Using Writing Prompts Exercises to Express Yourself
My start in writing prompts
I caught the writing bug in the fourth grade. Back then essays and creative writing were a regular part of our curriculum. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Ball, put up one or more photographs from magazines and told us to write a story. I thought it was great fun and I was always eager to get started.
When I was in fifth grade, my teacher Mr. Crosby gave us all types of writing prompts; the most frequent was to just pick a topic, or person, place, or thing, and write a short story or essay. Sometimes Mr. Crosby would give a starting sentence, sometimes with a photo added, and tell us to write a short story. Sometimes he would make the challenge even more specific by telling us to make it first, second, or third person. I couldn't get enough of Mr. Crosby's writing prompt assignments. It was the highlight of my week. When my mom went in for a parent/teacher conference once, he told her I had a gift and to encourage me in it. My mom became my biggest fan, encourager, and cheerleader. When I brought home my work, she and dad both made a big deal about it. My mom would brag about me to friends and family (parents, please do this for your children). Thus began my lifelong love and pursuit of writing.
Express yourself workshop
A couple of years ago I interned at an organization that helps people with disabilities. I worked in the wellness department with people with mental health challenges, as a peer. All the groups, workshops, and activities were geared to foster wellness and recovery. I came up with an idea for a workshop called Express Yourself. The purpose of the workshop was to give ourselves (I lead in a very small way but participated as a group member) a vehicle to express ourselves - emotions, thoughts, perceptions, and ideas. The way it worked was I would give a writing prompt and we were to write something that would express those things.
Here were the rules:
- No critiquing. Quality and skill in writing was not the goal, as it might be in a writing group or creative writing class. We were writing for expression; thus there was no right or wrong.
- Comments or feedback were allowed, by permission of the writer who shared only. Comments were to show appreciation for how the writing exercise shared resonated or helped someone somehow. Discussion took time away from the purpose of the class - writing - so comments were to be very brief. An example would be: "Jennifer, your description of ____ made me feel like I wanted to be there." Or, "Eric, I could feel the feelings you were describing." Or "Diane, that so resonated with me. It makes me realize I am not the only one, nor alone."
Because we wanted the workshop to be a safe place, none of the following content could be used-
1) Erotic content. The reason was partially personal - I find erotic material offensive (as might others). Erotic content is a loose cannon, people can get carried away. Some people may be triggered by it as well. And as it was a mixed group, it could open the door to some bad, unhealthy situations.
2) Descriptions of abuse of any kind (especially of a sexual nature). The reason being that some who come through the doors may have suffered serious trauma in life, some with a resulting PTSD diagnosis (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Content about abuse could exacerbate someone's trauma and PTSD symptoms.
3) Substance use. I think this is obvious - to prevent encouraging, glorifying, or triggering substance use and abuse.
4) Racist or otherwise bigoted comments. The reasons are obvious.
- The workshop was not for processing trauma and other psychological issues; it was simply to learn a way to express feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and ideas in the moment or current season of life.
- No one was required to share what they'd written. Although it was helpful to others, the most important thing was that we had a chance to express ourselves in the written word. Privacy was highly respected. One or two people, sometimes more, always ended up volunteering to share. No one was to comment to another group member for not sharing.
I kept the class to 45 minutes, not wanting to tire everyone else. All prompts were given a time limit.
I used a wide variety of writing prompts with varied instructions. Here is a partial list:
- Free writing - using a photo, a key word, a phrase, an idea, or no prompt at all - just spontaneous expression. Free writing is writing without stopping for a time limit (I usually made it 5 or 10 minutes), with no concern for anything - spelling, grammar, deep thought, clarity, structure, nor anything but what comes out in the moment. Free writing is a good warm-up tool, and an icebreaker, if you will. People arrive with a lot on their minds, a lot of emotions going on (good, bad, or somewhere in between).
