This is especially helpful if you are anxious about the project or don’t know where to begin. Once you start writing, the challenges feel less daunting.
7. Think on paper
You can use a prompt to try out different solutions to a problem in writing or life. Sometimes I start with The answer is and see what arises.
8. Regular projects
When I start a new project, I use prompts two ways. For example, first I use, for example, Everything I know about the passive voice. Then I write the opposite. After I have a clear idea of what I want to write and what I need to research, I use writing prompts to break a project down into smaller, more manageable parts.
9. Stamina and mastery
The more you practice, the better you get at writing. Try using the same topic every day for a week. When I do this, I always uncover a deeper understanding of my mind and the topic.
Keep a list of topics that come up in your writing that interest you. You can save them in a separate Word doc, in Evernote, or on the last page of your notebook. Here are some of my favorites:
I’m looking at/I’m not looking at
I want to write about …
What I really mean to say is …
A single word (e.g., kerfuffle, confluence)
No topic (great for getting out complaints)
Before I die …
Lists (These can be a great source for future topics, e.g., places I’ve lived, best friends I’ve had)
What do you do to keep your writing fun? Have you tried using writing prompts? Do you have favorites? Let us know in the comments below.
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