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Making Writing Prompts Personal

Hey, Daily Posters! We’re on Day Seven of our Zero to Hero challenge: 30 tasks in 30 days to build a solid…

Hey, Daily Posters! We’re on Day Seven of our Zero to Hero challenge: 30 tasks in 30 days to build a solid blogging foundation. It’s never to late to join in! For those already participating, this post on personalizing writing prompts should get you over a few publishing humps.

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!

86 Comments

  1. Sometimes I answer the prompts, sometimes, not. It’s a new direction for me that I’ve not decided if I like. Mainly I choose the prompt or not, depending on if I can adapt it to advance the themes of my site. I do appreciate your constant availability. I cannot imagine having to be the one who comes up with this stuff and then gets criticized by folks who cannot come up with a way to adapt.

  2. I’m looking for bloggers who have found these writing prompts helpful, or have writing tips that they’d like to share. I’d like to promote guest posts on my blog that focuses on writing. I think y’all in the daily prompts would be perfect as guest bloggers.

  3. I wrote and posted in response to today’s prompt, After reading the link instructions, it ended up a blog post,but never found it’s way into the Daily Prompts thread. It’s true my technological skills are less than stellar, still, I need a simple easy way to be a part of this. Any takers?

    1. Wendy, it looks like you’ve put in a link to your own post — to create a pingback, you need to put in a link to The Daily Post. Use the link of whatever prompt here you’re responding to, and put that into your post on your blog.

  4. The idea of prompts is great, whether they are from The Daily Post or even a prompt from another source such as a book or current news. I’ve just started writing and I’m using Robin Sharma’s lessons as my prompts. I’ve only written 3 posts so far so it’s early days but it has definitely provided me with some focus.

  5. I love writing posts in response to photo prompts. It is the challenge of linking both a photo and text to the prompt and also to make sure that all this hits with the social justice food theme of my blog. Long live prompts!

  6. English isn’t my first language, but the ‘never TO late to join in’ just makes me back away from reading further…. it’s TOO late and TOO much and just simply TOO annoying to have to point this out over and over again… sigh… Rant over

  7. Thank you for writing this! Gave me a lot to think about. I’m definitely one of those that would discard the prompt if I thought it was dumb or irrelevant to me. Now I will challenge myself to delve deeper!

  8. I hadn’t considered someof the things you suggested, thanks for giving me some great new ideas! Instead of socks I have a Lucky lap Cat. I write some of my best posts with his “Help”.

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