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.

You’re Never Too Busy to Write

pexels-photo-210590.jpegTime seems to disappear into a black hole for many of us, leaving us little time to sit down and focus on writing. Or does it?

Ideas and little insights pop into our heads throughout the entire day. Many of those fleeting thoughts are actually writing topics in disguise, tidbits begging for our attention. But we’re always driving somewhere or meeting someone or reading something else, so we let those potential great ideas flit out of our minds and become just more mental white noise.

That’s sad because we have the technology to record these ideas but people believe writing’s some mystical, magical event, happening behind closed doors with muses and mythical creatures.

Here’s a secret: That’s totally wrong and this is why:

  1. There’s no such time as the “perfect” time to write.
  2. You don’t have to write for hours on end to be successful.
  3. You need no fancy equipment to jot down ideas.
  4. Writing to completion each and every time is not necessary.

High school and college essays took the fun out of writing, turning it into a chore rather than a fun creative outlet. Through institutionalized assignments, writing became an hours-long unpleasant task, but here’s another secret:

Writers write however and whenever they damn well please.

When I can’t write but I have an idea, I record it as a voice memo on my phone or type it out (internet acronyms and all) in my iPhone’s stock notepad app. If scribbling it on a scrap of paper or leftover receipt works for you, do it. Sitting at Starbucks and notice the quirky way the barista hands out iced coffee with her left hand and hot drinks with her right? Make a note. Suddenly gifted with a flash of insight about a traumatic childhood experience? Write it down.

Don’t pressure yourself to flesh out the entire idea. Keep the notes close by and when you’re ready, pull them out and marvel at how much you wrote. Then take those thoughts and expand on them or work them into your next piece.

I feel like the culture surrounding writing–you need a fancy Moleskein notebook, a fountain pen, a special app–discourages would-be writers. Haute writing accessories are fun, but do not a writer make.  Instead, if you’re feeling “too busy” to put thoughts to paper (or screen), remember that success doesn’t mean finishing a blog post a day, a week, or a month; it means you take small steps that bring you closer to working out a real writing plan.