There are many creative writing courses, instructive books on creative writing, and influential bloggers who are adamant about the benefits of using creative writing prompts.
I am not one of them.
At both Beloit College’s Bachelor’s program in creative writing, and also at the Gotham Writer’s Workshop, I had a difficult time with the restrictions imposed by some instructors in asking me to write based on a prompt. I personally do not believe that writing prompts should be used by writers, except for when they are suffering through writer’s block.
Creative writers delve into their head to produce their stories. To write based on a prompt, in my experience, does not produce good writing. Rather, the writing that usually results from these prompts tends to be stale.
The primary reasons that I am generally against writers using creative writing prompts are:
- It produces a laziness in your creative imagination. A dependency on creative writing prompts often leads to a lack of ideas brought forth from a writer’s own mind. As a vivid imagination is key to the world building inherent in fiction writing, this obviously has negative consequences.
- The topics are usually too general. The best authors have always written fiction that either deviates from the everyday experience, or if drawn from the ordinary, inverts it or provides a special insight into it that is often missed in the hectic nature of most people’s daily lives. Writing prompts, on the other hand, are often meant to have wide applicability. For new writers, this can easily lead to general writing that does not challenge the author to provide their best fiction.
The only times that I would recommend a writer use creative writing prompts are:
- For the first month or two of your writing career. Creative writing, like any other skill, needs to be developed. At first, many new writers may have a difficult time even bringing forth ideas, or understanding the parameters of fiction. In this case, using writing prompts to focus your writing can be more helpful than throwing yourself directly into the fire and likely becoming frustrated with the whole notion of creative writing.
- When you have a bad case of writer’s block. I believe that writer’s block rarely affects writers who make a consistent practice of creative writing. The literary imagination is like a muscle, and it does atrophy when you do not exercise it. However, every writer will probably have to deal with writer’s block at some point in their life. During these periods, utilizing writing prompts may be a method to consider to get your creative juices going once again.
Do you use writing prompts? How do you feel that they have helped or hindered your creative writing? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.
-Alfonso Colasuonno graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Beloit College. He is a published author of fiction and poetry.