30 New Writing Prompts

Cobble Beach
Cobble Beach

My goal for my vacation was to create 50 new writing prompts. I managed 30, which means, from one perspective, that I had a very lazy and enjoyable vacation. And which, quite frankly, is really okay. Technically I have another two days, so I’ll be working, in between loads of laundry, to create the other 20 by Sunday night. In the meantime, I thought I’d share what I came up with here. I’ve added them under the Writing Prompts tab, too.

Do you reread books? I do. In fact that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks. I’m a fan of the Dorothy L. Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novels, and discovered that they could be purchased very easily and inexpensively for my Kobo–a dangerous discovery for someone like me. Anyhow, I’ve been rereading all the ones featuring Harriet Vane, and I’ve really enjoyed them. Perfect vacation reading. Like visiting old friends. What kind of books do you reread?

Hope you have a great weekend, and if writing is on your agenda, maybe one of these prompts will help you with your story.

1. See if these pairs of images inspire a story or poem: Blue pens and ice cream, flashlights and doorknobs, tea cups and sunglasses.

2. What was your character’s favourite childhood movie? Which movie scared him/her? (For me, it was when Pinocchio got swallowed by the whale.) From your character’s point of view, write his/her memoires of seeing these films.

3. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: door, bottle, corner, light, smile, star.

4. Try one of these first lines to start a story:
The ring hit the empty garbage can with a clunk.
Why are you leaving?
I heard the bang and ran.

5. Can you think of a story for one of these titles?
Wings and Lace, Emerald Crown, Longing, Full Stop, Star Struck, Run, Hitching a Ride.

6. Can you work these lines of dialogue into a scene or a story?
“You missed!”
“I know.”
“But you never miss.”

7. What’s your favourite song or soundtrack? Explain why this music is special to you and why someone should listen to it.

8. See if these pairs of images suggest a story or poem: yellow lilies and rain, smoke and a mirror, lightning and a wing.

9. Try one of these opening sentences to begin a story or scene:
Snow. Again.
I missed the sign that read: Caution Wet Floor.
Loose gravel crunched beneath my feet.
I thought she looked familiar.

10. They say that our sense of smell is the most evocative of our senses. When I smell lavender I recall memories of my grandmother. When I smell fried onions, I think of the Canadian National Exhibition, and am swamped with images from many childhood trips there. What smells can trigger your memories? Where do those memories lead when you start to write them down?

11. Consider starting your story with one of these actions:
Someone running away
Someone or something getting lost
Someone being frightened
Someone or something falling.

12. Are you afraid of heights, spiders or crowds of people? What is your character afraid of?

13. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: cup, bloom, note, cave, sign, red.

14. What does your character think and feel when she/he looks in the mirror?

15. Can you work these lines of dialogue into a scene or a story?
“It’s too dark. I can’t see.”
“We have to keep going.”
“YOU have to keep going.”

16. What was your character’s favourite childhood toy? What do these toys tell you about your character? Did your character learn any special skill while playing with these toys that might help him or her in your story?

17. See if these pairs of images inspire a story or poem: spoons and blue jeans, running shoes and a rainbow, tea cups and sunglasses.

18. Try one of these opening sentences:
I thought flying would be harder.
Jill disappeared on Wednesday.
I was sure I heard the sound of wings.

19. Who is your favourite modern author? Go back and reread just the first pages of his or her novels. Look closely at the techniques used to get and keep the reader’s attention. Look at your own first pages and see if you can incorporate any of those techniques to make the beginning of your story more appealing to readers.

20. Consider starting your story with one of these actions:
Someone climbing
Someone lighting a fire
Someone throwing something.

21. What is the one thing that your character doesn’t want anyone to find out about him or her?

22. Can you work these lines of dialogue into a scene or a story?
“I was told to bring you here.”
“Who told you?”
“You’ll find out soon.”

23. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: pitcher, nail, bag, yellow, edge, chain

24. Is your character a good sailor or does s/he get motion sickness? Can either of these characteristics be used in your story? An ocean voyage? A ride on a roller coaster?

