All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Why Do Writing Prompts?

The simplest exercise for any writer; the push-up of the writing community is the writing prompt. Someone rattles off a word, topic, question, or otherwise meaningless sentence and you spend the next eight minutes writing about it. Has anyone ever written the perfect bit of prose from this exercise? Never. Has that eight-minute endeavor brought home a Pulitzer? Doubt it. And yet, just like a push-up, we do these to build up our writing muscles because they usually don't get that kind of exercise in the regular world.

If I asked you to tell me why you are on this journey called writing, you would probably lean back, think for a second, and offer a simple answer. "It brings me a joy I can't find anywhere else," "I like exploring the creative world inside my head," or "I want to be rich." (I genuinely hope it is not the last one.) I might follow up with a few more questions, you would offer answers, and we would have a conversation. No big surprise there - we do this every day. However, if I ask you to spend eight minutes writing about just why you are on this journey of writing, your answer magically changes. You not only answer the question, but you explain it. You think about how the other side of the conversation would go, and answer those points in one long narrative. Or maybe you answer the prompt by offering an example that crystallizes your feelings and gives the reader an entire experience. Maybe it comes to you in poem form, and you express yourself through metered rhyme. Most of these options would never occur organically during a standard conversation, but when it's a prompt, suddenly we find ourselves exercising.

My original approach to writing prompts went somewhere along the lines of "Ugh!!!!" I couldn't see the point of writing something that had no other purpose other than to make me work for eight minutes. Believe it or not, I felt the same way about push-ups and running laps in the gym. I was going literally nowhere, doing something I very rarely do under normal conditions, and killing precious time when I could actually be playing volleyball or whatever the day's sport was. Well, as it turned out, I made a discovery later in life. First, running a few laps before playing volleyball is a great way to stretch your legs so you don't pull your hamstring in the second game (learned that the hard way). Second, if you run a few laps regularly, you will have much more endurance to play more volleyball in the long run. And most importantly, you spend very little time actually playing volleyball and a lot more time just trying to stay in volleyball shape, and that's what the laps are for.

So even though my epic projects get their time, they do not get as much time as I like. I go to my workshops, talk about writing, review and critique other writers' works, and tend to the rest of my life - then I write. So, yes, those writing prompts help me get fit and ready for those times when I can go on a nice writing binge and get a few chapters knocked out. And while I don't know what the writer's equivalent is to pulling a hamstring, I can assure you I don't do that either.

Writer's prompt: What was the moment that made you want to pursue writing? Eight minutes, and... go!       

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