July Inspiration 2: Writing Prompts

This month on the blog, I’m looking at INSPIRATION and ways of getting started with your writing. If you missed my previous post about FREEWRITING, you can check it out here.

Today I want to talk to you about WRITING PROMPTS.

Simple Prompts

As I mentioned in my previous post, a simple way to get started when you’re warming up with a writing session is to pick a word and just start writing whatever comes into your head connected with that word. I like to keep lists of ten random words so that I can pick one whenever I need a prompt, but you can do it with anything – pick a random colour, use the first thing you see, a word from a book title, anything. Sometimes just having a one-word prompt can be enough to get you started.

Also bear in mind that it doesn’t have to be a word. For a really easy prompt, just use your senses: write down what you can see, hear, feel, smell – and maybe you can weave something out of those descriptions. What you’re looking for here is just a spark, a flicker of inspiration to get your writing brain engaged. It is supposed to be fun, so don’t worry too much about the quality at this stage!

Writing Games

Speaking of fun, some of the wackier ideas I have used as prompts have been the ones that have yielded the most interesting results! Setting yourself ridiculous challenges like writing sentences only using words beginning with one letter, or using consecutive letters of the alphabet to start each new word/sentence create a kind of game/puzzle element that brings back that feeling of ‘play’ that I think we can sometimes lose when we take our writing too seriously. I once came across an activity which involved writing out sentences and then chopping them up and rearranging the words, creating a kind of nonsense poetry that actually really inspired me to think much more deeply about word order and the importance of each individual word.

These kinds of games need only take ten or fifteen minutes, and you can squeeze them into the corners of your day, just to give you a creative boost. Think of it as a mini work-out for your writing brain!

Longer Exercises

Once you’ve got the hang of using writing prompts, it is a good idea to have a go at some more structured, longer writing exercises. There are so many books and resources – below, you can watch the video below to hear me talk about a book I’ve found really useful for this: A Writer’s Workbook by Caroline Sharp.

I find using a combination of random prompts and more structured exercises works really well for getting me into a creative rhythm. The most important thing, I think, is to have fun with it – sometimes when we’re working on a novel draft or a short story for a competition, we can forget the absolute joy that can be found in just playing around with words!

Things to Try

I thought I’d finish this post by giving you a few practical ideas to go off and try! Please do let me know if you give any of these a go, I’d love to hear how you got on! Here are ten prompts:

  1. Use any of these words as a prompt to start writing: silver; envelope; waste; palm; crunch; obsolete; terrarium; method; ring; frame
  2. Use ALL of the words above in a paragraph!
  3. Write a paragraph in which all of the adjectives, nouns and verbs begin with the letter ‘b’
  4. Write a paragraph starting with the phrase: “I remember when…”
  5. Write down three sentences on strips of paper. Then cut up the words and make three new sentences. Repeat!
  6. Write a paragraph starting with the phrase: “I believe in…”
  7. Write a paragraph without repeating a single word.
  8. Write a paragraph starting with the sentence “And they all lived happily ever after.”
  9. Write a story in which each sentence starts with consecutive letters of the alphabet.
  10. Write a story using as many colours as you can.

There are so many ways of using writing prompts to kickstart your creativity – collecting a stash of prompts is a great way to ensure you’re never stuck for words!

Next time, I’ll be looking at how you can use your reading to inspire your own writing – a topic very close to my heart!

Happy writing!

Ellie x

July Inspiration: 1. Freewriting

This is the first in a series of blog posts covering topics that new writers might find helpful; for July, I’m focusing on inspiration.

I’ve had a bit of a writing lull recently, so I am hoping that by sharing some ideas with you, I will also be giving my own creativity a kick up the place that wants kicking! As we go through, I’ll share how these tips are working for me as I try them out again, putting my money where my mouth is!

Today, I’m talking about freewriting. This is probably the most long-standing writing habit of mine, and it’s the one I return to again and again. There is no great mystery to it: freewriting is just putting pen to paper and writing. Anything. There are, however, lots of different ways you can get started with freewriting. Here are some that have worked well for me.

