Do I hear a collective groan ripple around the room?
Sometimes you hear it at the beginning of a workshop, just after the facilitator has presented the warm-up exercise to the group. The writing prompt. Most frequently you need more than a prompt to get you writing- you need a smack on the forehead with a mug of coffee.
Apart from threatening cranial damage with beverages let us examine the resistance to the writing prompt.
Writing prompts ask you to pursue ideas or inspiration. Perhaps that feels uncomfortable. But try to let go of the preconceived notion that inspiration is supposed to strike you like a SWAT team – without warning-. You could wait for the team of muses to show up but muses are fickle and tardy. They show up during inappropriate moments or just before you sleep. Elvis Costello has recommended sleeping with a pen and notebook while learning to write in the dark. I tried it once but stabbed myself while fumbling for the notebook.
In writing workshops a time limit is given for writing prompts (invariably because workshops are limited by time) and some people panic during the 15-20 minutes. They freeze up or throw anything onto the page. Relax, there’s no pressure to produce literary gold at this stage, just a requirement for you to get out of your own way and learn by doing.
But you don’t live in a workshop. The next time you encounter writer’s block it may be time to dig out some prompts. I don’t mean the cheesy ones which induce jaded eye-rolling even in children (“Imagine you could fly!” “Choose a superpower!”). Look to the prompts that encourage a more organic approach to writing. The best writing prompt I ever had was to just listen to my surroundings and write about what I heard. I also highly recommend Brian Kiteley’s The 3am Epiphany and The 4am Breakthrough . Before long you’ll have a notebook full of sketches and scribblings which will engender more ideas.
Give this a try for a week. The only noise you should make during the initial stages of creativity are exclamations of ‘Eureka!’