The following prompts come from the book Q&A A Day for Writers: 365 Questions for Creative Exploration. Enjoy!
In her essay, “Fail Better,” Zadie Smith says, “The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.” Why do you write? What does it do for you?
Studies have shown that thousands of personality traits can be linked to handwriting. For example, crowded letters indicate a person who has no concern for personal space. Use a handwriting sample to inspire a character sketch.
Can you summon what you believe to be your earliest memory? Why do you think you remembered that of all things?
The wind whipped up and the hillside raised its hackles. Can you come up with a few descriptions that ascribe an animalistic quality to something that doesn’t breathe?
Select a family photo, then write about the things you can’t see in the picture.
Using the same photo from yesterday, describe the people in the picture as if you’re seeing them for the first time.
Think over the past week. What was the strangest or funniest thing you witnessed?
Every scar tells a story. Write the story of a scar you know well – yours or someone else’s.
Someone* once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Try it anyway.
The word set has over 440 different uses in the English language. Challenge yourself to fill this space using set in as many ways as possible.
How would your friends describe you to a stranger?
A first lady is sometimes referred to as an eminence grise when she uses her position of influence to affect policy without an official title. Create an eminence grise character who could powerfully, but quietly, shift the plotline of a novel.
Writers from Stephen King to William Faulkner have stressed the connection between being a good reader and being a good writer. Spend a few moments writing about a book that inspires you.
Think of a person and describe his or her personality through writing about a cup they often drink from (real or imagined).
In Thomas Pynchon’s book Bleeding Edge, a character says, “Paranoia’s the garlic in life’s kitchen… you can never have too much.” Use an element of your own paranoia to spark a story.
Write a description of “the offing,” the most distant extent of the sea that can be seen from the shore.
If you had to build a diorama that represented your interior world, what would people see when peering inside?
Stendhal Syndrome, sometimes also called hyperkulturemia or Florence Syndrome (the city where Stendhal himself first swooned), is the psychosomatic disorder of being physically overwhelmed by art and tends to overtake tourists in cities highly saturated with museums and public artwork, especially when the traveler doesn’t speak the language. Put yourself in the shoes of a tourist in Paris, experiencing its thrall.
Think of a scenario that you would find deeply uncomfortable. Now write about it as someone else.
Pick a place – it doesn’t have to be a cold place – and describe the first snowfall of the year there.
Filmmaker Joss Whedon once said, “Time travel is a concept that has been done and so is every other thing you will ever think of. So the thing that makes it worth saying is only going to be you.” What are the opening lines in your time travel film?
Have you ever had a visceral reaction to blood or sickness? Use those feelings and sensations in a short anecdote.
Describe a memorable person you met just once and will likely never see again.
In an alternate universe where there are no consequences to you, what kind of revenge would you mete out, and on whom?
Think of classic characters whose hair held great power (e.g., Lady Godiva, Rapunzel, Samson). Who would be your hero in a modern story of someone with long, potent locks?
Think about the most enjoyable moment you had alone recently. Why was that time meaningful or necessary for you?
Take a drone’s eye view of your neighborhood (Google Earth can help with details if you need them) to imagine what a spaceship might se when it’s landing.
You’re in a car traveling 100 mph. Does this exhilarate or frighten you? Who is driving? Where are you going?
Visualize this: a sphere beneath a tree. What do you see?
Look up the Portugese/Galician word A rare word that has no equivalent in other languages, it is a cousin of nostalgia, but it captures a stronger melancholy that comes from knowing you are not likely to again experience the thing you long for, although you will carry the memory or idea with you always. After you read more about it, write about your own feeling(s) of saudade here.
Elmore Leonard famously advised not to start a novel with a description of the weather. Break that rule and write about today’s weather.