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Making Writing Prompts Personal

Every blogger faces it, sooner or later: you feel an itch to publish. You haven’t updated your site in a…

Every blogger faces it, sooner or later: you feel an itch to publish. You haven’t updated your site in a while. You put on your lucky writing socks, fire up WordPress, flex your fingers, and…

… sit there, staring blankly at the screen. You’re blocked!

(What? Like I’m the only one who has lucky writing socks.)

When you’re blocked, writing prompts are blogsavers. Many bloggers shy away from them because they don’t like the idea of  responding to a prompt — what if it doesn’t inspire you? What if the topic doesn’t fit your blog? But before turning off the computer and putting your writing socks back in the drawer, try these six tips for making any writing prompt your own:

lost sock

Loss of a lucky writing sock is one of the most common but undiagnosed causes of Writers’ Block. (Photo by Soren herskind, CC BY-2.0.)

A prompt is not an assignment.

Prompts are there to give you a push on days when the words get stuck. They’re not assignments, they’re not requirements, and you don’t need to follow them to the letter. Prompts are there to serve you, and you can use them however you’d like.

Take this (terrible) prompt: Two plus two equals four: yes or no? Sure, you could just answer the question. You also could write about why you love math, rant about why you hate solar calculators, or tell a story about how you met your best friend in 9th-grade algebra. None of those posts answer the question; all of those posts respond to the prompt.

Stop being judgey.

We constantly judge our own ideas, and “I have nothing to write about” is often shorthand for “I think all my post ideas are too stupid to publish.” As we’ve said before:

You read blogs because you’re drawn to the personalities behind them, and that’s why others read yours. If you publish something that’s a real reflection of you — whether it’s an in-depth analysis of a political issue or a series of haiku about your bicycle — your fans will read and like it. Give yourself some credit — people like you, they really do.

Think your response to the prompt is unworthy because it’s not new or original? If it comes from you — in your voice, from your perspective — it’s original. Cut yourself some slack.

Be the anti-prompter.

Maybe your immediate reaction to the prompt was, “ugh, what a dumb prompt,” or “I’d never write about that.”

Great! Now you’ve got something to write about. Tell us why yet another prompt about Miley Cyrus really points to the downfall of culture (or of prompt-writers), or why you will never write about work on your fantasy football blog.

Go with your gut.

If the first thought you had when you read the prompt was something other than, “no, thanks,” run with that, even if it’s completely unrelated to the prompt. (Inspiration, not assignment, remember?) Think about what you’d say if a friend called you and asked you the prompt question — how would that conversation start, and where would it go?

The prompt’s job is to help stoke your creative fires. It doesn’t really matter what your reaction was; it just matters that you had a reaction. Spend a few minutes meditating on that first thought. Maybe the prompt asked you about a favorite meal, and you reaction was, “crap, I forgot to stop at the grocery store.” There are lots of posts in there: posts about mealtime, housework, organizing your life, and more. (Especially once you stop being judgey!)

Read first.

Pingbacks to bloggers’ responses begin appearing on each of our Daily Prompts fairly soon after the prompt is published. If you’re on the fence with the prompt, read a few. Other bloggers’ words and images are often our greatest source of inspiration. Even if you end up simply reading and commenting, and not writing your own post, you’ve made a contribution to fabric of the blogging community.

Be a mind reader (really).

Sometimes, a prompt is just a tossed-off idea, but often, the person writing the prompt has some idea of the kinds of things s/he would like to see it inspire.

Play mind-reader: what do you think the prompt author wanted you to think about? Did s/he succeed? Do you have something to say about that topic? Okay, the prompt author might not have actually been thinking about larger questions of libertarianism v. social democracy when she wrote the prompt asking if you get along with your neighbors… but maybe she was.

When you’re casting around for something to write about, don’t immediately dismiss writing prompts. If you’re willing to spend a few minutes following a prompt down the rabbit hole, you can come out the other side with a post that perfectly fits you and your blog.

Do you ever write in response to prompts? How do you interpret them? Share!

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  1. When I first started blogging, I used the Daily Prompt to help inspire me. It actually helped me find other topics that interested me to blog about. I agree, you don’t have to follow it to the letter, its just there to help keep us going.

