The Ultimate Guide to Learning Writing: Prompts

Writing Prompts: Getting Started is No Longer the Hardest Part

Every writer will suffer from writer’s block from time to time, be it in a class, while working on personal projects, or meeting a pending deadline. Sometimes we get so caught up in the product we’re trying to create that we forget the process - just good ol’ pen to paper (or more often now, fingers to keyboard). Writing prompts oil the engine and remind us that writing is, in fact, a natural act.

So what exactly are writing prompts and how should they be used? Furthermore, how do they help the writing process? In this guide, you will learn not only how to incorporate writing prompts into your practice, but we have also curated a robust collection of creative writing prompts and short story ideas to get you started.

The 411: What are writing prompts and why use them?

Images, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that present an idea or describe a situation are all examples of writing prompts. The most important thing to remember is that there are no rules, as long as you are writing.

No matter your writing level or purpose -- whether you are exploring creative waters or chipping away at the next great novel -- creative writing prompts encourage you to try something new outside your comfort zone and embrace random thoughts, while also giving you a chance to explore different styles, genres, and perspectives. Use them as a free write warm up before digging into an ongoing project or for character development. Catalog daily exercises to pull for future inspiration. Remember to write without pressure and let those ideas incubate.

Think on paper, build discipline, and produce, produce, produce.

Where can I find writing prompts?

We have curated a considerable collection of prompts below, and beyond these, remember the internet is your playground. Although these prompts are organized into two categories - creative writing prompts and short story ideas -- feel free to adapt a prompt to whichever purpose you see fit.

How do I approach writing prompts?

You are the director of this show. Simply begin free flow writing in response to a prompt. Notice how the arbitrary nature of a prompt can be freeing. Contrarily, brainstorm ideas in response to a writing prompt and develop the one that resonates the most. Don’t hesitate to use prompts in different ways. Adapt them to your needs.

Consider writing from different points of view from a single writing prompt or try writing in a different genre or format. Again, there are no rules. The more you stretch and flex, the more you will begin to see ideas in anything. This is where discipline meets creativity.

Creative Writing Prompts:

  • Backtrack: “What I should have said in the beginning…”
  • Odd one out: “Everyone else was grieving…”
  • Predictable: “This always happens to me.”
  • Knock knock: “They’re knocking again. You know this knock.”
  • No regrets: “I accept no responsibility and I would do it all again.”
  • Real talk: The tree in your backyard kneels down and begins a conversation.
  • It’s complicated: Your main character falls for the person who scares them the most.
  • Tragic love: A praying mantis truly loves her mate. Yet, she must eat him.
  • Counting sheep: Write an outrageous bedtime story that will absolutely not allow the listener to fall asleep.
  • One-sided: Write a one-sided correspondence as your best friend (text, phone, social media, letters, email, etc).
  • Bullet points: Write a list that tells a story. Examples may be a shopping list, itemized expenses, a to-do list, Top 10 list, etc.)
  • Migration: Write about migration (of ideas, animals, or people).
  • Pests: Your protagonist is a mosquito carrying malaria.
  • Her-story: Rewrite a major historical event, replacing all non-female characters with women.
  • Extraterrestrial: You have one chance to speak to an alien population. Write the speech.
  • Inchworm: You’re falling asleep at work and your nose starts to itch. You sneeze and a green inchworm splatters onto your desk.
  • Less is more: Sum up significant events in your life in six word sentences.
  • Disappearing act: Write about a disappearance (a person, object, animal, cultural phenomenon, etc).
  • Indulgence: Write about eating your favorite sweet food - like ice cream - from the food’s point of view.
  • Antagonist: Write about a character who is neither evil nor dangerous, but still terrifying.
  • Waiting game: Write about having to wait in line.
  • Let’s talk it out: Write a scene that only contains dialogue.
  • Sock monster: You have discovered what happens to all the lost socks.
  • Just playing: Write about the games people play -- figuratively or literally.
  • Ode to…:Choose an object in your kitchen and pen an ode of love to it.
  • First impressions: Imagine you are a wild animal. Describe your first interaction with a human.
  • Rebel rouser: Write a poem that is a call to action.
  • No words: Write about a world in which humans have evolved to be able to communicate without spoken language.
  • 1000 words: Write about a favorite painting or image. Write about the central figure if there is one. Write about the person who created the image. Write a fictional history of the picture.
  • Fake news: Choose a headline from today’s news and write a fictional text with the same headline.
  • Everyone needs therapy: A villain goes to her weekly therapy session. What transpires?
  • Toy Story: Write from the perspective of a forgotten or lost toy.
  • Alter-ego: Write a diary entry as your alter-ego.
  • Johnny who?: Write a day in the life of the most forgettable person.
  • Two sides: Create a character who elicits both disgust and empathy from the reader.
  • Musically speaking: You find an old musical instrument, unlike any other. Where is it from? How does it sound?
  • Petsmart: Describe a memorable (positive or negative) experience from the perspective of your pet.
  • Epilogue: The time comes to retire our favorite pieces of clothing. Choose an item that has lived past its prime and write its epilogue.
  • Dead Inside: Something has severed your ability to feel emotions. How does this change your life?
  • Get physical: All of your body’s functions (breathing, digestion, etc) require constant conscious effort.
  • Political therapy: Write an Onion article (or three).
  • Insta-prompt: Go to “Explore” on Instagram. Pick the first photo that catches your attention and use it as a prompt.

