From time to time, I like to turn my weekly blog over to a colleague. I had the great fortune to meet Zach Jeffries, best-selling Amazon author as well as an innovator in the world of writing prompts.
Find out what Zach has to say about this useful writing tool!
Why do I need writing promptS?
It’s a generally held belief that the point of writing prompts is inspiration of some sort. If a writer needs new ideas, they can use writing prompts for story generation. If they feel stuck creatively, they can use prompts to turn off their editor mind or business mode. If they’ve spent too long away from their Work-In-Progress, they can jumpstart their imagination.
Does everyone who wants to finish writing a story need to use writing prompts? Of course not. But I’d argue that every writer who wants to finish writing a story needs momentum; getting on a roll, reaching that flow state, writing effortlessly finishes a book much faster than a grind that causes us to tear our hair out. But making it to effortless takes a lot of effort, as does making it to those sweet words, “The End.”
But can prompts work at the other end of storycraft? Can prompts help an author finish a story rather than begin? I make speaking appearances often about National Novel Writing Month and encourage authors to use prompts when they get stuck in the muddy middle of a story. But for some, traditional prompts won’t cut it.
Do all writers use writing prompts?
Some writers love writing prompts- they own stacks of those “one writing prompt a day” books. Other writers are ambivalent- they don’t use these exercises on their own, but if they come up in a workshop or a writing critique group, they’ll join along.
Then there are the rest of us.
For me, traditional writing prompts are a source for anxiety. Like Erick Mertz, as he said in our discussion, I, too, have more than enough ideas for stories. When I’m presented with a new idea or story seed in a writing prompt, I lock up. What if I become attached to this new story? What if I lose writing momentum on my current Work-In-Progress? What if I like the new story more than mine?
Break down your prompt
Within almost every traditional writing prompt, there is an underlying storytelling building block. That’s what makes writing prompts good launching points: one solid aspect of storytelling as a foundation for possible new ideas.
But if you already have a story going with elements (like plot, character, and setting) in place, brainstorming a new idea from a prompt might not help. So what if you ignored the new idea? What if, instead of following this traditional writing prompt as a jumping off point, you found what made the prompt intriguing? What is the solid storytelling building block at the prompt’s core? Is it a shocking impossibility? A haunting description? A line of dialogue from an emotional extreme?
If you’re looking at writing prompts and are drawn to one, I challenge you to dissect why you’re drawn to it.Then continue writing your Work-In-Progress, using that solid building block of storytelling within the personal work that already resonates with you.
Create and finish short story ideas
The best thing about a short story is that they’re short. The worst is that they have to be edited to be sleek tales with no extra words. Usually, when faced with a writing prompt, it’s treated as a place to start. But what if it were a place to end?
Especially with shorter fiction, writing directly towards a climax can make a more a satisfying story. Without an entire book to get through, every aspect of a short story can more directly push toward the ending. While tension won’t be as drawn -out, it will be more immediate.
So why not challenge yourself with a prompt and use it to inspire the punctuation at the end of the story sentence? Then you can work backwards (either mentally or through an outline) adding a rapid succession of events and detail. A prompt can give you and the reader momentum accelerating both through the short story toward the climax.
Find creative A writing prompt from social media!
If you are in need of a source for writing prompts, they can be found everywhere. I know some authors who create prompts for themselves by looking around the room and gleaning a single word. Obviously, there are books one can purchase filled with prompts.
But you can find anything on the internet. Writing groups which include regular prompts are all over Facebook. Specialized writing prompt accounts exist on X, Threads, Mastodon, Instagram, and TikTok. I recommend looking at these groups or accounts expeditiously, and not get sucked into a rabbit hole searching for perfect inspiration; get in, find a prompt, and get out. There is no perfect prompt for you. There is no magical key to unlocking the story’s potential or magic feather to make your writing soar. There is inspiration, but the work is yours to do.
And if you’re in the camp of authors who dislike traditional prompts, there are nontraditional approaches to these writing exercises; writing prompts for people who hate writing prompts.
Zack Jeffries is an Amazon bestselling author with books under a variety of pseudonyms, mainly Z Jeffries and Zachary Jeffries. As a former theatre kid, he shares his knowledge of storytelling structure and inspiration to communities of writers through his social media accounts (@jeffriesbooks), speaking engagements at his local libraries, and panels at book/literary conventions. Jeffries believes that every person is capable of writing and finishing the book of their dreams if they find the right tools and materials. He also thinks cheese is just the best.
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