The Power of a Writing Prompt

I am an active participant in three writing groups. The group we call Word Church meets weekly on Sunday afternoons. The other two meet monthly. One focuses on poetry and the other concentrates on the process of writing.

Each group and the beloved communities that show up helps me to keep my creative juices flowing—even when I don’t have the energy or feel inspired. We approach writing prompts in different ways, which adds to my personal development of the many facets of writing. Accessing fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry is like having a well-stocked tool belt, and enables me to reach for the best one to serve the writing need at the time. I can’t use prose to express everything I want to say, just like using a screwdriver isn’t the best way to drive a nail.

For the monthly “process” group, we delight in using the book, The Amazing Story Generator: Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts by Jay Sacher. The book splits sentences in thirds with different sentence fragments written on each third. Our facilitator flips the separate sections to create a unique prompt for each of us.

This group has met for more than two years. We have built friendship, admiration, and trust within this trio. With the prompt written out, we set out to write for the next five minutes. This exercise has laid the foundation for the safety and camaraderie we feel for each other.

For me personally, this five-minute exercise has helped to approach my writing with detachment and curiosity. I have learned to take myself less seriously. The very short amount of time liberates me from expecting to produce something “good.” In that freedom, I can play and explore with words—the essence of what I love so much.

This prompt also instructs me about writer’s block. I don’t give the concept much weight because I have learned that as long as I move the pen across the paper or keep my fingers typing on the keyboard something will come. Writer’s block hijacks the writer into believing that what one writes must come out in some finished form, and that is simply an unreasonable expectation. Those are big lessons for such a small exercise.

Last month, I was in a mood. I wrote anyway, and what I produced is the first prompt below. This month, I was in an improved headspace, and the second prompt issued forth. In both cases, I smiled and laughed while sharing my results, and enjoyed listening to the others’ five-minute stories.

I’m happy to share them here.

Prompt: With a new outlook on life/a jealous bridesmaid/gets trapped inside a popular TV show.

Domenique was blinded by the vanity’s lights as the bride’s stylist did Domenique’s hair and make-up. Attending Frances’s wedding had given Domenique the push she needed after languishing on her couch over the summer. She should have been happy that the job she hated had abruptly ended and with a hefty severance, but she had wanted to leave on her own terms and didn’t know what was next.

Now she sat with the blow dryer whirring into her ear. A mascara wand brushing black make-up on her lashes. She was alone with her thoughts, a blessing to the stylist who’d had to fake a smile through the other bridesmaids’ makeovers. She tapped Domenique’s shoulder to wake her. Domenique smiled into the mirror and turned around to see she was seated in front of a studio audience.

Prompt: Upon breaking a life-long promise/a clumsy gymnast/is tormented by vengeful spirits.

My best friend and I were the only two boys in our gymnastics class. We both were the babies in big families, and our moms were exhausted and needed a place for us to blow off steam. When we started, we were too young to know or care that we were surrounded by girls, but as we aged, we got more and more self-conscious. The other problem was that my best friend was a skillful gymnast, and I was a complete dud.

When we were eight, he made me promise I would stay in gymnastics as long as he did. But by middle school, it was clear that I was going to become a danger to myself, the other gymnasts, and even the coaches. When I should have been swinging on the rings, my legs would flail about and kick whomever was nearest. While my friend and his family were on vacation, I did what I said I wouldn’t do. I quit. I took up the piano and flourished. When he came home and found himself the only boy in the gym, that’s when the real trouble started. I heard voices, the sheet music turned itself. Gymnast ghosts would not leave me alone.

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