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What are Writing Prompts?

Updated on December 19, 2017
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.


Looking for a way to boost your creativity and get your mental motor running when it comes to writing? Here's a tool you can use: writing prompts.

So What are Writing Prompts?

Writing prompts are short, thought provoking statements or questions that provide a topic on which to write. Some prompts may start a sentence or paragraph and ask the writer to finish the thought. Prompts may also be grouped by overall topic or genre, such as business, poetry, novel writing, etc. Additionally, some prompt programs may encourage writers of one genre to try an unfamiliar or uncomfortable genre in order to expand the writers' horizons of possibilities and mental flexibility. For example, business nonfiction writers may be encouraged to try poetry or short stories to improve their writing style and audience appeal.

A writing prompt exercise may specify that the writer write a certain amount of words on the prompt topic within a limited time period. In a workshop setting, that time may be as little as a few minutes. For lower pressure, self-directed exercises, writers may be allowed to choose their own time for completion, be it minutes, hours or days.

Here's how prompts can help build writing skills:

  • They can force the writer to dig deeper mentally or emotionally to address the topic.
  • For writers that lack focus, they can help quiet distracting thoughts and influences.
  • Writers sometimes fall into a rut or dry spell. Prompts can help keep up momentum by keeping new topics bubbling into consciousness and encouraging experimentation.

Writing Prompt Book Example

Where Can Writing Prompts be Found?

There are many ways to access sources for prompts, including:

  • Online sites that offer them for free or for a fee. The prompts may be offered right on the site or they may be served up via email as a subscription. Some sites allow writers to contribute prompts for other writers or members in a community.
  • Books that may, in addition to the prompt, provide space to write down thoughts, turning the book into a writing journal.
  • Live workshops held by libraries, schools or networking groups. These workshops are usually led by a facilitator who announces the prompt, times the exercise and may encourage sharing of both writing done and participant feedback on the topic or exercise.

Do use writing prompts?

See results

Tips for Using Writing Prompts Effectively

While some ideas that may be spawned by a writing prompt exercise can be the basis for a blog post or book, many will not be ready for public viewing now... or ever. That's really okay! Creativity can be a messy business. So here are some tips for making the most of writing prompts:

  • Archive. You might generate a slew of writing bits and pieces when you start using prompts. Now, what do you do with them? Since you never know when some bit might become the basis for something bigger and better, archive your exercises in a special place (either physically in a folder or an electronic folder) for future reference. Tagging or giving these pieces descriptive titles will help you more easily find the bit you want. For example, don't title your exercise, "Exercise October 23." Rather, "Business Planning for Success" would be easier to identify the entry in your file.
  • Don't Obsess, Don't Stop. Perfectionists out there will have a hard time with this! For particularly difficult prompt topics, the temptation is to keep working on that exercise until it's publication worthy. While your commitment to excellence is laudable, this will usually keep you stuck on one exercise for hours or days—even months!—and you've passed on the opportunity to spend time on more suitable topics for you. Granted, if the difficult prompt topic is relevant to your business and goals, it might warrant some extra time delving into it. But keep moving forward with the exercises and maybe take a bit of a break to get some fresh perspective before returning to the problematic prompt.
  • Get Feedback from an Outside Party. In a workshop setting, participants may be given the opportunity to share what they've written with the group. This can provide some instant, peer-to-peer, usually nonjudgmental, input. Outside this setting, ideas that may have merit for further development could be reviewed by a colleague or paid editor. Caution! To prevent theft of ideas, make sure to get reviews from only trusted sources who will protect your copyrighted material.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne


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  • breathing profile image

    Sajib 2 years ago from Bangladesh

    Excellent article on writing prompts. I thank the author from the core of my heart for this really important and useful post. With these useful tips, a writer can easily develop the thinking about writing and creativity. Thus the writing will be good and the new ideas will always be clicking on mind. Writing prompts often ignites the fire within the writer which makes the work easier. So if you need to know about good writing prompts, then please read this post and it will be best if you read the book suggested by the author. Overall a great post on writing prompts.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Larry! Totally agree. Thanks for the kind comments and have a great day!

  • Larry Rankin profile image

    Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

    Writing prompts can be very helpful to the author trying to find his or her muse.

    Very helpful article.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi AliciaC! Glad to hear you find prompts helpful. (I do, too!) Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation and have a great day!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Thanks for sharing the interesting and useful information about writing prompts, Heidi. I find writing prompts very helpful for generating ideas.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    It sure is, mactavers! I hope you'll give 'em a shot. Thanks for stopping by and let us know what your experience is using 'em!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    No kidding, billybuc! I had been working on this hub for the last few weeks and finally finished it this weekend. Actually, I'm developing an entire writing prompts program for business writers. So stay tuned for that. I'll be checking into the Mailbag sometime this week. Happy Monday!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello purl3agony! I love writing prompts and they do get the creative juices going. Give 'em a try sometime and let us know how it goes. Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific week!

  • mactavers profile image

    mactavers 2 years ago

    Whatever promotes creativity is worth a try.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Hey, we both wrote about the same thing this week. Great minds think alike, me thinks. :) Have a terrific week, my friend.

  • purl3agony profile image

    Donna Herron 2 years ago from USA

    Very interesting. I haven't used writing prompts yet, but it seems like they could encourage a writer to write about different subjects then they normally do, or write in a new and different genre. I will have to look for some samples online. Thanks for posting!