- One or multiple photo prompts - have them choose one, and write in a designated time period and space how that photo makes them feel, what it reminds them of, or to put themselves in the situation of the photo. For example, I could offer four photos of a weather situation - one rainy, one sunny, one snowy, one stormy - and tell them to insert themselves into the photo and write what they were feeling, or what was happening. The sky is the limit with what you can do with photo prompts.
- Give one or two beginning sentences, or a phrase - and complete by whatever comes to mind. They could do prose, poetry, brief story, or just word descriptions. An example would be: "I just hate it when...," or "It always cracks me up when...," or "I entered my bedroom and saw the window open. I hadn't opened the window. It made me feel (or think, wonder)..."
- One word prompts- give one word and have them write something. There are several ways to do this. An example might be to have them write how that one word would describe them and why.
- Fill in the blanks. Example: "Whenever I hear (see, feel, or taste) ______ it makes me feel _____.
- Tell us - Example: Tell us what your favorite color is and why.
These are just a few examples. If you are a creative sort, you can come up with a gazillion ideas. You can also find prompt ideas online if you get stuck.
This class was very well received and attended. I found immeasurable benefit from it, as did the others.
Try your hand at a photo prompt
How about trying a photo prompt. Using the photos below and using the same rules we had in our workshop (reread them above) write your prompt in the comments section. *Note each photo has a number below it.
Exercise # 1
For photo # 1 -using only one word each, make a list of 5 physical sensations, and 5 emotions you might feel in this situations.
Exercise # 2
From Photo 2 - what emotions or memories does this photo elicit. Share in one one or two paragraphs.
Exercise # 3
From photo 3 - if you are the man in the puzzle, are the puzzle pieces falling out or filling in? Briefly say why that is.
Exercise # 4
From photos 4 and 5 - which photo resonates more with how life is for you at this time? Give a brief answer in 3 or 4 short paragraphs or less.
Exercise # 5
From photo 6 - Describe the feeling evoked and tell of a time you felt like this. Keep it to 3 paragraphs if possible.
Exercise # 6
From Photo 7 - Write whatever comes to mind.
One word prompts
Below is a list of 3 categories with 4 word choices below them. For each category, pick which word you feel most describes you and why. If none of them seem to fit, choose which you would most like or least like to be or be like and why. Be brief.
- Mary Poppins
- Joan Rivers
- Rocky Balboa
- Charlie Brown
- New York City
- By a cozy fire
- A carnival
- A hiking trail
- A gift box
- A Bulldozer
- An Iceberg
- A Jackhammer
Do you feel like a Charlie Brown?
One or two sentence prompts
A sentence or two or a phrase is given and we were to complete it. Try these:
- While I was tying my shoes, I noticed a slug on the toe of my right sneaker. I couldn't imagine where it came from.
- A brutal wind assaulted my face so I ran for cover. All the buildings were closed for the evening.
- Getting a traffic ticket always ruins my day. You would think I'd have learned by now.
- Where would I be without you?
Fill in the blanks prompt
Without using explicit or triggering language explained in the Express Yourself Workshop section above, fill in the blanks and be very brief. You may choose all, or some categories.
- My favorite word is ____ because ______.
- My least favorite word is ___ because _____.
- I love the sound of _____ because ______.
- I love the smell of _____ because ______.
- I love the taste of _____ because ______.
- I hate the sound of ____ because _______.
- I hate the smell of _____ because ______.
- I hate the taste of _____ because _______.
Tell us prompt
Choose one of the following prompts and write about it.
- Name someone or something that really cracks you up and why.
- Choose on person you love most in the world and why.
- Tell what activity is most fun with your friend and why.
- Tell which of the situations below you prefer and why.
- Walking in a garden.
- Lying in the sun.
- Drinking your first cup of coffee and reading the paper in a quiet kitchen.
- Shopping with the girls.
- Working out in the gym.
Take it to the next level
If you enjoyed any or all of these writing prompts, why not take it to the next level and write an article from your favorite prompt.
- Use the rules from the Express Yourself Workshop section.
- Ttile your hub: The Writing Prompt Challenge: _________ (fill in an applicable phrase).
- Express yourself and have fun!!!