Sometimes the hardest part about writing is coming up with the initial story idea. Once the spark of creativity is lit, the story will flow. All it takes to get moving is a strong title, inspiring image, or moving concept.
Writing prompts are wonderful tools to get the words flowing. Today we are going to look at three tools you can use to get your creative juices going.
3 Writing Prompts to Tap Into Your Creative Well
Creativity is like a muscle. If you haven't used it in a while, it can become stiff and sore when you try to work it out.
Between my full-time job, my children's activities, and various family get-togethers, finding time to write can become difficult. I'll get a thirty-minute window to write, sit down to type out a story, and waste all my time trying to figure out what to say.
This is why I surround myself with tools that help me get started. I've written before about how I use Grimm's Fairy Tales to beat writer's block. Here are three other writing prompts I regularly use to prompt stories.
1. Oblique Strategies
The Oblique Strategies were created by musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt. Originally they were a deck of cards with sayings on them. Eno and Schmidt both used the sayings to push through the stress of creativity. When either found themselves frustrated and their creativity stalled, they would draw a card and ponder the thought.
The sayings are quirky and weird, and will absolutely force you to think. Here are a few examples:
- Go slowly all the way round the outside
- Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities
- Lowest common denominator
- Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events
- Destroy—nothing—the most important thing
When I am stuck for an idea, sometimes I'll go to the Oblique Strategies for inspiration. For example, yesterday I was unable to come up with something to write about, so I turned to the Oblique Strategies. I received the phrase, “Breathe more deeply.”
I sat for a moment with my journal in my lap and thought, “When would someone say that?” After a few seconds, the image sprang into my mind of a man trying to use his yoga instructor as his therapist. I imagined my main character droning on and on about his problems while the instructor continued the yoga session saying only, “Breathe more deeply.”
With the idea for the story in place, I was able to spend the next forty-five minutes carving out a rough draft.
If you are a purist, you can order a deck of the cards on Amazon. I have a $0.99 app on my phone that gives me a saying at the click of a button. There are also several free versions online.
2. Unsplash + a Random Number Generator
One of the best ways to find inspiration for a short story is by meditating on a picture. Think of the picture as what your protagonist is seeing at the moment the scene you are writing is happening. When I do this, I like to ask the following four questions of the picture:
- What's happening right now?
- Why is my character here?
- Where did he/she come from?
- Where is he/she going?
One of my favorite short stories came this way. I saw a picture online of soldiers in a trench. As I meditated on the picture, the idea of a time traveler who'd accidentally jumped into one of the worst moments in history came to mind.
I recommend finding a picture to mediate on at Unsplash.com. Every day there are new amazing pictures posted on the site. As a bonus, all the pictures are free to use in any way you like. This is great because if the story you write is worth publishing, you already have a picture to accompany it.
To make the exercise more fun, add a challenge to it. Head over to this random number generator. Have it select a number for you between 1 and 20. Then head back to Unsplash.com and count down the pictures on the front page until you reach your number. That's the picture you should write about.
3. Randomly Generate a Title
Sometimes all you need to get a great story going is a title to bring you inspiration. A strong title, like a powerful picture, can spark inspiration. It can serve as a backbone to a great story.
One of my most successful short stories, “The Window Washing Boy,” was spawned from a random title given as a prompt I read on a blog. I knew I wanted to write a scary story before I grabbed the title. Having those two elements allowed me to piece together a main idea to write to: you're at a gas station, a boy offers to wash your car windshield, then you are attacked. Once I had the idea, the story came quickly.
To find a random title to you can build a short story off of, go to a random title generator. There are several online. The one I've used in the past gives you six titles. Click it once and go with one of the first six titles you get.
Get Your Ideas Flowing
Writing prompts are a fantastic way of getting our creative muscles working. After a break from writing, they can get the words flowing again. Don't hesitate to pull one out when your writing gets stuck!
How do you get your creative muscles working after a break? Are there other places you find inspiration? Let me know in the comments.
For today's challenge, use one of the three methods listed above to inspire fifteen minutes of writing. When you're done, share in the comments what method you used and post the writing it inspired. Don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."