Why Writing Prompts Usually Don’t Work

Writing prompts are like sea shells…they’re scattered around every beach in abundance but you only pick up a few.


At least that’s what most people tend to think. But here’s the problem: not all writing prompts are valuable writing prompts.

So, it doesn’t matter how many seashells are scattered around your path – if seashells don’t inspire you, it won’t help a bit, no matter how many of them you line up on the windowsill in your writing room.

As all writers are individuals and motivated or inspired by different things, I find it a falsehood to imply that all writing prompts work for every writer.

Some sites like https://dailypost.wordpress.com/ have made it their business to supply writing prompts for bloggers…but I rarely feel inspired by them.

The same with creative writing prompts which are often stale and generic. I don’t want to write about Jenny from the office or Herbert from the corner store.

In fact, I write to get away from those people. I write to escape reality and craft worlds and stories that explore powerful questions that interest me – ‘what if’ questions which transcend reality or even the realm of most people’s imagination.

So, how about starting to share ‘what if’ questions…like: What if every single person in the world was rich? Would that be great or would this cause some interesting problems – culturally for example – that could drive a story?

It strikes me as peculiar that there has been no real innovation in the department of writing prompts. Maybe we need an alliance of genre writers who support and feed off each other.

Maybe we need ‘inspiration pools’ relevant to particular genres. I think that would be pretty cool.

If I never see another picture of a sunset with the hashtag #writingprompt attached to it for the rest of my life I would be a very happy writer.

Here’s a picture of a garden – YUK!


Why aren’t we more concerned with sharing amazing illustrations of non-existent technology, dreamscapes or nightmares to shake up the boring, generic merry-go-round of picturesque Instagram snaps?

Why aren’t we spending time discussing our fears and the inner darkness that most of us grapple with from time to time?  

Personally, I find that the best writing prompts are in digital fantasy artwork, in rock songs and in the books I love. And I am not talking about plagiarism here. No, I am talking about discovering amazing ideas that inspire other great ideas.

Finding a great writing prompt should be like picking up a lump of clay and moulding it into the right shape for you. Forget ready made writing prompts.

Forget writing toolkits and daily posts and writing prompts in newsletters. Follow your gut. Pay attention to what attracts your attention. Don’t wait for the #writingprompt hashtag to come along.


What inspires you to write? Where do you find your most powerful writing prompts and what are your recommendations for fellow writers in your genre? Leave a comment below and share your ideas and knowledge.

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8 thoughts on “Why Writing Prompts Usually Don’t Work

  1. [ Smiles ] When I had my blog on WordPress, I ignored all writing prompts and I did my own thing.

    However, writing prompts are ideal for those who have hit a proverbial stumbling block and are desperate for a topic to write about.


    1. Thanks for this comment Renard. I maintain my position that writing prompt doesn’t equal writing prompt. Even if someone is desperate for a topic – I still believe that it is impossible to write just about anything. Inspiration doesn’t work that way. If you want to write well you have to find your own voice, your own passion and your own writing prompts. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s interesting because I have mixed feelings about writing prompts. I fell in love with writing in the second grade when we were writing from a prompt. A person, place, and thing were selected and all three items had to make an appearance in our stories. When I realized we could all start from the same spot and come up with vastly different stories, it made me excited about creating something of my own.
    Now, I’m not usually stuck without a story idea, and I see lots of prompts that don’t inspire me. I have participated in a few writing prompts in my writing group, and it’s been an interesting challenge. A woman who writes memoirs brings in prompts that are very specific about generating ideas from your personal life, which I don’t like. But I’ve found an interesting pleasure in making the most mundane prompt into a horror story. It takes me a bit longer to get started, but I’ve been happy with the end products.
    I suspect the more you write from prompts, the easier it is to find inspiration in the most boring of prompts, but I haven’t tested that out yet.
    I suppose it’s kind of like outlining a story. I understand the value, but it doesn’t usually work for me.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s interesting you should ask. I have thought about posting some, because they are fun. I really need to start writing down in my journal what the original prompt was, so that I can share that with my story. Seeing the original prompt may be as interesting as the story that comes out of it.
        I’ll have to add that to my ever growing to do list.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with this completely. Very rarely have I gotten any creative mileage out of typical writing prompts. Slice-of-life situations don’t interest me in the slightest. I feel like they they are the squirrels and rabbits of the story hunting world and keep my mind and spirit small. What will often cause me to drop what I’m doing and spend a few minutes or even hours writing is a statement from someone or an observation of something that pulls my thoughts far beyond the people in that moment to potential impacts on while communities, nations, or the world. For me, that’s where the big game stories necessary to promote my inner growth roam.

    Liked by 1 person

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