We’re excited to introduce a new subscriber benefit on
WriterMag.com: our weekly writing prompt. Beginning today—and each
Friday—you’ll find a new writing exercise from Heather Wright (at left), a freelance
writer, teacher and author of Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens.
Whether you write fiction, nonfiction or poetry, or you simply want to start
journaling, we hope these prompts will spark your creative juices. Heather
designed some exercises to help get you started on a new project, while others
may shed light on a work-in-progress.
Heather lives in Ontario, teaches at her local community
college, and offers creative-writing workshops for teens at her local library.
Her favorite author is Susanna Kearsley, and she counts Anne Lamott’s Bird by
Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing among the best books about the craft.
Heather’s motto: There is no such thing as too much chocolate.
We asked Heather
to tell us more about how prompts work and what inspires her:
What makes a good writing prompt?
Good writing prompts help take you or your character or your
story to a place you haven’t explored yet. Sometimes they cause an
“I’ve-never-thought-about-that!” response, and other times they are just fun—a
reason to joywrite with no particular purpose other than to play with words.
If I already have an idea in mind, should I bother with a
Even if you have a story idea, it’s worthwhile to explore
the writing prompts. You might just see one that adds a dimension to your
character or a potential conflict to your idea that you might not have thought
of otherwise. A random line of dialogue might suggest a scene or one of the
freewriting words might just be the trigger your story needs for a memory or a
detail in the setting.
Why do we sometimes struggle to start a writing project?
I think there are a few reasons. In my own case, one is just
getting over the fact that, after I start, what’s ahead is going to be hard
work. I’ve just had a beautiful movie play in my brain, but I know that writing
it down is going to be a slog, no matter how inspired I am. The idea part is
easy. The writing part is plain hard. I plan lots of little rewards based on
word-count milestones to get me started and to keep me motivated.
Another reason is worrying so much about how to start the
story (dialogue, action, flashback, setting, now, in the past, etc.) that you
don’t start at all. My advice is: just start the thing any old place. After a
lot of experience, I now know I’ll probably throw out the first few pages of the
first draft anyway, so I wallow in backstory, explanation and glacial
pacing until I get it out of my system. Then the story kicks into gear and
rolls along as it should. I always rewrite the beginning, so I’ve stopped
bothering about trying to get it right the first time.
The final thing that helps me start is knowing how my story
will end. I’m one of those people who finds it very helpful to know where my
story is going right from the start. I admit that sometimes that destination
changes, but having a direction to go in makes a positive difference to me when
I’m facing my first blank page.
Besides taking advantage of prompts, what other advice do
you have for writers to stay motivated and inspired?
Never stop thinking of yourself as a writer. When you wake
up, think about what you will do for your writer self today. Eavesdrop on a
conversation and record one really good line? Read great writing? Write down
three unrelated words and think of a story that will connect them? Add a paragraph
to your current piece? Do research? Edit a page? Buy a new pencil? Use the word
“writer” to define yourself, and you will honor your commitment to the writer
in you, as you do for the friend, spouse, child, parent, sibling, boss and
co-worker who also need your attention every day.
Have more than one story or poem on the go. That way, you
will always have something to write, even if one idea is dead or your
inspiration for it is. Remember, too, that you don’t have to write a story or a
poem in order. If you have a clear idea of how a scene or description or stanza
will work later on, write it now and connect it later. But write.
Meet with friends and set some goals. Everyone has a goal
that they need some motivation to help them accomplish. Establish a “done”
group. Everyone commits to working toward his or her goal every day. Your
friends can reveal what their goals are or keep them a secret, but what they
have to do each day is send an email to everyone in the group with the word
“done” in the subject line to say that they’ve worked toward their goals that
day. I’ve done this with friends a few times over the past couple of years.
Being accountable can really make a difference.
What inspires your own writing?
I get story ideas from all sorts of things. I saw a
reliquary in a museum and built a novel around it and what my heroine was
hiding in it. I saw a little girl afraid of a dog and made that the fear that
the heroine had to overcome to win the hero in a short love story.
I also love brainstorming around random words and seeing
what happens. The five w’s are another source for stories. If I brainstorm
around the word “snow,” for instance, I’ll think about when it is snowing
(night? day? now? 1940? 1322?), where (my street? a cemetery? a battlefield? a
mountainside?), who is in the snow or watching it (a child? an old woman? a
soldier? a thief?), what they are doing (playing? running? shivering? crying?).
The “why” isn’t for the snow, but I ask it to find out why my characters are
where they are and doing what they’re doing.
My potential readers also inspire me. Whether they read an
article about criminal law or orchids, or one of my children’s stories, or a
safety brochure, they should all get my best work.
Find Heather’s weekly writing exercise by choosing “Writing
Prompts” under the “Writing Resources” drop-down menu, and feel free to share
what you come up with. Happy writing!
C. Lange, associate editor