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Writing Prompts

jar with string lights beside a plain notebook and pen

Craving inspiration? Here, you will find prompts, triggering subjects, and featured work from One Lit Place writers that can be used to generate new ideas.

The form will show itself: the below may take you into story, essay, poetry…

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
~ Flannery O’Connor

If you’d like to share your work with the writers of One Lit Place, join our free Writers Lounge to get and give feedback, exchange work, and be amongst your peers.

General Prompts

A Grand Title

Think of the worst possible title that you can for a short story or poem. Then, write that short story or poem – and try to make it really good. 

Story on Shuffle

Write out a point-form outline for a short story. Every new point should indicate a new event in the plot.

Next, mix up all of the points so that they’re in completely out of order. Do your best to logically, narratively connect the new sequence of events.

Randomly Generated Writing

Here’s an intricate one: this website will generate random strings of numbers for you (we recommend starting with one string of 10-20 numbers). Use the first letter of each spelled out number (1 = One = O, 2 = Two = T, etc.) to start off each new sentence or line of writing.

A poem generated by the line 123456789, for example, would have to look like this:

O

T

T

F

F

S

S

E

N

…with you filling out the rest of the first word and line, of course!

Option 2: Instead of using the letters that begin each number, assign letters to each of the numbers and generate a new sequence. You might make A=1 and Z=26 or could do it at random.

Getting Dreamy

Sometimes, the inspiration that we need has already emerged from within us, and we don’t even realize it. Think about the last dream you can remember and use it as inspiration for your next short piece. Was the dream crazy nonsensical? So are many great absurdist works of literature. 

Phone Prank

Let’s think about phone conversations—specifically, all the ways in which they differ from face-to-face ones. Try writing a short, in-person scene, and then rewrite it again as phone dialogue. What changed? Which do you prefer? Would you rather turn into a poem? And how can you use such differences to your advantage?

Promptly Familiar

Think about déja vu, and write something to evoke that feeling of foreign familiarity, of confused comfort. You could write a full-length science fiction novel about a secret, sinister explanation behind déja vu… or a four-line poem focused on a single moment. That part’s up to you!

Strange Happenings

Think of a stranger that you’ve recently seen in public (and if you can’t remember, then pay attention next time you’re out). What were they doing? What were they wearing? Were they in a hurry? Use the little information that you have about this person to create a short fiction piece about them. Where do you think they were off to…?

Silver Linings

Write something short about something, or multiple things, that are negative or sad. The twist: you also have to somehow emphasize the silver linings. Lots of opportunity to be creative and poetic!

Poetry in People

Time to do some snooping. Next time you’re in public this week, subtly listen in on a conversation. Write it all down (nothing too intrusive), and then turn it into a poem! Creativity encouraged.

Spring Cleaning

Write about a spring cleaning- real or fictional. Embody that feeling of having both lost something (clutter, energy…) and found something (forgotten treasures, peace of mind…).

For Nighttime

Writing often investigates what it means to be alive, and being alive often means going to sleep. Sleep is a very whimsical  experience–and it happens to be shared by all of us. Write about the mystical, muddy moment between consciousness and slumber.

A Little Cliché

Most of the time, writers are advised to avoid chichés. You can’t deny, though, that a lot of them contain some charming imagery. Your prompt today will be one of the clichés from this list; the challenge will be to go as creative as you can get.

Hot vs. Cold

Winter, for many, is the a time of extreme sensation: of cold, mostly, and of an overindulgence in blankets and warm drinks meant to counteract the cold. Conflict is also great for writing, and a back-and-forth tension between hot and cold could come out quite nicely in a creative piece. Take a shot at capturing that feeling.

Future You

Write a letter from your future self detailing what will come for you in the next year. You may find yourself laying out your writing goals, or you may end up writing out a completely fictional narrative. It’s 365 days of possibilities, and so anything goes – just be creative!

Make You Look

Write a 100-word scene about two people making eye contact for the first time.

Bad Advice from Good Writers

Today, I ran into a good article about bad advice from writers (http://lithub.com/on-terrible-writing-advice-from-famous-writers/)

Some of the bad advice is so bad it’s hilarious:

“Include a beautiful woman with raven locks and porcelain skin, preferably quite young, and let her die tragically of some unknown ailment.”

–Edgar Allan Poe

or

“Write only when you have something to say.”

–David Hare

(well, how the heck will you know when that is if you don’t write?)

This last one may be the worst of them all:

“Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.”

–Elmore Leonard

The writer of the article, Danielle Dutton, says, and what of “Woolf and her gorgeous “Kew Gardens” (“From the oval shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with spots of colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at the end. The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when they moved, the red, blue and yellow lights passed one over the other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath with a spot of the most intricate colour”), so thick with visual description it seems almost to become a garden itself?

Your prompt: pick something so small, so overlookable, you might not see it were you not prompted to spend attention and time engaging with it, and describe it in Woolf-ian detail. Let yourself enjoy that thing, the words you use, the essence of it.

First Line Prompts

  1. “It was just here!” they cried out, yanking open the drawer yet again.
  2. “Oh, hi. I wasn’t expecting you today.”
  3. “I guess this is goodbye.”
  4. “How could you?”
  5. “I’m not angry. I’m disappointed.”
  6. “I love you.”
  7. “I don’t love you anymore.”
  8. “I never liked you.”
  9. “Let’s get out of here!”
  10. “I have to go to the store first.”

