To Prompt, or Not to Prompt, That is the Question

by Theresa Kurzawa

It’s the kind of question you ask yourself, as a writer, when you’re stuck on what to write about. Should you venture into the dangerous and confusing world of Writing Prompts, or should you leave your writing decisions to your own imagination?

There are a lot of pros and cons to using Writing Prompts. There are the obvious pros: that prompts can get a writer writing and said writings can eventually turn into a great piece, but the cons sometimes outweigh the benefits. Many writers don’t use prompts because they think it makes an unoriginal piece that is based on clichés, but many will argue that whatever gets someone writing is a good thing, no matter what. Considering the kind of prompts that can be found on the internet nowadays, it’s not hard to side with those who don’t use writing prompts. Pinterest, Tumblr, and other websites have filled the internet with unoriginal, uninspired writing prompts  (such as running through the woods with an unknown pursuer, starting off with a character stabbing someone, or my personal favorite: rescuing a damsel in distress) that anyone could easily envision turning into the next Twilight novel—a cookie-cutter novel with unoriginal, underdeveloped characters with a plot as predictable as the temperature in a desert with the sole purpose of mindless entertainment.

pinterestIs it necessarily bad if what you’re writing from a cheesy prompt comes out terrible? After all, working with a really cliché prompt could prove a challenge for a writer. A writer could easily rework that prompt and turn the ordinary, mundane plot devices into something unique instead of snapping at the bait of a cliché. Perhaps one of the most overused clichés is having a character describe themselves in a mirror.¹ If this comes up as a writing prompt, a writer could instead use this as an opportunity to develop their descriptive writing. One could take this prompt and create something unique about the mirror, have it become a slice of life piece about a man getting ready for work, or have it be a commentary on how a person with an eating disorder twists their view of themselves in the mirror. Even if a writer is mindlessly writing along with a clichéd prompt, they can still find themselves getting somewhere in their imagination that leads them to a better idea.

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Image via Visual Writing Prompts.

However, prompts can be necessary when discussing growing young writers who have a hard time coming up with topics of their own to write about. If your writing is not advanced to begin with, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to rely on prompts to get you to put pen to paper. Sure, some prompts can be really wild and out-there, but they can spark your imagination and get you writing in a way that you’ve never attempted before. Advice from published and awarded authors will tell you not to worry too much about what you’re writing so long as you are writing. Even if what is produced from a writing prompt is banal and weird, it may broaden your imagination and can help you grow as a writer. Practice makes perfect.

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Image via Visual Writing Prompts.

When it comes to writing prompts, I would err on the side of caution. For the more experienced writer, if you choose to use a prompt, do your research and find one that fits with your writing style—above all, don’t let the prompt steer you into an overplayed cliché. For those just venturing into writing, prompts can be a great place to start, and certainly don’t shy away from the weird ones too soon because they may lead you into discovering what kind of writer you’d like to be.

End Notes:

1. Hart, Rob. “Top 10 Storytelling Cliches Writers Need To Stop Using.” LitReactor. N.p., 5 Apr. 2013. Web. <https://litreactor.com/columns/top-10-storytelling-cliches-that-need-to-disappear-forever>.

Theresa Kurzawa is a senior English major at the University of Connecticut. She is managing editor for the Long River Review and is on the fiction panel.

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