As a writer, we all have our preferences. We have a core programming that becomes a theme, and left to our own devices most of us would only tell a few kinds of stories.
When you’re a fiction writer, however, chances are that you want to tell all kinds of stories in all kinds of settings. You want to show your range in what you can create. One of the best ways to learn your range is writing prompts.
Why? Well, they’re small, they’re portable, and they’re all over social media and by extension, the Internet. People write books of them. The point of writing prompts is to give you parameters, which is both challenging and liberating. “In 1000 words or less, tell a story of a musician who walks an awkward situation.”
The prompts can be serious or silly, specific or vague, genre-related or not. The point is that when you find one, it should inspire you to figure out what you could do with the set of information presented. If it’s a good idea, then you should absolutely run with it. I’ve written several flash fictions based on writing prompts, either found by my writing group or ones that I’ve run across here and there.
I listen to a podcast, Writing Excuses, and one thing I love about them is that they offer a writing prompt after almost every episode, to give writers practice on topics they may not have considered. It’s a way to diagnose weaknesses in your writing technique, and fix them.
That’s probably the most useful part of writing prompts. All of us have blind spots in our writing style, things that we don’t notice or consider to be a problem, but the average reader would. These problems can range from the innocuous to the detrimental, and writing prompts give you the ability to practice on something specific until you can smooth out your hang-up.
Some people might think themselves beyond writing prompts, or as not having the time, or simply thinking they’re silly. A lot of writers can still get away with not getting a formal education and still writing beautifully. However, for those who avoid formal education, writing prompts are a great informal education that you can take at your own pace, and improve your writing without the student loans. They are definitely worth the price of admission.