The idea for this post was suggested to me by a comment about a previous article ‘Do you have a daily practice?’
lyndart wrote, ‘I have difficulty giving myself permission to let those creative juices flow… Any suggestion for a topic?’
You can use any random word such as ‘trees’ or ‘motor-bikes’ or ‘dinner-time’ for a writing prompt, and there are many sites which offer a fresh suggestion every day. I do this myself for warm-ups with groups, giving a random word and asking them to write freely about it, keeping the pen moving on the paper even if at times they find themselves writing things like, ‘I have absolutely nothing else to say on this topic, I don’t know why I’m doing this,’ until their mind finds its way back to the theme.
But the very best prompts for daily practice are the ones you come up with for yourself because, like dream images, whatever emerges spontaneously from your own relaxed mind will have emotional resonance and personal significance for you right now, whether it’s immediately obvious or not.
To find images which are active in you at the moment, sit comfortably with your notepad or laptop, close your eyes and take a few slow, steady breaths. Clear your mind.
Think of an object – the first thing that comes to you. Don’t censor or try to find something ‘better.’ Write for five minutes, stream-of-consciousness, without pausing. Change direction when one stream runs out, allowing yourself to go where your thoughts take you, even if you stray from your starting-out point.
If you prefer, you can write a list of the first five things you think of, then choose one from your list to write about. You can write for ten or fifteen or even twenty minutes in this way if that’s your daily practice.
Another way of finding prompts that have particular resonance for you is beginning with a phrase such as ‘I remember’ or ‘I wish’ or ‘I love’ or ‘I hate’ because these will take you immediately into areas that you care about.
I often use this kind of prompt in workshops, especially about childhood, which is the living root of every life. I give a topic such as ‘my mother’s kitchen’ or ‘my childhood bedroom.’ I’ve written about this on the wonderful girlsheartbooks blog, ‘What was your favourite toy when you were little?’
The key with daily writing practice, as with all creative endeavours, is pleasure. Writing about themes and topics which have personal resonance is always pleasurable and over time, it will deepen your understanding of yourself as a writer.
Have you got any suggestions for good writing prompts? Please share!
18 thoughts on “What are the best writing prompts for daily practice?”
I agree. Building a story around a memory of a snapshot in time is a fantastic way to come up with unique story ideas.
Hi Morgan – thanks for your comment – I just checked out your blog – such lovely energetic writing. I don’t have a familiar in waking life, alas – my daemons inhabit the imaginal!
I enjoyed that story too, Morgan! And I might even try this writing exercise – if I can find a minute when I’m not supposed to be doing two other things…
After my mother’s estate sale, we kids divided all her loose photos among ourselves. I am so glad she kept them, although they were just jumbled into a few boxes and not labeled. Mostly we knew what and who they were, because we REMEMBERED the events. And, wow, has that triggered old, dusty, cobwebby thoughts! I could write a book, now. Amazing. 🙂
Example here: http://katharinetrauger.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/mind-the-other-gap/
Hi Katherine – how wonderful that your mother left such a treasure for you. Your comment reminds me of a brilliant poem by Raymond Carver which is triggered by an old photo of his father. I think there’s a physicality about old photos, as well as the image, which makes me wonder whether a digital hoard could provoke such a strong flow of memories and emotions.
I mean, dreams are so organic! We are robbing ourselves, daily, by being too lazy to run to the photo processor’s.
These photos SMELL like my mom and dad because they, themselves, TOUCHED these photos.
There is no substitute for touching what someone else has touched, be it my granny’s rocker or my mom’s photo stash.
My daughter took a missions trip to Romania, to a town where they once had an uprising against the Communists. People were hiding in attics and burst through the roofs with hatchets to participate in the battle. The roofs, to this day, are mended with different color asphalt shingles (poor times) and she said the walls had obviously not been painted, etc., for ages. She had this eerie feeling of touching stair rails that dead freedom fighters once touched. No e-ANYTHING could compare to that experience.
And the smells. And the birds singing blithely over such a noble place. You have to have it all, to really remember it.
Reallity. I think that is the real, true trigger to any writing.
Yes – I once took part in a psychic skills seminar where each participant – all complete strangers – handed in a personal item anonymously, and then we all picked one from the tray. I chose a man’s wedding ring. As soon as I picked it up, my ears felt fuzzy. I didn’t hear when the facilitator said it was my turn, and I explained that everything sounded blurry. It transpired that the owner of the ring was deaf. I also saw very cleary a retriever dog on a cliff path, and he told me he had such a dog and lived by the coast. The mystery of matter. Intriguing.
Excellent ideas. Ironically, I might also suggest turning the internet off!
Well yes… but then we wouldn’t be sharing all these excellent ideas! I get so much from the various blogs I follow 🙂
Lovely ideas….I too find such serenity in my garden (although being an insatiable gardener I also see all the work that remains to be done!)
Hi PJ – I’m delighted you like my ideas 🙂 I’m not a very keen gardener – I mow when I have to and trim the hedges, but mostly I stroll down to my swing seat with a nice cup of tea and some notes or a book – complete heaven!
Some great ideas for writing prompts here Jenny. I like the idea of using the phrases you mention as a starting point. I often get single words or short phrases that pop into my mind and I write them down in a note book. They are a good source of ideas for blogs even though the end piece has nothing to do with the initial prompt!
Words and phrases that pop into your mind – that’s it! I think the ones that come to you all on their own are the absolute best – in dreams or in waking life.
What a lovely idea, Jenny. I may use this with some of my adult learners for creative writing tasks. I like the simplicity of just using one word and realising that you have quite a lot to say about that. I love the ‘my mother’s kitchen’ too. This would surely inspire so many memories in so many people. Lovely post!
Hi Abi – I’m glad you enjoyed it! I love doing these warm-ups with groups – I always remind them before we start that writing the past can bring up stuff, so if they feel themselves straying into difficult territory, please don’t go there – it’s a creative class, not a therapy group. But that’s me – erring on the side of caution.