In a previous post I addressed how a small writing prompt can propel you forward in a big way. I also mentioned how writing prompts can help you kick off a story by providing you with situations to write about, but that gets old fast. Once you’ve tried one you’ve pretty much tried them all, right?
A lot of people will agree with that, even I do to an extent. So why am I bringing up writing prompts again? Because I’m going to show you how to break the mold and write some of the greatest stories you’ll ever read.
Many years ago I frequently attended a forum and spent most of my time in the fan works section working on projects with some very talented artists and writers, several of which had been published. I learned a great deal from these many talented individuals, from working on group stories together, to editing each others’ works, or to talking different styles of writing.
It was then that I learned about the real writing prompt.
But before we get into that, let’s consider an athletic individual. Would they be more athletic if their skills and abilities were more diverse? Absolutely. Different sports and different positions in those sports require you to develop skills and muscles that may not be as important in another sport. Say a baseball pitcher versus a defensive lineman on a football team. Their areas of workout are going to be different. Their focus will be different.
What does it take to be the writing equivalent of talented athletes? Just like a very athletic person, you need to develop yourself in a wide variety of ways and not just stick to the usual.
You work on different skills and abilities, not the same old stories in a box. That’s the Real Writing Prompt.
The Real Writing Prompt can be anything you want it to be. Think about the areas you struggle with, areas you want to develop, or things you want to try, and design a writing prompt around that.
Do you always write in first person, past tense? Write a story in third person, subjective. Are you always writing fantasy? Try writing a Gothic story.
Never wrote anything in an epistolary voice? Do it. Do you struggle writing dialogue? Write a short script.
Do you worry you can’t tell a good story in a small amount of words? Plot out specific points you want to hit and write a 500 word story while hitting each point.
The Real Writing Prompt breaks traditions. It gets you out of your comfort zone, expands your vocabulary, teaches you new techniques, and puts you on the path to being able to write just about anything. No longer should the term “Writing Prompt” immediately make you think, “Write about this mysterious e-mail you received.”
One of my old friends used a Real Writing Prompt to great success, one I’ve never seen before or since: to write a short story without using the word “and” once. The story, posted on the PSO World Forums and titled “Angel”, runs nearly 4,700 words and blew me away the first time I read it.
Prompts like these quickly became the norm for the writers at this forum and many excellent pieces of work followed. By operating within the restrictions they set for themselves and writing in a way they had never written before, these writers honed their skills and could take on any project.
Exquisite work doesn’t always happen right away when you try this, believe me I know firsthand, but if you keep at it and insist on developing your many writing muscles, you’ll be phenomenal. The things you learn from first person present tense will carry over to third person omniscient and so on. The little tricks you learn from one writing prompt can help you tackle a different kind of project – everything will contribute to your skill and diversity as a writer.