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  2. On Friday I did a post for the Yeah Write Moonshine Weekend Grid about several prompts I like to respond to on a regular basis. It is not because I never have any good original ideas, but because I enjoy the interaction with regular respondents to these prompts. Friends if you will in the blogging community.

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  3. I love the writing prompts. Many of them evoked memories and had me writing about stuff that I had long forgotten about, or thought was just something that wouldn’t make that great of a story. One of them reminded me about when I used to fold people’s laundry in college. I ended up probably with the most amount of likes I’ve had on any entry. Others of them are either too intriguing or too funny to ignore.

    Keep the prompts coming; I have those days where I sometimes want to write more than one entry, and those have helped me do that. This was a good post. :)

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  4. I’m fairly new to the blogging world. Made several attempts in years past, but I tell myself this time I’m going to be more serious about it (we’ll see how that goes). The response to daily prompts here have been my only posts so far, and I have enjoyed them quite a bit. They do give me the opportunity to branch out and think about things I might otherwise have missed. A prompt about rainbows brought out a post correlating color blindness and how it might affect your mood/personality forever. Anyway…good post :) Can’t be a Judgy McJudgerton!

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  5. Okay, okay, I hear you. The anti-prompter approach is so tempting. If only I had the time I would run with that one. Currently, I only post rants in my private journal blog so no one every knows how terribly smart and truly funny I am. ;)

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  6. I enjoy the writing prompts. I never did any personal writing before so any blogs I had in the past often fell into limbo and died. This year I decided to blog in a personal style and I find the writing prompts on Daily Post have been extremely helpful. I respond to the prompts as if I’m engaging in a conversation with a friend.

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  7. Just as an FYI to other bloggers:

    They’re not joking with that anti-prompter advice. I’ve gotten likes from WP employees for anti-responses to the prompts they created.

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  8. I use the daily prompts if they appeal to me and I do not have another post I want to give priority to. Sometimes I have a draft post, which does not need much alteration to fit the daily prompt. It is a good way of inviting other bloggers to read posts. I usually read posts before approving ping-backs, especially from new daily prompters. It is a good community with room for more! Sue

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  9. I do often use daily prompts, but today’s didn’t really focus my mind. I was feeling stuck and judgey and then this post came along. Perfect timing. Thank you!

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  10. I am new to the blogging world, and haven’t considered using prompts to write my content. However, after reading this article, I have concluded that the prompts used as examples inspired me already. In conclusion, I probably would write from a prompt.

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  11. This is not my problem… I never have Writer’s block… I only have the feeling that I post too often…as I could do more all the time… at 55 my creative juices are flowing to extreme…what would help me, if I were having Writer’s block, is to; take a walk, read the paper, go over my past… so many places to write from… I like prompts because it brings writers together and gets different types of writers looking at different types of posts…I always get likes more than comments…

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  12. I do use prompts, but I tend to skip over a lot of them because yes, I’m too judgey. Thanks for inspiring me to look at them differently!

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  13. I liked this – it rang bells as being very much along the lines of an article I saw recently about small talk at parties. Nobody is necessarily saying anything very much, but it’s the communication that counts. Which is a good way to look at prompts. I might well start responding to them a bit more, instead of being all dismissive and judgey about them (what a big effort it took to get the machine to let me say judgey!) Thanks. :)

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  14. This is super helpful, thanks for creating this post! :) I will need to favorite this blog to my computer so I go back whenever I begin to feel the troubling Writers’ Block come on.

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  15. I have yet to use the daily prompts – but I should. I’ve had blogs open for years – my newest is my baby – because I started writing again – because I felt prompted by my life event, which is the overall inspiration – I’ve seen so many blogs, inspirations, since I simply began a few days ago again – my blog seems so blank in comparison, but when I went back after reading about daily prompts – I realized wow – maybe what I’m saying really makes sense to other people besides me – so I’ll continue – I’m a post a day writer now – and plan on continuing that – but remember I had about 3 years worth of writers block until – oh let’s say – this past Sunday. Amazing what some prompts can actually do.

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