How to Make Creative Writing Prompts and Banish Writer's Block

Updated on August 9, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and I love helping my students improve their writing skills.

When inspiration strikes, it illuminates your day.
When inspiration strikes, it illuminates your day. | Source

Use Your Favorite Image as a Writing Prompt

Follow these four steps to get you writing-cells working.

  1. Choose an amazing picture.
  2. Describe it (in writing) to an imaginary friend.
  3. Decide why you love or hate the image.
  4. Relax and let your mind wander. Follow (and write about) the routes the picture takes you to.

Are you at the top of your game? Choose a picture that interests and inspires you.
Are you at the top of your game? Choose a picture that interests and inspires you. | Source

Don’t Let Writer’s Block Take Control

We all have days when our mind goes blank, and it is impossible to write anything. If this happens too often, you may get discouraged and stop thinking of yourself as a writer. Do not give up! With a little help, you can prompt your unconscious mind to start producing creative ideas again.

This 4-step writing exercise consists of a series of easy prompts to get you writing. Using a painting or photograph as a starting point, you will study and then write about the image.

Young ballerinas practicing at the barre. Think about this scene from the viewpoint of the photographer. Then put yourself in the shoes of one of the children. How do they differ?
Young ballerinas practicing at the barre. Think about this scene from the viewpoint of the photographer. Then put yourself in the shoes of one of the children. How do they differ? | Source

Step 1: Choose a Picture That Interests You

Your picture could be a family photo or an valuable oil painting, a cheap thrift store print or a favorite greeting card. Choose an image that gives you pleasure; one that intrigues and invites you to study it in greater detail. Try not to pick something that scares is unpleasant as this may stop you enjoying the writing exercise. For this project you need to be able to spend time really understanding the detail of the selected painting or photo.

It is helpful to have a copy of the picture close at hand. If you don't already have a postcard or print of your choice, you could download a copy from the internet. Or you could borrow a book from the library with relevant color illustrations. Maybe you have chosen an artwork on display at your local museum? If so, take a notepad with you to the gallery and complete this writing exercise while studying it close up.

The Railway by Edward Manet is a pretty snapshot of 19th century France. But what was life like for the railroad workers who built the railway? Or the nannies who cared for the children of the privileged few?
The Railway by Edward Manet is a pretty snapshot of 19th century France. But what was life like for the railroad workers who built the railway? Or the nannies who cared for the children of the privileged few? | Source

Step 2: Paint a Picture in Words

This first exercise is to encourage you to describe your picture without thinking too deeply about it.

Imagine you have a pen-friend who has never seen your chosen photo or painting. For the next five minutes you are going to describe the picture to them. Use free-flow writing; i.e. write down your thoughts as they come to you without stopping to correct spelling or grammar.

  • For five minutes write solidly without lifting your pen from the paper or your fingers from the keyboard.
  • Put down any thoughts about the image as they occur to you.
  • Anyhow, any order, higgledy-piggledy.

This photo draws you into the process of creating a watercolor. You start to wonder who the artist is, where they are, and what they are painting.
This photo draws you into the process of creating a watercolor. You start to wonder who the artist is, where they are, and what they are painting. | Source

Step 3: Convince Your Reader the Image Has Merit

Pretend you have seen the picture in an auction sale. You can’t afford the purchase price but you know someone who can. You need to convince them the item is worth buying.

10 sentences to “sell” your choice.

  • Broad brushstrokes create the outline. Write four sentences describing why you like the picture.
  • Fine lines accentuate the detail. Write another four sentences detailing what in particular fascinates you about the image.
  • Highlights and lowlights bring the subject matter into sharp focus. The last two sentences compare it to other paintings or photos you have seen. The picture is better than X (and give reasons why). It is not as interesting as Y (and explain why not.)

NYC subway. As a writer you can create a back-story for each traveller. This can include their hopes and fears, as well as material facts.
NYC subway. As a writer you can create a back-story for each traveller. This can include their hopes and fears, as well as material facts. | Source

Step 4: Frame the Picture

Color and context are important when creating fiction. The characters in a story do not exist in isolation. Neither do those in an artist’s or photographer’s tableau.

