Writing Prompts Unlock Freedom And Creativity

finding freedom in writing prompts

When it comes to unlocking creative flow for the writers I work with as a book coach, I have a 100 percent success rate. How do we do it? By utilizing writing prompts.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

As a writer, when you’re stuck, do you play tricks on your mind to get yourself writing? Do they work, or do you stay stuck?

Maybe you stay stuck because you approach the same problems with the same forced solutions, like internal negotiation, mental bribery, emotional begging, or cajoling — doing everything you can to force a stubborn, fearful mind into “creative” submission. I’m with you. I’ve applied each and every one of these tactics. Sometimes, they sort-of work; other times, not so much.

Typically, when a client comes to me, they’re seeking something new and permanent to break through the barriers that prevent them from writing. They hope I will help shake things up creatively, tactically, and mentally. Writing prompts help to do this.

Writing prompts and writing freedom

Everything is a prompt. Yes, everything! Prompts include random words, visual cues, music, surrounding environments, photographs, movies, food, overheard conversations, or objects within reach—among other things. I believe our senses can unearth a plethora of inspiration if we understand how to harness and release them to our creative advantage. Once I guide clients along in recognizing what I mean by this, writing floodgates open.

When I’m working with a client, I may throw out a random, “neutral” word: e.g., broom, clock, candle, kite, caravan, rocket, sponge, cottage cheese. The words are usually objects or ideas that, in and of themselves, have no specific emotional energy or charge.

But what’s so incredible about the word prompt approach, and using neutral words, is that people always have an individual association with a word. On some level, there’s a feeling, thought, or memory that’s evoked. A seemingly benign word or idea invokes an organic, individualistic response. In other words, it makes room for whatever the word means, feels, or implies to you. Thus, you’re given writing freedom.

Visual prompts add creative motion

Sometimes, I’ll look online for certain photos or paintings to show a client. I use VISUAL prompts to evoke creative motion. If I know they’re working on a fantasy novel, I intentionally use a non-fantasy-related image — like an image of Robert Redford, a sunrise, or a whale. If I showed them an image that looked or implied something fantasy-related, their brains immediately go into expectation mode — making what they write conform to or squeeze into the very creative block they can’t penetrate. That’s a recipe for frustration.

With images, whether they’re of beautiful or not-so-beautiful things, you can react through writing and create a story related to the person or object depicted. You can describe what you’re looking at. You can express the feelings evoked by what you’re looking at. Visual prompts are so powerful, I’ve witnessed creative-block breakthroughs every single time I use them.

Why writing prompts work

Writing prompts bypass the logic of our mind — the expectation of production or results — and allow an intuitive response or reaction, which is where our brightest creativity comes from. There’s not enough time to get in our own way and indulge in overthinking.

As humans, we have millions of moments accrued over a lifetime. We have millions of mental associations accumulated — consciously and unconsciously — which filter into our knowledge, expression, and ways we show up in the world. A prompt merely sparks unfettered access to your experience library by way of object, word, or memory association.

The inherent spontaneity of writing prompts takes us away from our mind and diverts our mind’s struggle with expectation or producing results. We can’t plan a mental response — or struggle ahead of time — if we don’t know what the coming word, visual, or sensation will be. We have to creatively react to the prompt.

Prompts ensure we’re free from form, structure, rules, and mental conflict. The idea with prompts is to not have any preconceptions. Be present. Don’t over-solve or over-analyze what you see, hear, feel, or know. Let your writing carry you away through expression from another place — your heart, spirit, memories — where words are fertile and freely flow.

Here’s your invitation: Try these writing prompts

Put on some headphones. Hit shuffle on a playlist. As you listen to the song that comes up, free-write on anything and everything the song evokes — thoughts, feelings, ideas. Listen to the lyrics. Feel the melody. When was the last time you heard that song? Who were you with? What was happening in that time of your life? What does the song mean to you? What do you think of the person who’s singing the song? What words inadvertently flow, without you trying to impose meaning, as the music consumes your brain?

Go to your refrigerator. Pick something out and set it on the table beside you. Look at it for a minute. What do you imagine it has to tell you? Does the food you picked remind you of a childhood moment or memory? Does it remind you of someone you love? Someone you used to love? Does the food item bring you comfort? What if you took the fun and fiction route: Does the food item have a name? Does it have a family? What does it think about while it sits in the refrigerator, in the dark, waiting for the door to open and the light to come on?

Go outside with paper and pen. Without overthinking what you see, hear, smell, or notice, write what comes to you. Use single words, fragments, imagery, or metaphor. Birds whistle; cool breeze grazes cheeks; sun hides behind gray puffy clouds; lawnmower hums in the distance; I feel alone, yet alive.

Google a random topic. Pick a word or phrase: portrait, historical image, or farm life. See what images come up. Pick three, or five, and give yourself five minutes to freely write in reaction to what you see. Don’t worry if it’s a perfect story or if it makes any sense. See where the intuitive response carries you.

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