All-Time Favorite Writing Prompts

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To round out this year of blogging about writing prompts, I polled writers and writing teachers for their favorite writing prompts–generally, simple prompts that have been useful to them as writers, students, and teachers. One such prompt that I found extremely useful in my early days of writing was, “Write about an obsession.” From this straightforward suggestion, I learned a lot about what can drive a compelling story.

Some of these prompts are accessible and instructive; others offer wonderfully evocative images and ideas. For ease of reference, I’ve grouped the prompts into several categories, but certainly some would fit into multiple boxes. It is my hope that these twenty-nine prompts–some specific, some quite open-ended–will help you jump-start any stalled works-in-progress and generate lots and lots of new material.

The Prompts


  1. Tell a story about your name. -Lisa Romeo
  2. The basement. -Leslie Pietrzyk
  3. “Momaday saw four things in his life that were truly remarkable…” (Repurposed snippet from the writer, N. Scott Momaday, “The Way to Rainy Mountain.”) -Evan Morgan Williams
  4. Write down a few descriptive objects on a slip of paper, pick one (good for a class). Start the piece with “Why I stole it.” -Swati Khurana
  5. Write in the persona of a character from mythology or fairy tales. -Swati Khurana
  6. I never told my mother . . . -Samuel Autman
  7. Write an apology. -Kristin Griffin
  8. Write about a photograph you love. Describe it in detail; don’t mention it’s a photograph. Only describe what you can see inside the frame. -Irene Keliher
  9. The last time I saw (put a name here) . . . -Bharti Kirchner


  1. Horses on the ridge -Mary Margaret Carlisle
  2. Write a dialog between your eyes and feet. -Anastacia Tolbert
  3. Write your obituary from a pet dog or cats perspective. -Anastacia Tolbert
  4. Guilt: Pull three random things from your top dresser drawer. A broken necklace, red silk panties, an expired driver’s license. Now write a poem (or short-short essay) about guilt without using that word. Include all three objects (as nouns, verbs, or any part of speech). End with a question you do not know the answer to. -Christine Hemp
  5. Choose an organ from your body. Do not name the organ. Instead, allow the organ to describe how it feels living inside your body. -EJ Koh


  1. Write [x] lines with maximum [x] words, using words of only one syllable. -Éireann Lorsung
  2. Write a story that takes place over six real-time seconds. -Jeff Bender
  3. From Rachel Pollack: Write a story that has no conflict. Helped me understand conflict, that’s for sure. -Anne Bean
  4. Name your alter-ego and describe her in detail. Then write in that voice. -Suzanne Bottelli
  5. This one’s stolen from Deirdre McNamer: Describe the room (usually a dull classroom). Now describe the room from the perspective of a parent who has just found out her child was killed in war. (Meant to exhibit to students how we see feelingly.) -Laura Scott
  6. Describe a house from your childhood using synesthesia. Sounds trigger colors or touch triggers taste. Mingle and use all the senses. -EJ Koh
  7. What does one of your characters not want to do, above all else, and when is he or she closest to doing it? Write that scene. -Erin Gilbert
  8. Write many repetitions of the same scene, with minor adjustments and differences each time, but let one of them differ from the others in that it pivots from banal to grand. -Erin Gilbert

 Emotionally Challenging

  1. A fitting punishment -Sarah Frye
  2. What is the worst thing you’ve ever done, and never been caught? -Heidi Czerwiec
  3. Write a story that undermines something you believe in. -Alex Madison
  4. Stories develop from small moments and the insights that come from them. Write about a challenging moment you faced this week and what insights you took away from it. -Clare Meeker
  5. Write about a memory that you (the real or a fictive you) carry alone. -Elizabeth Alexander
  6. What did you always know, or sense, without ever having learned? -Elizabeth Alexander
  7. When working with students who are trying to create narratives out of something very traumatic I give the prompt to write instead about the before or the after. Often times it’s through context and who we’ve become since that helps us find the story. Before the event I: looked like, walked like, thought things like; After the event I: looked like, walked like, thought things like. I then prompt students to write from the before. After they finish that, in a new document, I ask them to write from the after. -Corinne Manning

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and productive 2015!

Image: “La Favorite” by Thérèse-Marie Géraldy