  • Look carefully at your chosen picture. Notice your gaze is drawn to particular parts of the painting. This effect is not accidental but has been deliberately created. You can do the same for your writing. Include things that further your storyline, but also weave in items with symbolic or veiled meanings.
  • Think about the context of your picture. How did the life of the artist or photographer impact on their composition? Now frame the story of your picture by writing about the symbols and characters you can see.
  • You live in the 21st century. You are viewing the scene through a glass-pane of historical distance. Does the story change if you write it through the eyes of a Jane Austin or a George Washington? Why not try it and see?

This painting was created using real gold leaf just before the outbreak of World War One. Is there a story here about wealth and decadence versus death and destruction?
This painting was created using real gold leaf just before the outbreak of World War One. Is there a story here about wealth and decadence versus death and destruction? | Source

Forward to the Future

By the end of this exercise you will have produced at least a thousand words, possibly more. You may decide none of them are worth keeping. That’s OK. Give yourself permission to get rid of the notes and scribbles you have made. The aim of the project is not to create a completed piece of work. The idea is to kick-start you into the right frame of mind for starting to write once more.

As an accidental by-product, you may find your selected picture has got you thinking “outside the box”. Artwork is a great resource for authors and can trigger fresh ideas for articles and stories. I recommend you visit local museums and art galleries to help you get inspired for your next creative project.

The crew of Apollo 11 must have amazing tales to tell. They would make dream interviewees. Let your stories take readers to another world.
The crew of Apollo 11 must have amazing tales to tell. They would make dream interviewees. Let your stories take readers to another world. | Source

The 5 W’s (Who, What, Why, Where, When) and How of Story Telling

An essential technique that journalists grasp early in their training is to tell a story by answering six key questions. These are known as the 5 W’s and How. If you are unfamiliar with these, take a look at the reminder list below. Once you have mastered this way of story-telling, you can make use of it to create multiple articles and stories.

  1. Who is the story about; who are the people at the center of the tale? Who are the principle characters?
  2. What is the issue at the heart of the story? What is the problem that needs to be addressed? What is the dilemma facing the characters?
  3. Why do the characters act in the way they do; what motivates them? Why is it necessary to report this event or action?
  4. Where is the story located; where geographically is the action?
  5. When do the events take place; is it today, sometime in history, or a futuristic vision of what may happen?
  6. How is the issue resolved? Is there a definite conclusion or is the reader given a range of possible outcomes? Is there a moral to the story? Is there a unexpected twist to the tale?

What Inspires Authors to Write?

Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell, Touch

When you create a scene for your novel or short story, aim to create a vivid picture in your reader’s imagination. Do not just rely on the sense of sight in your description. Think about the other four senses too.

Imagine yourself into your fictional scene. What can hear and smell? What about the feel of things that are within touching distance? And is there anything you can taste? Taste does not just relate to food, but can give a clue to pollution or lack of it (for example, the taste of wood smoke or salty sea air).

Using the five senses in your writing, not only creates a better mental picture of the action’s physical location, but can also place the action in a specific historical time period.

Read widely to learn the techniques of established authors.
Read widely to learn the techniques of established authors. | Source

Creative Thoughts And Eureka Moments

Creativity is not something that only happens when you put your mind to it. Some of my best ideas for articles have appeared out of nowhere. Of course, that is not strictly true. I will have been mulling over various topics for several days. Generating new ideas takes place unconsciously whilst busy with everyday life.

Allow your thoughts to wander as you complete your daily chores. Be kind to yourself and you too will have a “lightbulb moment”. Have a few notepads and pens dotted around the house and when that winning idea for a surefire article arrives you can jot it down right away.

And don't forget the value of reading. Good writers are almost always avid readers.

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • threekeys profile image

    Threekeys 

    4 months ago from Australia

    Great tips and ideas to get us remotivated! I know I have found it hard going of late to feel inspired. Thankyou.

  • theraggededge profile image

    Bev G 

    4 months ago from Wales, UK

    I reckon those 5 Ws could be applied to article writing too. Great article with lots of good ideas, Beth.

  • KatWin profile image

    Kathy Burton 

    6 months ago from Florida

    This I must try. Maybe it will help me finish an articlethanks for writing

  • K S Lane profile image

    K S Lane 

    8 months ago from Melbourne, Australia

    This sounds like a great exercise! I'll have to try it out the next time I have writers block.

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