Freewriting Sprints

One of my favourite methods of approaching freewriting is the ten-minute sprint. The rules are simple: write for ten minutes. I have a weirdly strong preference for doing freewriting by hand, with a mechanical pencil, in a lined A5 notebook, but since the whole point is that you can do it anywhere, go with what works for you, whether that’s typing on your phone, scribbling on a napkin, using a quill and parchment – whatever. The only thing you have to do is write continuously for ten minutes. You can start by writing “I don’t know what I am going to write next,” or by listing what you’ve just had for lunch, or transcribing the conversation you’ve just had with the postman – it doesn’t matter. You just have to write words.

I love this exercise because it is so freeing (I mean, the clue is in the title). No one is going to read what you’re writing, you don’t even have to think particularly hard, you just need to keep putting one word after another. Sometimes I’ll do this without punctuation to make it more free-form, and sometimes, I even leave out the spaces between the words. I don’t know quite what it is, but something about writing by hand and joining up every single word makes me come out with some really crazy and wonderful stuff. Most of it makes no sense at all, but it is so much fun.

Morning Pages

Once you’ve got a bit of a feel for freewriting, it’s a good idea to try and make it a habit. I am not a ‘write every day’ writer, nor have I (yet) developed ‘habits for life,’ but I do go through phases of high creativity, and making freewriting a part of my day really helps to sustain those periods of productivity. The easiest way to incorporate freewriting into your day is to start doing ‘morning pages.’ This idea was introduced by Dorothea Brande in her book Becoming A Writer. I’ve made a short video introducing this technique, which you can watch here.

Morning pages are simple: as soon as you wake up, you grab a pen and a notebook from your bedside table and start scribbling. Write down your weird dream, how you feel physically, mentally, what you’re going to do that day, anything at all, and then just keep writing until it’s time to get up and get on with your day. I find this such a good technique for starting the day in a creative mindset. I scribble my morning pages so messily they are pretty much illegible (and I sometimes use the method I mentioned above of smooshing all my words together without spaces!) because for me, it’s a warm-up, it’s like stretches for my brain, and to be honest I’m probably not going to look back at what I have written pre-caffeine! It is pretty cool to see what your mind comes up with before you’re fully awake, though, and it’s absolutely worth experimenting with if you haven’t tried morning pages before.

Cumulative Freewriting

Another way that you can use freewriting to get you back into the creative flow is to create a cumulative document. I discovered this one year when I did a full-on ‘cheat’s version’ of NaNoWriMo (an absolutely brilliant novel-drafting challenge that takes place in November every year, and which I think every writer should try at least once!). I wasn’t in a place to write a proper novel draft, but I wanted to use the challenge to get back into writing, so I decided to create a Word document and by the end of the month, it would have 50,000 words. It didn’t matter WHAT those words were, just that there were 50,000 of them! I’d add to it during breaks at work, in the evenings, whenever I could grab a spare ten minutes, and I wrote fragments of fiction, nonfiction, story ideas, conversations I’d had – at one point the whole thing turned into a script for about 10 pages, which was unexpected! It was great fun, and even though the end result was not a cohesive whole, it was satisfying to know that I could at least produce that volume of words in a month!

Prompt Words

If you are struggling to think of a single thing to write, even for freewriting, try using a prompt word. This could be anything – I keep lists of ten random words so that I can grab one to use as a prompt – it can be as simple as a colour or a name or a type of food, anything which you can use as a spark to get you scribbling. Next time, I am going to post in more detail about writing prompts, and how you can use them to kickstart your freewriting. The best thing about it is that you never know when a brilliant idea is going to pop up in amongst your ramblings, and when it does, it’s so exciting. Even if you’re working on a longer writing project, freewriting is a great way to limber up, to get into a writing session or to start your day with a short, creative burst.

I hope this has been useful – do let me know if you use any of these freewriting techniques, or if you’re going to give some of them a try!

Happy writing!