17 November 2012

Some creative writing prompts

The scary blank page.
Not that blogging's not good, but writing fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction has a very different feel to me, and--as I mentioned in my last post--I want more of that.

I've heard/read creative writers say that absolutely anything can be used as inspiration for writing. That's great, but when you're free falling and can't see anything around you to grab onto, it's really not that helpful. You need someone to say, "Look to your right! Big branch! Grab it!"

So I thought I'd share some ideas for creative writing prompts that I've either used lately or are in my To-be-used bucket for when the well seems to have run dry. (Yes, I know I'm mixing my metaphors. Deal with it.)

Sometimes a flash of memory will pop up, unbidden. Often the memory brings with it feelings of shame, guilt, or hurt. My automatic response to these memories is to try to push them away. But if I can resist that impulse and instead sit with the discomfort of that memory, it makes for a great writing prompt.

If I want to write fiction, I use the memory as a starting point but write what could have happened instead or even what I wish would have happened instead.

If I want to write creative non-fiction, I write down what happened in the memory, how I felt about it at the time, and how I feel about it now. This is a kind of magic formula I read about in Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by James W. Pennebaker. It not only results in some good writing practice but also, often, in a healing of the hurt associated with that memory. It can be a really scary thing to commit some of these memories to paper/computer, but it helps me to remember that: a) I don't have to share it with anyone if I don't want to; b) I can always burn or delete it after I'm done.
Examples: "Threaded memory," "Merging"
Dreams & Daydreams
On the occasion that I am successful at catching myself daydreaming or wake up remembering a dream, capturing them makes for a good creative writing exercise. I just write whatever I remember about the dream or daydream. I never try to make a bigger story out of them, but you could totally do that. One of the best things about capturing my dreams and daydreams is that they often point to deep emotional truths of which I have been hitherto unaware, and so the act of writing them helps me know myself better.
Examples: "Dream about a palace," "Lost in the forest"
Duotrope newsletter
If the above seem a little heavy or you just have a hard time paying close enough attention to yourself to make them feasible, another potential source of prompts is the Duotrope newsletter, to which I subscribe as a Duotrope member. (If you have not yet checked out Duotrope, I highly recommend it.) I scroll down to the bottom of the newsletter and look at the contests. For example, in this week's email there's a contest for sci-fi/fantasy flash fiction story that responds to the theme "An Unexpected Guest for the Holidays" for 713 Flash magazine. So I could use this as a prompt.
Examples: I don't have any! But I would love to put a link here to your piece. Email me.
In all these cases, I constantly have to remind myself not to judge. Because I have a tendency to freeze up under pressure (aka writer's block), I remind myself that the point is not to write something "good" that I can share with others or submit to a contest or journal. The point is just to write. Or, if I need an extra boost, I tell myself to "write something bad" and for some reason that always works. Maybe because I have complete faith in my ability to write something horrible.

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