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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Friday, 3 September 2021

Writing Prompt: One Hundred Prompts

100 prompts

We often think that ideas are the valuable thing in writing. Writers are frequently asked "Where do you get your ideas?" Newcomers to writing are often waiting for an Idea to arrive. Newcomers to writing workshops are often nervous of sharing what they're working on, in case someone steals their idea. But the truth is, ideas aren't really all that. They're just seeds. Look around at the world right now, as all the trees and wildflowers are bursting with seeds, to get an idea of just how plentiful ideas are. The idea itself really isn't the valuable thing: it's just a starting point. What counts is what we do with it. Every time I post one of these writing prompts on the blog, I link to the same introductory article, which says pretty much that:

[Prompts] are 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.

We do need those prompts and starting points, though, those springboards to bounce us up and get us writing. In the Starting Points course, each of the 8 weeks introduces a category of starting points, types of ideas to get us writing. And then each week also explores the things we can do with it: a different type of creative writing, a writing skill to expand on that, a helpful maxim to hold onto, and a creative activity to keep you inspired.

In the meantime, here are one hundred prompts to get you scribbling and playing: 

Click to enlarge. You can also download the 100 prompts as a PDF here or visit the VI-friendly version here.

You could use each of the prompts individually - take just that one idea, thought, or provocation for a ten-minute spin in your notebook and see what emerges. Take one character and explore them. Take a location and describe it. Take a word, research it, and base a poem or a piece of flash fiction on it. And so on.

Alternately, if you want more constraints (Creativity loves constraints - that's one of the maxims!), you could gamify it with a pair of dice. First off, as the grid is 10 x 10, you need a ten-sided dice. If you don't have one of those lurking a drawer, here's an online one. Then you roll the dice for...

  • How many columns to use
  • Which columns to use
  • Which item in that column to use

I've just tried it, and I'm using...

  • 5 columns
  • Columns 5, 1, 9, 2, and 3 (I had to roll a bunch of extra times because I kept getting numbers I'd got before - you could always decide that means you're using that column twice!) So my columns are Word to use, Character, Stylistic choice, Location, and  Problem. Now I'll roll the dice for each one in turn to see what I get...
  • Word to use: gamboge
    Character: a charming man in his 70s who loves crocheting
    Stylistic choice: future tense
    Location: a network of caves
    Problem: unrequited love for their enemy

So my 10-minute challenge, now, is to write a about a charming man in his 70s who loves crocheting who is unrequitedly in love with his enemy, all set in a network of caves, written in future tense and somehow using the word gamboge.

Whichever way you choose to play with it, remember, the prompt is just the starting point: the bit where it comes alive, where you come alive, is when you start to write.

If you'd like to find out more about the Starting Points course this Oct–Nov, you can read about it and book here. NB: The booking deadline is 21 September, two weeks before the course starts, so I can pack and post your starter-pack goodies.


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