Thursday, 9 May 2019

Introducing... Weekly writing prompts


Pic: Weekly writing prompt

Regular little writing exercises are one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer. When you're gunning ahead with a novel, they keep you limber and flexible, as a place to play with new approaches without pulling your novel in a dozen different directions. When you're short on ideas, they're a constant source of fresh inspiration - not so much the prompts themselves, I find, but the actual doing of them. You do the prompt because you're told to and that's the next prompt, then suddenly, in the space where pen hits paper / fingers hit keyboard, the ideas start spilling out. And when you're struggling to write - recovering from an illness or a loss, struggling with writers' block or mental health - they're a gentle, doable, constrained task.

For all those uses, they work best if you set yourself two little rules. (Creative people might hate constraints, but creativity loves them!) The first rule is simply, do the prompt. The magic is not the prompt itself: the magic is what happens when you do the prompt. Even if it's not your thing, do the prompt. Make a pact with yourself to do the prompt. The second rule is to set a timer for ten minutes, do as much as you can in ten minutes, and then stop. You can choose to carry on with it, after a wee break, but that's bonus writing. If you've done your ten minutes, you've done the prompt. The beauty of ten minutes is that it's just ten minutes, so whether you're loathe to steal time from your main novel, or have very little spare time, or are finding things overwhelming, ten minutes is always doable. The other beauty of ten minutes is that you can do a surprising amount in that time!

In the twelve weeks running up to the Summer of Writing workshops this August, I'll be giving you a writing prompt every week, on the Saturday morning, to whet your writing appetite, starting this Saturday, 11 May. If you want them popping up in your inbox, you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders, though those are prone to the usual vicissitudes of social media algorithms. But do wave at me there, and let me know if you're having fun with the prompts, I like encouragement!



The Summer of Writing workshops are five one-day creative writing workshops for adults, for any level from beginners to experienced writers. They run in Oxford every summer, on Saturdays across August. The workshops which run are voted for earlier in the year, and this year's selection of short-listed workshops are...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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