My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Metaprompts--The Prompts About Prompts

It's inexperienced writers that most often question utility of prompts.  For starters, they don't like anything that might generate writing they don't consider potentially publishable, but mostly they simply don't see the benefit of writing within the contained space of a prompt's "rules."  Ironically this is usually this same group of newbs that can't figure out what to write about and spend their days staring at a blank piece of paper or screen like it's the enemy.

The reason writers use prompts, is the same reason a bomb exploding in a contained space has more destructive power than one exploding in a wide open field, and the more you think about that example, the better it's going to seem. If you think your creativity is a nuclear bomb waiting to go off, by all means just sit down and write on....anything.  

Sometimes though, thinking outside the box is easier is when the box is small, and sometimes thinking inside a really small box leads to the most outside thinking of all.  

It is actually easy enough to show people why writers like prompts, but ironically, it takes a few prompts to do it.  Write for ten minutes on each of these prompts.  Pay attention to how long you spend thinking and how long you spend actually writing.  And above all....don't forget to have fun.  To help illustrate this, I will write four prompts.  Remember...EXACTLY ten minutes each.

1- Write for ten minutes about anything.

2- Write for ten minutes about the word "depravity".

3- Write for ten minutes about the following: "a friendly vampire," "a fashion show," and "the only [blank] left in the world."

4- Look at this picture.  Why are they fighting?  Why is the bull mechanical?  Why is the sword on fire? Why are their burning rocks falling from the sky in the background?  Use the following oblique strategy--"Emphasize the flaws" within your writing--tell this story from the point of view of the bull.  Write for exactly ten minutes.

I have seen this image in many places, so I'm not sure who to credit.
If it is yours, please tell me what you want me to do.  (Attribute, link, remove, etc...)

Notice how the writing changed as you dealt with more and more specific prompts? The same thing is true of  using prompts at all. Psychologists call this The Paradox of Choice. Sometimes having too many choices freezes us with an inability to even know where to begin. By narrowing the playing field we actually INCREASE our ability to be more creative. It seems counter-intuitive, but it's true. Having MORE limitations will actually fuel creativity. So don't be a turn-up-your-nose, too-good-for-prompts-y pants unless you are just a font of unlimited, original creativity.

This is why a lot of writers use prompts. Not the goofball kind ("What is your heroes favorite breakfast cereal?") but the real ones that cause creativity to occur by forcing it to occupy a smaller space

Of course, as your work expands beyond the prompts, you should feel free to follow it where it goes.

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