Short Story Ideas:

  • No deal: Your main character refuses to accept one million dollars from an anonymous patron.
  • Worst fears: Make a list of five things that you’re afraid of happening to you. Write a story in which one of them happens to your character.
  • Scars: Tell the story of a scar -- physical, emotional, or both.
  • At your service: Four waiters are abducted by aliens and must use their talents to entertain their captives and stay alive.
  • Joke’s on me: You heard there will be a huge earthquake tomorrow, but nobody will listen. Today is April Fool’s Day.
  • Drug-free: All drugs, legal and illegal, suddenly cease to have any effect on their users. Write about what ensues.
  • Secret society: You are mistaken for a member of a cult, when you accidentally imitate their secret greeting.
  • VIP only: A spaceship that can surpass the speed of light allows some humans to escape our solar system with its dying sun. How will humanity decide who gets to be a passenger?
  • Dream come true: Your main character dreams about picking up the same anonymous hitchhiker three nights in a row. The next day, she sees the same hitchhiker on her commute home from work. She pulls over.
  • Confidant: Your character’s loneliness leads them to find company in telemarketers.
  • Doomed?: A bachelor who can predict the future knows how his relationships will end before they even start.
  • Turning point: Two painters have been married for five years. How does their relationship change when one of them suddenly goes blind?
  • Visionary power: A preacher discovers she can make her congregation hallucinate.
  • White noise: All of a sudden, the the entire world can hear each other’s thoughts. How does humanity cope?
  • Civil war: Californians vote to secede from the United States, declaring California’s independence and sparking the second American Civil War.
  • Nancy Drew: A babysitter is snooping around in her employer’s belongings and finds a disturbing photograph.
  • Prince Charming: Your character has suddenly gained the ability of being irresistibly attractive to others. He’s in a monogamous long-standing relationship and engaged to be married in six months.
  • Superhero: Upon puberty, you develop the extraordinary ability to mimic cats’ meows and are charged with saving others with your new superpower.
  • Off the grid: In the future, not having a social media account is illegal. What happens to those who go “off the grid”?
  • Cyber reveal: You come to work one day to find all emails and social media accounts logged in to another person.
  • Notoriety: Your character is featured in an online video that has gone viral. What happened and how has it affected your character’s life?
  • Record breaker: Your character tries to make it into the next Guinness Book of World Records, but ends up alienating the love of her life.
  • Hit and run: Your family member is involved in a hit and run. Write from both perspectives.
  • Exchange policy: Your best friend is caught shoplifting. The shop owner says she won’t call the police in exchange for a “small” favor.
  • Secret admirer: Your character starts receiving anonymous gifts in unexpected places. He doesn’t know who’s sending them and his partner is suspicious. The gifts begin to get stranger.
  • Neverending vacation: Your character encounters a mysterious merchant in a station who sells all kinds of tickets to anywhere, fictional or not - the only catch is once they go, they may never return.
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