25. Try one of these opening sentences:
Eldor was a different kind of capital city.
Chains rattled.
It was my turn to dig.

26. Who is your reader? Take some time and describe your reader. How old? What interests? Favourite TV shows? Where does he or she read? What makes your reader put a book down? What makes him or her smile or feel sad? What makes him or her laugh? Make your reader as real as possible, and think of this reader when you sit down to write.

27. Here are some lines of dialogue for your story.
“It’s cold.”
“I’m freezing!”
“Keep moving.”

28. Try one of these opening lines:
The forest sighed.
There was only one way to find out if this would work.
They were wrong. Blood did not look like ketchup.

29. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: fence, line, sharp, red, cord, leaf, window

30. What does your character do at the beach? Play a competitive game of beach volleyball? Laze in the sun? Read? Catch up on email? Swim? Avoid the crowds? What do his or her preferences tell you about your character that you might not have known before?

Friday–and still writing!

A Quiet Sunset
A Quiet Sunset

Well, my strategy for leaving the laptop shut in order to get some writing done paid off. I’m over 2500 words further into the book today than I was when I wrote my blog on Wednesday. On top of that my journal now has several brainstormed plot notes that will keep me writing for a while. Whew! Now 2500 words in 3 days might not seem like a lot to some, but it’s a lot for me–especially considering my previous pace of glacial.

I was in one of those places where I was beginning to wonder whether anything would get me back to feeling like a writer again. Then, this morning I woke up  with a scene in my head that I quickly wrote down before I went for my morning walk. I haven’t had that happen for a long time. So, yay! Feeling writerly.

Onward into the weekend, and some more writing (and some golf, too). Hope your next few days are creative and relaxing and full of reasons for you to feel like a writer.

Friday Wrap-Up

Yay for Friday! I had a lot of fun this week writing a story for the SCBWI mash-up. The plan is for an author to write 500 words based on a four word prompt and an illustrator to create a drawing based on the same four words. Neither knows what the other is doing. This weekend they get put together, and we get to see how it all turned out. I’ll post the link as soon as it’s ready, so you can see the final result. This week’s words: Brascoe, Television news anchor, treehouse, T-Rex.

Peonies - My favourite June flower
Peonies – My favourite June flower

It’s funny how some writing prompts work and other don’t–well, for me anyways. I love prompts in which random words are thrown together, and you have to create a story or a scene from them. I like working with stray bits of dialogue, too. I wrote 65,000-word historical romance based on three words that I drew from a basket during one of my own writing classes. That kind of prompt requires my puzzle brain, trying to figure something out with just a few clues. It probably has to do with my love of mysteries, the books on codes and secret messages that I used to check out of the library when I was in my Nancy Drew phase, and the fact that I still like to do crossword puzzles and Sudoku.

What kind of writing prompts work for you? Do you like random words or sentences or do you prefer the ones that demand a deeply personal response? Why do you think you prefer one kind of prompt over another. I actually hope that you’re one of the lucky ones that has so many ideas in your head for stories or poems that you don’t need a prompt. If that’s you, celebrate!!

I create writing prompts every month. I ‘d love to know what prompts you’re looking for, so I can include them in my first-of-the-month-writing-prompt post.

Have a great weekend!

March 2013 Writing Prompts

Feb. 28, 2013The photo shows how February said goodbye in my part of the world. The snow looked very pretty yesterday morning, but once you’ve admired the view, the realities of shovelling the stuff lessen the glow a little. And after the plow has gone by and filled in the end of the driveway–again–the white stuff, now slush 2 feet high and weighting what seems like a ton, has definitely lost its appeal.

So, I’m more than ready to welcome March today. Though the temperatures will be registering in the minus 10s Celsius, the forecast holds no snow–and I and my very sore back are truly grateful.

Here are some writing prompts for the month to keep help you creative while you wait for spring.

1. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem.

a) milk, bulb, frame, grass, candle, brick. b) sack, nail cuff, page glass, leaf.