Prompts from Created Work

Special Inspiration

Try to think about the last scene that you’ve read or watched in a show or movie. Then, try writing it back from memory. Pay attention to how your voice makes its own, unique mark (perhaps, things will even spiral in a new direction…)

For Bookworms

Pick up your favourite book, or the book currently closest to you, and skip over to the last line. Use that last line, exactly how it is, as the first line of a new story or poem.

E-Prompt

The first line of the last e-mail you sent is now the first line of dialogue in a 200-word story. Go!

Promptception

Create a new writing prompt of your own! So many creative ideas have already been written down: it’s harder than it looks! When you’re done, you can of course celebrate by writing something inspired by your  prompt.

Level 2: Not challenged enough? How about you try, instead, to write the worst prompt possible? A prompt that could not possibly inspire anyone at any time? Somehow, that will be even harder…

Senses Prompts

The Mind/Body Connection

Many writers know there is a mind-body connection between walking/running/swimming and writing. For others, it’s showering or gardening. See what Jay Baron Nicorvo does with his running practice: https://www.pw.org/writers_recommend/jay_baron_nicorvo

When/where do you think best?

A Sense of Memory

As many writers probably know, scent is one of the greatest stimulators of memory. Take a nice whiff of the room around you (or open the window to get some new scents from outside) and pay attention to the subtleties that you might not usually notice. Next, write about a memory that is related to that particular scent (or write about a character having a memory triggered by that scent).

Something Delectable

Think of a recipe that you, in some way or another, associate with an old memory. Now, write out the recipe for someone else to prepare, but blend it, somehow, with your own unique narrative.

Making Music

Pick a currently popular Top 40 song– one that you find quite lyrically generic (if you don’t listen to the radio, you can find one off of the online charts). Look at the lyrics; identify the core emotion and possible subtext behind each line. Then rewrite/replace each line, however you like, with those ideas in mind.

Listening In

How often do we really listen to the sounds around us? Try to enter a space where no (or few) people are talking – make note of every single sound that you can hear. First, think about the different emotions that these sounds provoke. Then, write a short piece based off of the overall rhythm of the space.

Lyrical Inspiration

Pick out a set of lyrics from your favourite song. Try using them as a prompt for a piece with a mood and tone opposite to those of the original song.

The Importance of Emphasis

Write an opening sentence. Then, try placing an emphasis on different words in the sentence; observe how it shifts in meaning.  Choose two different versions of your opening line and use them to prompt two divergent 100-word stories.

John Cage: Piano Works 

You might already enjoy writing to music–or you’ve probably at least tried to use music as a writing prompt. First, we want you to reflect on your experiences with that: has the style of music  you’ve used affected your work in any way? Has it driven your writing’s rhythm, its heartbeat?

Secondly, we want you to try to write a long to a song or two (or several) from John Cage’s Piano Works (a tracklist with time stamps is available in the video description). Stop thinking, stop reflecting, and just go for it. When you’re done, try to determine if the experimental nature of Cage’s work had any influence on what you produced. Did you find yourself trying new things, steering in odd directions? (It’s okay if the answer is no: either way, you’ve written something!)

To the Lighthouse

Try out this playlist: http://lithub.com/playlist-for-a-classic-novel-to-the-lighthouse/

What book would you put a 10-song playlist to? How would the music inform the music in a new translation of its own?



Visual Prompts

Random Photo 

We all love a good photo prompt, and this free site will generate a random (G-rated) image for you to use for inspiration. It’s a great tool for whenever you need a quick writing exercise. Try it now, and no cheating: you have to use the first image that you’re given!

Picture-Perfect

Pick out your favourite photo of yourself. Then, write something about the life of the person who took it. It can be fictional, if you don’t know the person personally (or even if you do).

World of Colour

Pick a colour, then think about what kind of feeling that that colour emits. Write something that conveys said feeling, without ever mentioning the colour by name.

Photo Provocation

In this photo, you’re given two elements: setting and tone. The plot and characters are up to you…

Try writing 200 words, and see where else they take you!

Beautiful Love

Take these photos and run…

http://mashable.com/2017/03/07/japanese-matching-outfit-couple/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link#4tPcvw9OPaqw

aged wooden barn with wagon wheel and two metal chairs

Let’s bring setting to the foreground. There are a few strange elements included in this image: try to explain the purpose behind one of them (or all of them!)

Without thinking, write about a feeling of movement—of transition from one space or state to another. The beginning and end points of this movement can be just about whatever you like.

 photo by photographer/author Charles Forest



two tugboats tied to a long dock with yellow rope
three rowboats tethered to floating dock

What feeling do you experience when you look at this photo? Is it peace? Or maybe you’re envisioning more chaos- stronger tides. Write a short scene based on whatever it is that comes to your mind.

photo by photographer/author Charles Forest

Without thinking, write about the moments leading up to this water spill. What lives beyond this photo?

Puddle of water on woodgrain surface
Rumpled white bed sheets

Write down whatever comes to mind when you look at this photo. Is it a clear narrative? Or maybe just a feeling?




Write the first paragraph of a story about the people behind one of these locks. Don’t think- just write!

photo by photographer/author Charles Forest





many keys locked on a bridge wire
A statue tied under a sheet beside several sets of stairs

What’s under the sheet? Let your imagination fly and write a 200-word story based on this photo.

 photo by photographer/author Charles Forest.





Without much thinking, what would you title this photo?

Once you have a title, write for 15 minutes and see where your unconscious mind takes you.

Photo by Christian Laffey.

A Buddha statue resting in field of green flowers

Which of these photos by Gregory Price most inspires you?

double sided buildings
double sided buildings
double sided buildings with swimming pool

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