Blank pages come in myriad forms. Ghostly rectangles on desktop screens. College-lined blue on white cheap paper. Yellow schoolchild tablets. Heavy pebbly stationary with a monogram. Yet they have a commonality: blank pages beg to be filled. With writing.
I prefer the blank white of my desktop. My fingers can fill a page up in no time at all, except when they can’t. When I’ve hit a wall and don’t know what to write next or what to write at all. Those are the times I need a prod, a prompt, a reset.
Writing prompts fit the bill for these and many other situations. They come in all shapes and sizes on the internet, but I tire of hunting for them and deciding whether or not they’re worth a share of my email address. Instead, I prefer the freshness of creating my own writing prompts. You might, too.
Here’s a few ways to create D.I.Y. writing prompts. Most of these are prompts you collect and then refer to when you seeking inspsiration. All of them can be used multiple times.
Record your observations and oddball factoids with a voice memo. The glint of the sun on a child’s hair, the aroma of the Italian bakery in Philadelphia, the echoes in an indoor swimming pool are all potential prompts. As are conspiracy theories from your quirky aunt. Not that I have one.
Create a digital file of noises, music, and sounds. Record them with your phone or by other technology. The sound of birds calling at dusk, the slam of a screen door, or children playing can be undeniably evocative. Do not record people without their permission or otherwise impede on privacy. Of course, if your teenager wants to sing for you, that's great!
Create a playlist of songs as a prompt. You may want to use a theme such as romance or military music or Gospel. Just deciding on how to put this together can get you thinking of things about which to write.
Eavesdrop Eavesdropping on folks who talk loudly in public, who clearly have no expectation of privacy or secrecy, is fertile ground. One afternoon, walking through the social services department from my nearby desk in the health department, a voice from a cubicle opined, “Sometimes you have to go to jail for just being stupid.” I wrote it down. There’s a story or two in that offhand comment.
Create a collection of aromas. Put together, either in an online written list or an audio file, a selection of aromas. If you want, you can also set up a set of items with distinctive smalls —maybe a few bottles of essential oils or perfume samples. Don't be afraid to include a few scary or unpleasant smells if you want but you don't have to do so. Proust did well with his mother's madeleines.
Collect random objects. Set aside a small box or basket for a few of the intriguing little objects you come across. A seashell, a fortune cookie’s prediction, a swatch of velvet, a Christmas ornament, a postcard. These can trigger your writing by their texture, and also their appearance, smell, and by memories and emotions associated with them.
Create a collection of tastes. As with the olfactory prompts, put together, either in an online written list or an audio file, a selection of tastes. You might include a general taste such as salty or go for a specific food such as a ripe pear.
Look around. Whenever you need a prompt, stop right where you are and look around you. Pick the “-est” thing that catches your eye — the prettiest, the bluest, the oldest. You get the idea. Then take that as your prompt and write about the prettiest thing you see.
Create a digital file of intriguing images. Download or take screen shots of images you come across online and put them in a labeled folder or file. Since you won't be publishing the images, only using them for inspiration, you should not need to worry about copyright issues.
Find a photo prompt the easy way. Open a stock photo site on the internet and search for “popular” or anything else you desire. Take the first photo as your inspiration.
Create a physical file of photographs and images. If you use physical files, set up a file folder for newspaper and magazine clippers, photographs, ephemera, and other paper items which spark creativiy. Old postcards, a fancy business card, letter, invitation, birthday card can get you going.
Collect quotes from eloquent writers and speakers. When you need a prompt, choose one of their quotes. Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Austen, and Eleanor Roosevelt have left many pithy quotations. How could you be blocked after reading Angelou’s “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”
These are a few ways you can develop your own unique writing prompts while honing your observational skills. Once you have a few of these prompts at hand, you're all set. Be creative and have fun with them.