What’s the most inspiring prompt you’ve ever been given?

Last week our Operations Manager and Interim Executive Director, Joanna Dasher, started a new blog called 642 Prompts—an idea sparked by a book from The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto called 642 Things to Write About.

Interested, I checked out said blog and book (the first 30 things to write about are posted online) and found one especially inspiring prompt:

A man jumps from the fortieth story of a building. As he’s passing the twenty-eighth floor, he hears a phone ring and regrets that he jumped. Why?

The prompt didn’t have me reaching for the nearest pen and pad of paper, but it did serve as a refreshing reminder that we, being creative writers ourselves, have free rein to come up with imaginative prompts for our students.

This is important because week four is all about encouraging your DeepKids to plant seedlings.

Get creative and come equipped with some interesting and experimental prompts. There’s no such thing as having too many writing prompts or giving your kids too much writing time.

If a prompt fails to strike a chord with them, pitch it. Don’t fold like a cheap suit at their first sign of writer’s block—by all means, push them to overcome the demoralizing blank page!—but know when to throw in the towel. What you deem inventive might actually be pretty uninspiring, and that’s okay.

Keep moving forward. Keep prompting. Keep their pencils pressed to the page.

In 1942, a guy named Alex Faickney Osborn published How to Think Up, in which he presented a technique called “brainstorming.” His method included four general rules, which are great to add to your Culture Circle this week:

  1. Focus on quantity
  2. Withhold criticism
  3. Welcome unusual ideas
  4. Combine and improve ideas

Now, I don’t aim to discredit the father of brainstorming, but the one thing I think he’s missing is, “encourage imperfection.”

As you work with your kids through the seed planting and brainstorming process, don’t say, “It’s okay if these seedlings aren’t perfect, we have three weeks of revision coming up.”

It should be more than okay. It should be encouraged and expected. Make sure your DeepKids feel empowered to have imperfect writing samples and, as my grandpa likes to say, “If you’re gonna make mistakes, might as well make ‘em at 100 miles an hour.”

Lastly, I’ll leave you with wise words from William Faulkner, which sort of double as a tagline on Jo’s new blog:

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”

What’s the most inspiring prompt you’ve ever been given? How do you foster a good ol’ brainstorming session? What’s your favorite place to find prompts? What valuable resources or blogs have you stumbled upon lately? 

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7 thoughts on “What’s the most inspiring prompt you’ve ever been given?

  1. In college, my professor gave me two prompts that really stuck with me:

    A) Five minutes to write whatever you want, and you must have five moments of dialogue—but they can only be the word No.
    B) Five minutes to write whatever you want, and you can only use dialogue.

  2. Inspiration | The death of ink

  3. Great post, Kolby. My response to your question is a bit convoluted, but your question was just really thought-provoking, so please bear with me.

    I spent the summer of 2011 summer flirting with the idea of getting an MA in English, taking two classes at the Bread Loaf School of English. I’ve since decided against pursuing an MA, but I took a poetry workshop that summer which was incredible, and my professor gave me some of the greatest advice I’ve ever received on writing. It’s not exactly a “prompt”, per se, but it changed the way I approach my brainstorms or story ideas: Somehow, he could sense that I was avoiding the story I needed to write–I suppose my first works felt contrived, though he didn’t use that term–but he told me to “Write about the thing you’re avoiding writing about, and do it in a way that’s never been done.”

    This was groundbreaking for me.

    To this day, I think about this advice constantly when I’m writing, no matter what the prompt. Because every prompt can lead to a story that I will avoid if I am fearful. It takes courage to let a prompt pull at you in the most honest and vulnerable way, and embracing that is what makes the best stories, I think.

  4. This is a great post! Honestly, most of my “prompts” come from conversations with my co-writer. We’ll be goofing off or discussing pop culture, and I’ll get a spark. The line: “Wait…that would actually be a great idea for a novel” pops up a lot in our conversations. Lol. Proof that life is one big prompt.

  5. I had a book called writer’s muse that had prompts in it. In it the prompt you had to write about meeting a popular author pre-fame in a bookstore. After a few years, you return to that same book store and see that author at a bookstore. You’re getting your book signed. It’s your turn. What do you say?
    This was the basis for my novel, The Death of Ink.
    I feel writing prompts is the best way to get the creative juices flowing as a writer.

  6. Getting Inspiration When Writing | Cool lady blog

  7. Writing Prompts That Just Might Change The World | doug --- off the record

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