The semester has come to an end, and that means a summer full of writing is upon us. I occasionally struggle with finding a starting point when I’m not faced with the expectation of workshop or an assignment, so I collected some of my favorite prompts in the event that I need a little push or inspiration. (These prompts can be used as a starting place for prose or poetry.)
These prompts are all via Lisa Roney, one of our excellent MFA nonfiction professors at the University of Central Florida and author of Serious Daring: Creative Writing in Four Genres. Thanks, Lisa, for your inventiveness!
1. Define a social issue that interests you—if possible, focus on something you perceive as a widespread injustice, though the scale of it might be small (in other words, not the total of racism, but, perhaps, something on a local or personal scale, something you have experienced firsthand). Then go online and find a photo or illustration related to that issue somehow. Then write based on the photo, NOT based on where you might otherwise begin. Create a story or essay or poem using the photo as your muse.
Example: Take for instance an image of a woman wearing what’s called a “scold bridle,” a device used in the 1500s to literally muzzle a woman with an opinion. Is there an experience you’ve had during which you felt you could not speak your opinion? How does your experience relate to the idea of that photo? (So you’re not writing about the photo directly, but your own interpretation of what it is to experience/observe the injustice in the photo as it relates to you.)
Suggested Reading: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen
2. Everyone has a book they’ve read over and over again. Find that book, and think about the author’s style. Once you feel you have an overall handle on that style, choose a passage to imitate using the methods of Example 1 and Example 2 from this page: http://literarydevices.net/pastiche/. Yours need not be comic, and you don’t need to write a general pastiche of the author’s style, but try to mimic the rhythms and sentence structures of one specific passage as much as you can while still using your own content.
Suggested Reading: Leslie Jamison’s The Gin Closet
3. Find a “fact” (a statistic, research result, or something that isn’t common knowledge) and put it in your first sentence. Then write as personally as you can from that starting point. Try to make this a whole piece if you can; that is, think about an ending point to go with that starting point, try to create a structure, even in a page. Don’t just write until you hit the bottom of the page and suddenly stop. Let the fact be the foundation of a piece that can be very personal to you.
Suggested Reading: Eula Biss’s On Immunity
4. Choose a place you love. You can choose some place you define as “home” if you wish, but even better might be a place that looms in your mind as special and magical. Maybe it’s Paris, that you visited only for a week years ago, or perhaps it’s your grandparents’ home where you passed childhood summers. Or maybe it is your sanctuary location within your home—your bedroom or your attic or some such.
The place itself doesn’t need to be luxurious, but write about it luxuriously, as maximally as your comfort level will allow. Perhaps that includes the clothing people wear or the food they eat, the furniture and textures of the walls and floors, the sights and sounds and smells. Be sensuous. Revel in how it felt (or feels) be in that place.
Suggested Reading: Jasmin Darznik’s The Good Daughter
Have a prompt of your own that you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments for your fellow writers!
Alexis Senior is a Nonfiction candidate working on her thesis and constantly roaming the country for inspiration. After graduating from UCF with a BA in Creative Writing, Alexis worked as an editor for Orlando Magazine and went on to become a social media manager for an award-winning ad agency. She now writes cookbooks as a content writer at Tupperware. Bottom line—she’s always writing something.