In Praise of Prompts


There’s a lot to be said for writing prompts. In a recent blog post, I gave a shout-out to the University of Iowa, which is offering free writing classes and lectures online. I took part in one of those courses over the summer, and two of the poems I wrote as a result of the prompts included in the course (prompts and lectures were delivered by one of my idols, Robert Hass, of all poets!) have recently been accepted for publication!*

Two hand-in-glove benefits of following writing prompts:

First, prompts are a way to get outside your own head, and for anybody feeling overwhelmed by a blank page, this is a very good thing! Often, when you’re following a prompt, you’re not thinking about writing a great poem (or story, or essay); you’re preoccupied with doing a very specific thing with words, per the prompt’s instructions, and that alone. Unfettered, for the time being, with expectations about the finished product, this diversion in the process of writing actually allows the writer to gain ground, where writer’s anxiety might have slowed things down before.

Second, writing prompts offer inspiration. Some of the more generic prompts focus on simple or ancient forms or meters, or on using a specific number of words or just one word in particular. If it’s a one-word prompt, you’ll follow it by either incorporating that word or it’s associations into your writing. That word or it’s connotations may strike a chord you didn’t know needed to be struck! That’s inspiration! That can happen as a result of the humblest little prompt!

A few places you can find great writing prompts:

University of Iowa MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses)

Habit of Being Blog (monthly prompts)

Josh Medsker’s Medskerpedia (Message Josh to join!)

Have you had success with writing prompts? What kinds of prompts are your favorites? What inspires or challenges you? Tell me!


*a significant amount of editing occured after the initial prompted writing.



2 thoughts on “In Praise of Prompts

  1. Thank you!! Looking forward to checking the sites out, especially the University of Iowa! I just came back from New York and went to a Barnes & Nobles (none where I live) and picked up a 300 Writing Prompts notebook, which is so cool! check their stuff out at Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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