The following prompts come from the book Q&A A Day for Writers: 365 Questions for Creative Exploration. Enjoy!
Jack Kerouac advised writers: “Like Proust, be an old teahead of time.” Create a similar turn of phrase by filling in the blanks: Like ____________, be a(n) ____________ of ____________.
It’s July 2, the midpoint of the year. Has writing become autotelic for you? Are you writing its intrinsic value rather than external reward? Are you finding pleasure in the act more so than the result?
What is a mundane task you enjoy doing? Washing dishes? Dusting? Walking the dog? Write with reverence about whatever act it is, and elevate it to something sublime, holy, or profound.
Celebrate a moment of your own independence here.
If a stranger was to describe your hair, what would he or she say?
Is there a moment from your past that you wish you could change?
Is there something you covet or hope to buy? Think of this object of desire and personify it. How would this person dress, talk, and move? What kind of relationship would you have with it?
In the 1950s and ’60s William S. Burroughs popularized the “cut-up” technique, later employed by lyricists like David Bowie. In a 2008 interview, Bowie explained: “You write down a paragraph or two describing different subjects, creating a kind of ‘story ingredients’ list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four-or-five-word sections, mix ’em up, and reconnect them.” Use two previous entries as your material for a cut-up.
Describe in detail the most recent person you’ve met.
Imagine your sworn enemy (fictional or otherwise). What complimentary things would he or she have to say about you?
What is a nonphysical trait you find especially attractive, and when was the last time you experienced its allure?
Think about your state of mind exactly one year ago. Write about it here.
What are “victory arms”? Think of Michael Phelps after winning any of his twenty-two Olympic medals or marathon runners crossing the finish line, arms in the air, whether they’ve won or not. Turns out the posture is not a V for victory, but an innate behavior, performed even by Paralympic athletes who were blind from birth. Channel that feeling of triumph for some kind of fictional climactic moment, athletic or otherwise.
Bastille Day gives us a reason to reflect on the French Revolution and the repeating history of people shedding blood for their ideals. Is there a historical event or a great personal sacrifice that stirs you to write about it?
Choose two random nouns, two adjectives, and two verbs. Got them? Now write something with all six.
Clear your mind. Write a sentence as quickly as you can without overthinking.
While clichés in writing should generally be avoided like the plague, they can also be useful for creating seamless, natural dialogue. Test it out.
Attempt to inhabit a character very different from yourself. Perhaps he or she is monastic, or of an extreme political persuasion, or maybe the individual is cruel, conniving, or even depraved. Put yourself in this person’s shoes, and write what he or she is thinking at this moment.
Write a list of the ten things that you need to be creative.
What makes a good friend, and how did/do you become one? Did/do you have a role model?
A griffin is a beast with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. Think up your own combination of animals to create a fantastic monster. What is it called?
Exquisite Corpse #3: In an Exquisite Corpse, writers pass a story back and forth, writing one sentence at a time. Find a friend and write an Exquisite Corpse with them.
Do you seek conflict or avoid it? Write about an exception to your rule.
What is your hunch or paranoia about how you will die? Or how do you die in dreams?
Imagine a phone conversation between two close friends. What are they talking about? Write their dialogue here.
Eavesdropping doesn’t have to mean leaving your house. Visit overheardeverywhere.com for inspirational dialogue. Try to weave two previously unconnected conversations into a single discussion.
What is your personal anthem, and what makes you choose that song?
Think of two of your favorite films. Can you write a plot synopsis of each in just one sentence?
Have you ever thought a person was a sociopath — or a psychopath? What made you think so, and how did they make you feel? Finally, how could you adopt some of their traits and behaviors to create a villain for a story?
Just as splinters work their way to the surface of our skin, given time, stones work their way to the topsoil over successive frosts. What themes or ideas “surface” in your writing?
Maya Angelou dedicated I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to “MY SON, GUY JOHNSON, AND ALL THE STRONG BLACK BIRDS OF PROMISE who defy the odds and gods and sing their songs.” It is a dedication hard to beat, but perhaps it can inspire one of your own. Who would you dedicate a book to and what would it say?