If you are a writer, you may have experienced the symptoms: feeling like you have run into a brick wall, unable to get back to that wellspring of creativity that makes the words flow from your fingertips when you are on a roll.
Writer’s block isn’t necessarily “real.” There is no diagnosable illness or medical condition that can be tested for and then treated. But it is something that most writers experience sometime during their writing career. Most writers can remember a time when they needed book promotion, and, imagine the pressure to promote your work during a spell of writer’s block! One of the best ways to combat the overwhelming fear that you won’t be able to write as freely and smoothly as you used to is the use of story prompts.
Story Prompts: What They Are and How to Use Them
Story prompts are a type of writing prompt. You probably used writing prompts in school: you would choose a topic like ‘solitude’ and then brainstorm it into a bit of writing. It may not have been a complete story: your prompt may have just led you to create a bit of dialogue between two characters, or a paragraph or two. The idea was not to write a complete story; instead, it was to just use the prompt to jumpstart your writing.
A story prompt is a little more complex than writing prompt. Instead of choosing a topic or a setting, you would be given several different components to work into a story. You may be given some characters, an object, and an inciting incident. (One example: you are given an emergency room physician and a patient, a wedding ring, and a fight breaks out in the operating room.) You then take these elements and write the beginning of a story with them.
How a Story Prompt Works
If you are stuck on your current writing project, you may be feeling reluctant or even unable to get words down on paper. A story prompt’s purpose is to help you write creatively. It helps spark that creativity by taking a little of the pressure off of you. You have been given the beginnings of a story; now you just need to let your mind run free and create something. Once you start using story prompts, you may want to challenge yourself by determining you will write for some minutes.
Using a Time Limit to Your Advantage
Assigning yourself a time limit is a great way to get rid of writer’s block. You are making yourself focus on writing for a prescribed period. By using your story prompts and a timer, you are essentially retraining your brain. You are writing for a specified period, at the end of which you will see words flowing on the page again. This can break down that writer’s block.
It isn’t the content that matters so much, it is the act of putting words on the page. Do you remember doing free writing exercises? When would you just let yourself free-associate? You are just trying to write as much as you can for that particular time, to get used to getting the words back down on paper. You are silencing your inner critic for a while.
Hushing that inner critic is important. Do not stop your writing to edit something that you just wrote. You are trying to get as many words down on the page as you can; it doesn’t matter if they don’t quite make sense because you have a plot hole in one of the paragraphs. You are just trying to get back to the free flow of ideas that makes your writing unique. If you decide you can use these bits of writing in a project later, that’s when you will let that inner critic do the editing. Not now.
What Happens When The Timer Goes Off?
You have taken your story prompt, given yourself a time to write, and then you just let the words flow. The timer goes off. What do you do now?
Take a moment to look at your writing. How many words did you get down during that period of pure writing genius? Relish in the fact that you have written all those words down; without you, they would not be in existence. You are writing!
Save These Exercises
Don’t throw away anything you create in response to a story prompt. You may think you have no use for these bits of creative writing, but you never know: you may start a project later and one of these story seeds will germinate into a great idea! And remember, you are retraining yourself to write freely, so periodically looking back at all of this writing that you have accomplished may be another way you can stave off those writing blocks.
Where Do You Find Story Prompts?
You can find story prompt resources online; some websites provide daily writing prompts to email subscribers. One resource is The Storymatic. This fun manipulative is a physical box of cards, you just pull a couple of character cards and a situation and get to writing! One box of cards can generate an untold number of story seeds to get you past that roadblock that is impeding your creativity.
Applying Story Prompts to Your Current Work in Progress
Another benefit of prompts is that you can find a way to actually work story prompts into your current writing project. Here are some ideas for getting those creative juices flowing and help your current project at the same time.
- Let one of your characters narrate a scene, but choose a scene in which that character doesn’t appear. Let the narrator have free rein to describe the scene from his or her unique point of view.
- Allow one of your characters to write you a letter, telling you how they feel about his or her part in the story. Maybe this character wants a bigger role or doesn’t like the way you are portraying him or her in a particular scene. See how persuasive that character can be: he or she may actually convince you to rewrite a scene or two!
- Take one paragraph from your current work. Turn it around to be the complete opposite of what you originally wrote. For example, if you were writing about a tranquil day at the beach in that paragraph, change it to the middle of a hurricane on that same stretch of beach.
Remember: you never have to show any of your story prompt results to anyone else. These are methods for you, to enable you to break down that writer’s block and regain the inspiration to write creatively. In the process, you may even create a character or situation that will lead you to a totally new writing project.
Story prompts can help you get through those periods of writer’s block. Give them a try!