How to Build Your Own Writing Prompts

I’ve never been one to be able to use writing prompts.  I’ve tried.  Out of the hundreds of books I’ve bought on writing in the past decade, probably a tenth of them are writing prompts to some extent.  Until the end of last year, 2017, I didn’t completely understand how to get started writing.

The past five months, I’ve figured that out.  Today marks 170 days I’ve written each day.  What changed for me is that I committed to writing every day, made myself get up earlier than normal, so I could have time to write before the day got away from me, and I figured out that while someone else’s prompts don’t work, my own work perfectly.

I’ve been writing down ideas as they come to me, throughout the day.  I realized after trying to do a daily blog challenge that I had no content.  I’m not one who can sit down and just write about something.  As it turns out, I need a lot of options for my brain to choose from when I go to write.  It seems like a prompt, doesn’t it?  It’s odd that other’s prompts don’t work. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately.

I like my own brand

At its core, I think my problem is that I know these aren’t my ideas.  It doesn’t feel genuine, which is completely ludicrous because as I’ve sure you’ve heard, there are no new ideas.  But when the prompts are ideas I’ve written down in my own folder, somehow, that triggers the creative side of my brain and I start writing.  The words come out without any challenges normally.

I was concerned about today.  I have an early flight, early enough that my 4 AM wake up time would not be early enough for me to write and still make my flight.  Knowing I have 4 hours of uninterrupted time in the air, I chose to forgo my morning routine, and get it done on the plane.

So here I sit, writing on my iPad on the plane.  So far so good, I haven’t failed today.

Back to the challenge of writing prompts.  I think if there is some backstory to the prompt, that it would help a writer feel like the idea was their own.  I’m toying with the idea of giving a page of backstory, and some primer details before the prompt.  Some small amount of research, or information around an idea and then have the prompt be, “what do you think about that?”

It would have worked for me, I think if the ideas are ones that I was interested in.  Therein lies the challenge.  How do you write something that interests a large group?  I think it requires diversity, a lot of diversity.  I’ve got that covered in spades.  I have so many disparate interests, that I could write 30 prompts alone from my different interests.

Then my mind comes back to my sales-trained brain and says, “So what?”  That’s a tactic I use in my day job to make sure my sales message is around value and not just features.  Here’s where the fun begins.  My cross-over brain is already pulling from my work side, and that’s where I’ll get some interesting ideas.

With enough backstory and interesting information around a topic or idea, writers would have a library of prompts to pull from.  The goal could even be to start your blog, set your focus on a specific idea, etc.  I may even teach others how to build their own prompts.  That would be the real value-add for this type of work, and I could do that in a shorter ebook.

How to build your own writing prompts

I like that.  I like it so much I’m going to preview it here.

Write down 10 subjects or ideas that you are interested in:

idea generation
operating systems
raising children

Take each subject and write 5-10 more ideas on that subject:

Writer’s block
novel writing
handwriting vs. typing
writing tools

Now, take one of the above and write out article ideas or headlines of articles, again 5-10
How to finally beat writer’s block.
Writer’s block isn’t really what you think it is.
If you’re having writer’s block, try this.
Why we think we get writer’s block.
10 things to get through writer’s block.

And so on.  You get the idea, this exercise only took me 5 minutes on the plane, with some asshat in front of me rummaging around in his seat like a child.  Very distracting.  But if I can do this in a distracting environment, I think anyone can pull this off with some thought.

If I run through this exercise, I should have at least 50 ideas to write about.  I store those in an ideas folder that I look through each morning before my writing session.

The process that works for me is to browse until my mind is caught by something.  I won’t say it’s foolproof, but in 170 days, I’ve only had a few days where my brain was unimpressed. I wrote that day anyway because this is a commitment, and I refuse to allow myself the luxury of not doing my work. That’s an idea for another day.

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Photo by Fabian Grohs on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “How to Build Your Own Writing Prompts

  1. I really like this advice Iain! I have recently come to the same conclusion in the past couple of days. It seems tedious to write about a word or subject I have no interest in or am passionate about. I feel like this gives me permission to be different and not follow the prompts. I also have come to the conclusion that I don’t have to write every day.


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