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  • Writer's pictureJ. R. Erickson

Finding Inspiration in Writing Prompts

Most writers are eternally asking that elusive question: Where do ideas come from? They ask published authors at book signings, send lengthy e-mails and vehemently tune in when an author discloses that sparkling fountain of youth in which they dip their pen and proceed to ink out beautiful, haunting stories that leave us mad with envy, but desperate for one more line.

Popular fantasy author Neil Gaiman used to offer funny quips when asked this question. Now he just tells the truth, “I make them up. Out of my head.” His answer is pointedly simple and not at all surprising.

Because there is no fountain of ideas, no treasure trove of brilliant stories that we too can discover. Or is there? I think that the deeper truth here is that we all have access to such a magical place, but it lives within us. We live in a world that is externally seeking. That looks out there for the answer when all of the answers, and I do mean all of them, lie within us.

Good ideas are good because you pluck them from your own conscious mind (or unconscious mind) and you write your experience of them. If you’ve never had children, a hilarious chick lit book about raising five kids and four dogs will most likely fall flat. It’s not the idea that’s gold, but what the writer does with the idea. It’s the tiny details delivered by their personal experience wrapped around the larger situation that makes for a hilarious and ultimately relatable story.

Writing prompts are great ways to mine the gold that you already have within. Prompts are merely that, a prompting, that gentle prod that pushes you down a path that maybe you weren’t traveling. But once on it, the road unfolds like red velvet carpet and suddenly you’ve found your magic. Perhaps in the process of writing your book, story, or article, the prompt will be abandoned. It often exists solely as a shard of inspiration, a jumping off point.

Get started with a few writing prompts below and remember to turn your eyes inward for the brilliant details, images and voices that are already speaking within you.

  1. While packing up the estate of your new spouses recently dead mother, you discover a photo album of yellowed newspaper clippings. What are they about?

  1. When your lover dies suddenly in a motorcycle accident, you start seeing a therapist who recommends that you try regression therapy. During one session, you discover a repressed childhood memory. What is the memory?

  1. Write a story that starts with: ‘He stepped into the elevator, sweat popping along his upper lip and he checked again to ensure that the revolver was carefully hidden beneath his blazer.’

  1. Remember your scariest Halloween experience. Now write the story from the perspective of someone else who was there.

  1. Write your fondest childhood memory from the third person point of view.

Use these and other writing prompts to discover your own ideas and to narrow down the story that longs to be told. Trying to write something that you’re not interested in or not familiar with is difficult and will often produce mediocre results. Find your element, your ideal space within the words, the memories and the fantasies of your consciousness and your writing will shine.

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