2. Try one of these opening sentences.

  • The noise was enough to wake the dead–except in Bill’s case.
  • Rainbows? And ponies? All I needed was a unicorn and all hope would be gone.
  • Helen shivered in spite of being dressed warmly for a late October midnight.
  • Whoever said “silence is golden” hadn’t heard the scream that preceded it.
  • Erik reined in his horse and saluted. “I’ve seen them.”
  • Light. Finally.

3. Try these pieces of dialogue and see what happens.

a) Pitir pointed to the east. “Sandstorm, sir?”

I followed his gaze. “I think I would prefer it. The wind’s coming from the west.”

b) Did you see that?


Good. Then I’ll pretend I didn’t see it either.

c) Stop.


The price is too high.

d) Pass me that will you?

I can’t.


It’s stuck.

4. Here are some titles. What story or poem might go with them?

The Lion and the Lamb, By the Book, Table for Three, King’s Chance, In the Cards, Heart’s Winter, Counting Down, Clean Sweep.

5. Here are some things that are commemorated by their own day or week in March. Some were a suprise to me. Can you think of something that would be fun to celebrate in March? What kind of event would you host?

St. Patrick’s Day, Vernal Equinox, Easter, Passover, World Kidney Day, International Woman’s Day, National Frozen Food Month, National Peanut Month, National Bubble Week, National Crochet Week, National Pig Day, If pets had thumbs day, Be Nasty Day, Johnny Appleseed Day, Potato Chip Day, Chocolate Covered Raisin Day, Waffle Day, Something on a Stick Day and March 14 (3.14) is National Pi Day.



New JournalWell, the brainstorming began in earnest this week. It was reading week, no classes, and my marking was finished last weekend, so no excuses either.

I kept a promise to myself and made sure that I found white space to create in. No cellphones, no computers, and CBC’s Espace Musique playing softly in the background. (I like listening to radio in French because I can’t understand much of what anyone is saying, so even the conversation washes over me with its own music.) The programs’ music choices are such a pleasure to listen to and never, ever boring.

And I’m pleased to say that all that white space worked! I bought a new journal (no suprise there to those who know me) and made a point of sitting with it every day until something emerged that resembled a story idea. I managed to come up with about 5 ideas that had a beginning, a muddle, and an end, and a few more with just beginnings and muddles but no endings–yet. I live in hope. 🙂

Of course, there is a lot of scribbling in my journal, too. Lists of places I’ve been, or places I should probably research, and settings of books I’ve read or am reading, anything really that I could think of that would keep the pen moving until something emerged. Last week, poet Patricia McGoldrick, suggested white paper and coloured markers and mind mapping. I’ve finally cleaned off the surface of my desk sufficiently to actually try that, so that’s my challenge this weekend. (And, also no surprise to my friends–I already own at least 2 sets of markers and more than enough paper. Please tell me that there are other writers out there who enjoy visiting Staples as much as I do!)

How do you brainstorm story ideas? Agatha Christie said she got her best ideas while washing dishes. I hope you find lots of creative ideas for your own projects that will keep you writing for a long time to come.

Let the Brainstorming Begin

IMG_4382Back in October Jean Mills, and I applied for a joint Writer’s Reserve grant through the Ontario Arts Council. Jean is a friend, but also an experienced writer and wonderful colleague. Among other things, we share two former employers, membership in PWAC and our sons went to school together for a while. We thought we’d make pretty good partners on a creative project. Receiving a grant doesn’t mean that a publisher will buy the finished project, but it does mean that a publisher thinks our idea and our writing samples are good enough to get some support to move ahead.

Last Wednesday, we received a letter from Dundurn Press to tell us that we received a grant. Yay!

And yikes!

Now I have to get writing. Our project is an anthology of short stories, and as thrilled as I was by this concrete gesture of approval, I’ve been stewing since Wednesday about whether I’d even come up with any ideas, let alone be able to write one–or six. It was one of those moments when you think, “it seemed like such a good idea at a time.”

