Over the years I've learned that using writing prompts can generate stories I didn't even realize I had in me. In fact, my first published short story came about through a writing prompt. The story had to include a crime that took place in a bathroom. Now who would ever think of that story without being prompted? It generated the story Shelter in the Shadows which can be found in the anthology Who Died in Here?
How and When to Use Writing Prompts
1. If you're a seasoned writer, you may have had times where you run into that wall known as writer's block. I've known some writers who give up for months or more when battling this creative blockade. Instead, turn to writing prompts as a source of inspiration. They can jump-start your imagination and get your writing again.
2. Use writing prompts as your warm up for the day like a primer to pump your muse.
3. Visual prompts work too. To practice writing description, challenge yourself with a visual prompt. A good source for this is children's encyclopedias. They have all kinds of interesting items to choose from whether it's from nature or history. If you want to learn how to describe a knight's armor or flowers in the valley this is a great resource.
Another resource to turn to are the numerous stock photo sites available today on the web. You can look up photos by category and use them as visual writing prompts which help focus your creativity in the direction you want it to go.
4. In my creative writing book Pumping Your Muse, I often challenge writers to step outside and go for a walk to promote creativity. In fact, that's what inspired this book. I went outside at dawn and thought about how I could describe the beauty I witnessed in one sentence. Thus that morning gave birth to a writing exercise I call the once sentence rule which can be used as a prompt each day.
This book is full of prompts and exercises and following them has contributed to the completion of both of my fantasy novels. In fact the fantasy world found in my book Windwalker gave birth in a drainage ditch while on one of these walks...but that's another story for another day. The thing to note is that it all came about by using a prompt!
5. Shopping for prompts is a fun way to get out of the house and nourish your muse. You don't even have to go into a store. Just wander through the mall looking in store windows. Find interesting items and make note of them. Take a little notebook or recorder to store up your treasured prompts for later. The following week choose items from your list and challenge yourself to write about them.
Or while at the mall instead of looking for items keep your eyes open for characters. People watching extends an invitation to a variety of interesting characters to enter the realm of your imagination. Take the ideas spurred by the people you see home and write.
Plan to Write
Don't let writer's block beat you. Instead, make a plan to write. Even if it is 20 minutes a day, exercising your muse will keep it strong healthy and vibrant. Consider writing prompts as a source of vitamins that promote creativity.