Thanks so much for listening to DIY MFA Radio! This weekly show offers tips and techniques that you can apply to your writing practice right now.
In today’s episode, I’ll show you a simple three-step process to help you pump up your writing with prompts. When I first started writing in earnest, I didn’t know what to write so I just started doing prompts. I ended up stumbling on a system that built up my writing stamina and got me tangible results.
Here’s a secret, though: I never really liked doing prompts. I’m not one of those writers who sits, pen at the ready, waiting for the teacher to give an in-class exercise. But I quickly realized that prompts serve a purpose and I learned a lot from those few months. In this episode I’ll show you seven reasons to build prompts into your writing practice and how to make prompts work for you.
You can listen to the episode by clicking play below, or download it from iTunes.
7 Reasons to Build Prompts into Your Routine
1) Lower Stakes, Higher Output
Prompts are just practice so the stakes aren’t as high. This helps take the pressure off, pressure that gets in the way of writing (and can lead to writer’s block). Also, that fear of making a mistake isn’t as strong with prompts so you avoid analysis paralysis that happens when you start over-thinking your project.
2) Boost Your Confidence
Most writers start writing a prompt with low expectations. If you assume it will be awful, then you’ll be excited to reread it and find hidden gems. The more often you practice with prompts, the more you’ll reinforce this feeling that your writing is not as bad as you thought. That helps you build mastery (that “I can do it” feeling) which will boost your confidence in all your writing.
3) Less Attachment, More Room for Improvement
Think of prompts as “throw-away” writing, as a warm up. This goes with the idea of lower stakes. If you’re not as attached to what you wrote, you’ll be more comfortable with cutting it and making big changes. Remember “kill your darlings”? The more you practice killing darlings that are prompts, the better at it you’ll get, and the easier it will be to cut more precious passages in your WIP.
4) Learn to Think “On the Fly”
Ever dreamed of being creative on demand? Do prompts. If you HAVE to produce a page of writing in a short amount of time, you’ll do it. The more you train your brain to produce ideas on the fly, the better at it you’ll get and the easier it will be to come up with new ideas down the road.
5) Hone Your Craft
Use a prompt as a low-pressure testing ground, where you can try out techniques without fear of failure. It’s like your writing sandbox, where you can make a mess and learn techniques before applying them to your WIP.
6) Try Something Wild
Try ideas you’d never try in your WIP. Do things that are outside your writing comfort zone. This is a safe space. Don’t worry, you won’t break anything.
7) Think on Paper
The other day I was scribbling in my notebook when someone asked me what I was writing. I replied with: “I’m not writing, I’m thinking.” Thinking on paper can be far more effective than thinking in your head, especially for writers, who are used to thinking with pen in hand.
More importantly,thinking on paper engages the senses more than just thinking in your head. You see the words and doodles on the page, feel your hand holding the pen and forming the words, even hear the words in your mind as you write them.
Sensory input creates associations, kind of like classical conditioning. This makes it easier to be creative on demand. Also engaging more senses helps increase your creative output and makes it more likely for you to come up with new ideas.
3-Step Process for Using Prompts
Step 1: Build Stamina Through Practice
Prompts and exercises are a writer’s practice. Train yourself to write no matter what, even when you’re not feeling inspired. Anyone can write when it’s easy, but real writers write when it’s hard.
Step 2: Develop Mastery of Techniques
Once you’ve built up your stamina, the second step is to master the craft. One easy way to do this is to reuse the same writing prompt, but take a different approach each time. Just choose a prompt and combine it with a technique you want to master. Then start writing.
Step 3: Apply Prompts and Exercises to a Project
One of the most common excuses I get from writers for why they don’t like writing prompts is: “I need all the writing time I have for my novel. Prompts are a distraction.” This is where step three comes in.
Do’s and Dont’s of Prompts
Do think before you start writing. Give yourself a few minutes to think about what you’re going to write.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself when applying prompts to a WIP. Broaden your perspective by focusing on things you might not be exploring in depth in the novel.
Do explore other settings. Send your protagonist on a road trip, honeymoon, or even to jail.
Don’t pick and choose your prompts.
Need a prompt? Check out the Writer Igniter app at DIY MFA.
We also have an exciting FREE event going on. It’s called “Conquer the Craft in 29 Days,” a DIY MFA writing challenge and the concept is simple. You get one prompt per day for 29 days. Each prompt builds on previous materials. The challenge has already started but you can still join (link to join on show notes page). When you sign up with your email, you’ll get access to the Super-Secret Challenge Headquarters where you’ll be able to catch up on prompts that you missed.
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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.