Well, yesterday I got the idea for my first story. Yesterday I took time to create ‘white space.’ Here’s Sarah Selecky’s definition of white space: “White space: time spent doing nothing. Staring into space. Watching steam from your teacup, watching waves lap at the shore, listening to the wind through tree branches.” Selecky’s theory is that it’s impossible to be creative if we don’t give ourselves time to let our minds rest, to spend some time with no distractions. Here’s how she says it, “How can you have that gorgeous, rich feeling of having images come to you as you write, if you haven’t given your mind any time or space for insight?” Take some time to read her blog and then see what happens when you create some white space for yourself.

I am a to-do list maker from way back. If I’m going to reach my goals, ‘white space’ will be on the list, too.

If you have any strategies for shutting the attention-grabbing distractions down so that you can create, please pass them along. I’d love to learn how others find creative time and energy. Hope you find some white space today!

Writing Prompts for January 2013

Kitchener bus station in December rain
Kitchener bus station in December rain

Here are some writing prompts to give you a creative start to the new year.

1. Use these song titles to inspire a story or poem: What’s New, New Sensation, New World in the Morning, All Those Years Ago, Year of the Cat, 2000 Light Years from Home, Last Year’s Man, Reelin’ in the Years.

2. Here are some opening lines you might try.

  • “I’d wish you a Happy New Year, but I have a feeling it would be a little inappropriate at a murder scene.”
  • Jasmine held the small shell, looking at it closely for a moment before putting it carefully in her pocket.
  • The icy rain clattered on the windows like an endless chorus line of rhythm-challenged tap dancers.
  • Winslow put down his pen and read the note one last time.
  • Eyes that green were definitely dangerous.
  • Mike’s Saloon was usually closed in the morning.

3. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story.

  • cheer, light, shadow, photograph, branch, water
  • paper, glass, sand, flight, scent, mirror, bloom

4. See if one of these titles sparks a story: Close By, Amanda’s Wish, Consolation Prize, Run It By, Close Quarters, Light the Way, Last Candle, Jewel Box Mystery, Footprints in Snow, Quinn’s Destiny.

5. Have you ever wished you could travel back in time in your own life? What event would you love to relive? What would you wish you could do over? How are you going to make this new year one that you want to live over again?

I wish you all a creative, prosperous and healthy 2013! Happy Writing!

Coffee Writing

The Writer Magazine HeaderI’ve  been having a lot of fun lately creating writing prompts for The Writer Magazine’s website. Click the link to read my Q & A with editor, Sarah Lange.

I call this writing my “coffee writing.” Coming up with ideas for writing prompts is something that I need to do with pen and notebook–and a lot of staring into space. It’s just not keyboard writing. And what better way to do that kind of writing than in a comfortable chair with a coffee at hand. Perfect.

I love the freedom of being able to draw big arrows to move things around and doodle in the margins and squeeze in words above the line and just, frankly, make a mess. The pristine appearance of a computer screen just won’t do for coffee writing. Do you do any writing that just works better with pencil and paper instead of a keyboard and screen?

Right now the prompts are available only to The Writer Magazine subscribers, but after they are published I’ll be adding them to my list of prompts at my book’s website: http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com.

Now, time to put the kettle on and find that notebook!

Do What I Love Month

Okay. I thought I had a plot. I thought I had characters. And then I woke up this morning and realized that I really didn’t want to spend a month with this story.


I’m starting again.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s to forgive myself when things don’t turn out the way they planned. Sometimes stories just fizzle and that’s okay. Sometimes you find yourself going in a different direction than planned, and that can be okay, too. Today I’m off in a different direction, and whatever happens, I’ve decided that my goal is to enjoy my month of  writing with whatever characters and plot are ready to go on Monday. I mean, how often do the words “a month of writing” occur in my life. If I don’t enjoy it, I’m missing the point of NaNoWriMo, and more important, I’m missing the point of being a writer. Writing is all wrapped up in the “do what you love” part of my life that often gets overrun by the “do what you must”, “do what others need”, “do what– write your own version here.” 

