There’s no such thing as a writer’s block. If you’re having trouble writing, well, pick up the pen and write. No matter what, keep that hand moving. Writing is really a physical activity.
– Natalie Goldberg
You’ve always wanted to write, but you don’t know how to start? Or maybe you’ve got a fantastic story incubating in your head, but once you sit down to write it, you are stuck for words? Getting started can sometimes be the hardest part. It’s so easy to waste your precious writing time agonising about what to put on the page.
One of the most effective ways to break the fear of the blank page is to free write to writing prompts. I use timed free writing exercises in my writers group and it never ceases to surprise how easily this allows writers of all abilities to tap into the creative flow.
Banish writer’s block by simply setting a timer, choosing a writing prompt and writing without stopping to edit or think until the time is up. It’s a great way to silence the inner critic and to collect raw thoughts and ideas that often contain the seeds for a story or even an opening sentence or paragraph. It’s a way to create momentum.
The internet is full of helpful websites with writing prompts. But in my experience it’s so easy to get distracted by a quick Google search. Focus and concentration are limited resources that are easily wasted. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a few go-to writing prompts ready so that you can get started without wasting time.
Here are five easy ways how to generate your own writing prompts.
If you are writing fiction, old postcards are great – charity shops can be a treasure trove. I once came across a box of old postcards written in old fashioned handwriting, sent to people long dead. I keep a few handy, they are great as story prompts. You could also use an image from a magazine that speaks to you.
If you prefer personal writing, use your own photos. Choose one randomly, but avoid getting lost in a lengthy search for the right one. Write about what you see in the image. There are so many angles to be explored here. If it’s a family portrait, write about the relationship between people.
You can also use images to train your “show-don’t-tell” skills. Or write about specific themes, ie. your travels, your ideal house, your relationship with nature…the sky is the limit.
2. Make a word jar
Make a list of your favourite words, sentences, aphorisms or quotes. Write them on small strips of paper and pick one randomly. Set your timer and without thinking start writing whatever comes to mind, stream-of-consciousness.
3. Pick a line from a book
This is always a fun exercise I do with my writers group. Take a book from your bookshelf, open it randomly, pick a sentence (to avoid wasting time, close your eyes and pick one without looking), then start to write. This is so much fun and can lead to the most unexpected outcomes.
4. Do a meditation
Here is a sound bowl mediation for you. Use it to listen deep inside. Listen to any words that come up. Maybe you can hear some lines of dialogue a character needs to say? The opening paragraph of a story or a word that will lead you to some reflective writing?
Listen to the meditation and upon opening your eyes write down the first three words that come to mind. If you’ve found it difficult to relax, name three things that disturbed you while trying to mediate (including any outside sounds) and write about them.
5. Use these generic prompts as fall-back options:
Sentence stems are a great way to write something when you’re feeling stuck. Every time you run out of things to say, return to the original sentence stem and start a new sentence.
• What I really want to say …
• I know …
• What I need from myself today …
• The questions I am living with …
• What I fail to notice …
• What I am looking for …
• What nourishes my heart …
I also use free writing when I am stuck with a blog post. Often I have a topic in mind but when I start writing, nothing will come. That’s when I turn to my journal, write the topic I want to address on a fresh page and simply start writing, whatever comes to mind for 10 or 15 minutes. It usually helps to produce a few good lines, sometimes an entire blog post or perhaps just the opening paragraph, the rest then falls into place quite easily.
Do you have any favorite writing prompts?
Please share in the comments.