In A Writing Rut? Try A Prompt

I’ve written before about using prompts to warm up before a productive writing session, but using prompts that fall outside of your typical genre or writing style can be an unmatched creativity booster.

Recently, I’ve been tired and mentally exhausted, a state many writers find themselves often occupying. I decided to warm up in an effort to force my brain to cooperate. Unfortunately, standard prompts weren’t working so I tried working from a horror story writing prompt.

Pscyhological horror is my favorite movie genre and well-crafted fiction in this style has the power to make readers question their own realities. It was a genre I felt belonged only to skilled writers, those who have spent years practicing the techniques necessary for scaring or discomforting readers.

However, I used

His camera could steal people’s souls. On his walls, the portraits wailed and begged for freedom.

as my prompt. Within 15 minutes, I’d written an intensely satisfying horror scene that I’m actually excited to continue. Even better? It boosted my confidence and allowed me to practice writing more descriptively. Because of this practice, I’m considering writing a few horror short stories and expanding outside of my normal style. I might not be successful, but I’ll learn different techniques along the way.

So if you feel stuck as a writer, force yourself to complete writing prompts you otherwise wouldn’t encounter or consider. Your writing rut might be a byproduct of boredom. An unusual prompt from an unfamiliar perspective will help you find new ideas or even a new niche.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Word Sprints!


When the words don’t want to flow, a word sprint can help. Here’s how they work:

  1. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes.
  2. Write as fast as you can without breaks or backspacing until the timer goes off.
  3. Repeat whenever you want!

For writers short on time, regardless of fiction or non-fiction form, word sprints challenge you to focus on output and work those cobwebs out. Freeflow writing without criticizing yourself forces you to concentrate on your story, remembering that revision comes later.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It shouldn’t be if you’re in the first draft stage, either. You can compete with friends or use the NaNoWordSprints Twitter account to keep you accountable.  Or just do it on your own.

Word sprints originated from the NaNoWriMo event, an annual competition celebrating National Novel Writing Month. But you don’t have to write a novel to participate in sprints. Simply adapt them to your needs and write. I enjoy them because it forces me to work on my main work-in-progress without self-editing and ongoing critique.  I won’t look at any of my sprint-work until much later. The only thing I double-check is that my sprint pieces flow together, since I’m using them for my book (picking up where I left off from my last sprint). But you don’t have to do that! A sprint’s beauty is in its flexibility.

Feel free to check back in and let me know if you sprinted! I hope you enjoy today’s challenge–check back next week for another one.

Your Writing is Unique

I’ve heard some writers are discouraged to hear someone else has written something similar to their topic, or that their work-in-progress reminds a friend of an already-successful book or article.

I understand this reaction. Writing is a deeply personal undertaking, one where we invest time and headspace and emotions and so naturally are reluctant to discover an existing similarity. After all, we want our ideas to be the first, or at least to be uniquely the best.

When I began writing, I would threaten to quit every time I saw that someone had “gotten there first.” I didn’t want to read what else was out there in case they did it better. Worst of all, I assumed that if it was already out there, everything about my topic had already been explored.

I know better now and I want you to as well. Each writer who writes with sensitivity, care, and skill brings their own individual perspective to a subject. We’re drawing from a lifetime of experiences that no one else has shared. Our memories shape the characters and settings and descriptions we provide, making your writing completely your own.

But more importantly, it will be very rare to find a topic that’s never, ever been written about, discussed, or discovered. One very dear person in my life once asked me, “Is Einstein the only person who’s allowed to study relativity?” In my emotional response, I said, “It’s not fair that he’s the first!” I wanted that title.

However, it may be better to re-frame our self-sabotage by considering our work not “yet another book on XYZ,” but instead containing a new voice that will affect readers differently than what already exists. Take love poems, for example. Or horror. There are always new ways to say something. Your way might be the one that resonates with someone new.