January 19, 2017

My problem with writing prompts

I don’t generally use (or like) writing prompts. Actually, I think I’ve never written a story based on a prompt. However, I’ve occasionally written stories for contests and anthologies where a topic or motto was specified, so I’m not unfamiliar with the process of crafting a story on the basis of a predetermined theme: a beacon of sorts that guides your writing.

Lately, though, I’ve felt devoid of inspiration. Since I wanted to quickly write a flash fiction piece or two, but somehow couldn’t get my creative wheels going, I began to Google "writing prompts" and read one list of them after another, just to see if they’d magically awaken something in my mind. 

And guess what? Surprise, surprise, it didn’t work.

I spent some time sifting through the search results for “writing prompts short stories” and literally hated each prompt a little more than the previous one. Nothing felt right. It was like trying to find the ingredients for a healthy vegetable soup in the sweets aisle of a supermarket.

Don’t get me wrong. Those prompts weren’t stupid or nonsensical. Far from it! They were creative, original, usually a bit zany, sometimes amusing. But I felt totally incapable of crafting a story based on any one of them. And unwilling to try.

After some deeper thought I managed to formulate the reason for my critical attitude (or, more accurately, “wrinkling my nose at every prompt in sight”). When I’m writing a story, I have to WANT to write it. I need an emotional connection to the idea and to the plot. A really strong reason to sit down, weave the narrative sentence by sentence, painstakingly edit and re-edit, and finally share this particular story with my audience.

Out of the 50 or so prompts I read, not a single one gave me such a reason. I don’t want to write, say, a story that incorporates aerobics, a secret diary, and something unpleasant under the bed. Or an annoying boss, a bikini, and a fake illness. I don’t see the potential here for something I could enjoy as a reader, just a combination of three ingredients that could maybe be turned into a salad if you add enough mayonnaise.

I don’t want to make a salad out of three random ingredients.

I think creativity comes in different shapes and sizes. While some folks treat writing more like an intellectual challenge (like taking Lego blocks and crafting a construction: it doesn’t have to evoke emotions, what matters is how the elements are connected), others need that subtle emotional connection, the warm undercurrent that makes them feel the story is special and interesting. They want to bring something to life. It’s less like building stuff out of blocks, more like watering a plant and letting it grow. And sometimes you have to plant some seeds, keep watering them and wait patiently until they germinate.

Or maybe I just have a totally unprofessional approach to this whole creative writing thing!

If anyone is reading this: do you like writing prompts? Have you ever used them? Did it work?

Image courtesy of everydayplus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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