Writing Prompts: Warm-Ups for Our Creative Brains
All the best writers get stuck. Maybe you don’t count yourself as “one of the best”. . . yet. Still knowing that, what are you going to do the next time your brain and creativity take a hike? Quite simply, you’re going to exercise the creative side of your brain. Musicians warm up their fingers or lips with scales, so you should warm up your brain.
Are You Stuck?
This shouldn’t have happened! You know the topic of your next article so well, you could write it in your sleep! You performed your pre-writing routine—and now you can’t think of the first word of your article.
What do you do? Panic? Dive for the ice cream? Go for a walk? Actually, that idea about heading out for a walk isn’t a bad one, so try walking for fifteen or 20 minutes. Still can’t think of what to write? Sit down, anyway, because you’re going to try a different form of exercise.
“Writing prompts?” Is that a grimace on your face? Several writers take a little time for a short writing exercise before they get down to their day’s writing. When you choose the right prompt, it can trigger ideas and memories that. . . wait for it. . . end up on the written page. Whether you write half a page or three, now you have ideas flowing through your brain. Rather than taking a self-congratulatory break, put that prompt away and immediately turn to your day’s scheduled work—while your creativity is warmed up.
When Your Mindset Stops Your Flow of Ideas
Jack Heffron, author of “The Writer’s Idea Book,” reminds us that, when we want to do our best work, we have to open ourselves up. Think about how you feel about your little corner of the world. How do you feel about your home country? The world? Your family?
Do you find that, when your feelings for the world around you are negative, your creativity stops flowing? There’s a great reason for that. When you’re not feeling very positive about your world, or the world in general, you don’t feel very kind to yourself. It’s hard to open yourself to writing ideas when you’re angry about some politician’s latest shenanigans.
How Writing Prompts Help You Past a Mental Block
Some writing prompts tell you to re-think how you see the obstacles that block you from developing those ideas you need. Once you know what those blocks are, you may be told to write them down. Next, you’re probably told to devise a way of overcoming each roadblock.
You may be prompted to think of those writing projects that never got finished and why. Sometimes, you managed to self-talk yourself out of completing them. “I can’t write about this? Who was I trying to fool?” Did you talk about your work-formerly-in-progress to someone? Worse yet, did you express your hidden doubts to them? Use this as a writing prompt and as a way of reminding yourself not to allow doubts to slow you down or stop you. (And, if you hear that internal critic putting you down, just shout out, “SHUT UP!” In your head, of course.)
A Few things to Remember About Working with a Writing Prompt
Writing prompts are one of the best tools you can use to stimulate your natural creativity. Because they make you think, this can help to dislodge those blocks, much like a bulldozer moves huge chunks of concrete out of the way of a planned building project.
At the same time, you can get so involved in putting your ideas down on paper that you end up using your entire allotted writing time! And you still have to make coffee, get the kid’s lunches and get ready for work. Oops.
While writing prompts can jog loose that creative process you rely on so heavily, don’t make this simple form of exercise a crutch. It’ll become another roadblock that stops you from putting your fingers to your keyboard for your day’s writing plans. You shouldn’t need any more than 20 minutes for a writing prompt.
If you don’t have Heffron’s book, you can find writing prompts all over the Internet. Happy writing!
Barbara A is halfway through writing her fiction book, which focuses on a social worker and her evolving relationship with a police detective.