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What’s Your Favorite Writing Prompt or Exercise?


PUBLISHED: July 23, 2012
Balloon via Flickr and Haeckel Ascidiae via Wikimedia Commons

While catching up on New Yorkers this weekend, I ran across a delightful piece by Rebecca Mead, “Earnest.” (Read it online.) It’s about Jeff Nunokawa, who writes one Facebook note per day. Mead writes:

Nunokawa typically takes a literary quotation—Edmund Spenser, James Merrill, Joni Mitchell—and elaborates upon it, sometimes for a line, sometimes for a paragraph or two. Nunokawa’s notes are meditations: half literary-critical, half confessional. He writes one a day. “I write as soon as I wake up, because that is when I am most alert and most anguished,” he said. “Each one takes between twenty minutes and four hours to write. It’s almost like a Lacanian session. [Read more.]

Which got me to thinking … Do you have a favorite writing prompt or exercise that you rely on for inspiration or guidance?

From now through Sunday (July 29), we’d like to hear about your favorite prompts/exercises in the comments. (Be sure to indicate the source of the prompt/exercise, if appropriate.) On Monday, we’ll randomly select one commenter to receive a free selection of journals from Miro, in a nifty canvas tote. We’ll also collect and post the best prompts from what’s shared.

Image: Balloon via Flickr and Haeckel Ascidiae via Wikimedia Commons

70 Comments

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Karen's picture
I start with “Why did the chicken cross the road?” to get my writing juices flowing. By the time my chicken has finished another daily adventure, I’m ready to tackle the current work in progress. It’s amazing how much trouble a chicken and a road can cause together.
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Torg's picture
Torg · 7 years ago
Sharing two: Tell me about a place you know well. Tell a relationship story. Think sibling, parent/child, friendship, or romantic.
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Kama Shockey's picture
Kama Shockey · 7 years ago
I am an avid people watcher, sometimes not even a subtle one at that. I write my characters based off of the lives I imagine strangers walking by are living. Sometimes when I am stuck and need to use it as a writing exercise, I do this as well, and save them to a document called, “Future Characters”. It’s fun looking back on some of the people I have come across, wondering where their ‘real’ lives have taken them since we crossed paths. It helps me build characterization skills, and when I do look back, I am always glad I saved the snippets, for seeing how my writing has improved at least.
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Lindsay's picture
My favourite writing prompt is describing a person that inspires you. It encourages you to think about all of the qualities you like in a person, and can potentially be an excellent way to develop characters in your stories.
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Heather's picture
I use the favourite writer’s questions: What if? If you’re ever looking for writing prompts when your standby prompt doesn’t work for you, I have a selection to choose from at http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com.
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Jess's picture
Jess · 7 years ago
My favorite writing prompt is: Dear Dr. Rodewald … Dr. R. was an English professor at Stephen F. Austin University. I wrote my first novel in an independent studies class under him. He marked it up in red, but he gave me an A-. I suspect for just finishing the project. I had so much dialogue and not much introspection and I remember he wrote in bold red letters all through it, “Think! Think! Think!” where my characters should be thinking. I hear his voice when I write and so when I sit down and face a new project–no matter what it is… I write for him. I always think, Dear Dr. Rodewald, Once upon a time there was a girl who truly wanted to be a writer. Thank you for your encouragement.
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Lorraine's picture
Lorraine · 7 years ago
Have a couple of helpful prompts. Elizabeth Berg’s book on writing, “Escaping into the open: The art of writing true” has tons of prompts and exercises. Another is one my writer’s group uses called “Storymatic.” It’s a box of business size cards full of hundreds of plots, characters. Scenarios, etc. Sometimes I just need a place to jump off tom and both these work great for me.
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Stephen S. Power's picture
I’ve been writing sestinas lately, and the fun has been coming up with or coming across groups of words to use as end words. For instance in a documentary on the making of the Grateful Dead’s AOXOMOXOA and AMERICAN BEAUTY, lyricist Robert Hunter said he wrote “Brokedown Palace,” “To Lay Me Down” and “Ripple” in one day in London (side note: that’s amazing). So I used the end words hunt, broke, lay, down, rip and pull. A favorite way I got from THINKING FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman. In it he talks about how one word can suggest others so I took the word firewater, then found five words that also made words with fire and another five with water (thank you, dictionary.com). Then I wrote a sestina with fire and the five water words and another with water and the five fire words.
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Aine Greaney's picture
Something that helps me to get going is to start writing in my journal, “I want to write about …” Usually, by freewriting on what I really want to write about, I get to the heart of where a new piece should start or a current piece should go.
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Jodi McMaster's picture
In your top five, “What If?” is among my favorite books for prompts, as are Pat Schneider’s “Writing Alone and With Others,” and Judy Reeves’ “A Writer’s Book of Days.” I like using quotes and pictures as prompts, as well. Of ones I’ve come up with, this one worked well for me: “Pick an element: earth, wind, fire, water (also suggested in various cultures and genre are ‘space,’ ‘time,’ ‘salt’). What is its significance to you or your character?”
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