So, onward into a new plot with new people. The countdown begins. “Do what I love” month starts Monday

Can’t think of anything to write? Read someone else’s mail.

No, I don’t want anyone to break the law; but there is a way to find great story and poem ideas in someone else’s mail.  Check out your nearest flea market or antique store and see if they have any old postcards–old used postcards.  Though ideas for stories and poems can be found in the pictures, inspiration awaits in the writing on the other side.  These notes from real people to real people are an Aladdin’s treasure cave full of humor, pathos, mystery, bravado, family life, and love.

 Here are some of my finds.  See what stories or poems you can conjure up from these real-life messages from the past.

 One card, addressed to Mrs. Arthur Ridgewell and dated 1907, reads: “I suppose you are still in Plaster Rock.  Heard that Frank 1st has left you.  I guess he must be a wanderer.” 

 Like all good story openings. this card leaves the reader with lots of questions.  And when the reader is a writer, a story is bound to follow.  Who is Frank 1st? (And, for that matter, who is Frank 2nd?) Why did he wander before? Why did he come back?  Why is he leaving again? Where is he likely to go? The word ‘still’ seems important to the writer. Where, other than Plaster Rock, should Mary be?  What is the relationship between the sender and the writer?

 A card from Vancouver, dated 1911 and addressed to a Miss McLeod in P.E.I., reads:  “How soon do you think you can leave College to come west?  You are needed very badly as chaperone and we would be more than pleased to have you with us.

 More questions: What was Miss McLeod studying in college or was she a teacher?  What kind of person would think it perfectly acceptable for a woman to leave college, head west, and become a chaperone?  Why would the sender need a chaperone ‘badly?  Why is there no salutation to the note–no Dear…?  What social milieu are we dealing with here? Is the sender wealthy and is Miss McLeod a poor relation?

 The following card is posted from Winnipeg in January 1909 and addressed to Mrs. Sharpe in Listowel, Ontario.  “Just a line to thank you for the nice Xmas cards you sent.  We were too poor to send anyone anything this winter as Will’s work will be done this week.  Things are dreadful dull and it is so dreadfully cold, about 42 below.  We did not go far when it was that cold.  Dick and Elsie are well.  He is working steady. How is Clarence? Remember me to him.  Love to all from all.  Sade

 Think of how Sade must have felt writing that her family was too poor to send Christmas cards.  The postage on the postcard was one cent and though the card was dated January 1st, it wasn’t mailed until the 8th.  Did Sade have to wait that long to get the postage or was it just too cold to go out?  Who are these people and what work might they be doing?  The card is addressed to Mrs. Fred Sharpe; then, who is Clarence and why does Sade wish to be remembered to him?  What if he is a brother of Mrs. Sharpe that Sade was fond of once, or perhaps Mrs. Sharpe is Sade’s sister and Clarence is Sade’s nephew.  Put yourself in Sade’s shoes while she is writing this card or in Mrs. Sharpe’s when she hears such sad news from her friend.  Maybe Mrs. Sharpe is a relative of Sade’s husband and Sade is hinting for her husband to be rescued from unemployment in Winnipeg and offered work in the family business in Listowel.

 If you are a poet, think of the wonderful ‘found poems’ that are waiting for you in these postcards.  You could weave a poem like the following:

 Winnipeg, 1909

 Just a line to thank you

for the nice Xmas cards you sent. 

We were too poor

to send anyone


Things are dreadful dull

and it is so dreadfully cold.

How is Clarence?

Remember me to him. 


I paid three dollars for those postcards and have covered a couple of pages in my journal with possible ideas from each one–a small investment in inspiration.  Consider what some postcards could do to fire your imagination or help you break out of one of those (thankfully rare) cement-brained-writer’s days? 

 Inspiration on a postcard?  Why not?  Find the wonderful stories and poems that are possible when your writer’s imagination meets someone else’s mail.

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