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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.

  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.

  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. :)

  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!

  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. ;)

  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.

  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.

  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

  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!

  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.

  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…

  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!

  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. :)

  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.

  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.

  16. I don’t know how to thank you for this article and also for the really inspiring prompts. I would like to confess here that before this January, I never imagined that something as helpful as a “Daily Prompt” can really exist. This is in spite of the fact that I have been on WordPress since 2008.
    Although it has been little difficult to write everyday on my personal blog (http://authorranjit.wordpress.com/), the prompts that you have been posting since the beginning of January have inspired me to make it a point to at least post everyday on my professional blog (http://zttrr.wordpress.com/).
    And now I am more than happy to be able to download the *365 Days of Writing Prompts* ebook.
    I am happy to be a part of this very supportive, erudite and forward-thinking community.

    1. Oh, that’s another good point: it doesn’t matter when you find the prompt, you can respond at any time? If yesterday’s inspires more than today’s, then go for it!

  17. Thanks for the advice. I first started blogging back in December and have found the experience quite liberating, and the prompts have certainly been helpful in giving me inspiration as to what to write. The weekly writing challenges have been good as well, helping to broaden my repertoire.

  18. I don’t know how to thank you for this article and also for the really inspiring prompts. I would like to confess here that before this January, I never imagined that something as helpful as a “Daily Prompt” can really exist. This is in spite of the fact that I have been on WordPress since 2008.
    Although it has been little difficult to write everyday on my personal blog (http://authorranjit.wordpress.com/), the prompts that you have been posting since the beginning of January have inspired me to make it a point to at least post everyday on my professional blog (zttrr.wordpress.com).
    And now I am more than happy to be able to download the *365 Days of Writing Prompts* ebook.
    I am happy to be a part of this very supportive, erudite and forward-thinking community.

  19. Just made an ‘anti prompter’ post! (I think…) Thanks for the idea Michelle, it really helped me connect the context in my way….

  20. Ill admit I normally take the prompt at face value and either have inspiration or I don’t. But ill try to look at them in a different light now thought. I normally disabled ping backs on my entries though or I seem to get inundated with every person that decides to include the entire list of entrants on their own post and all i have to show under comments is a mish-match of pingbacks.

  21. Completely happy to know that you don’t have to treat prompts like The Daily Prompt as assignments or requirements! I started a fiction-poetry blog a few months ago using the Daily Prompt as a starting point.

    Bonus! The Daily Prompt also includes a separate prompt for poets and photographers! – I often use that alternate prompt for my fiction.

    I’d been feeling semi-guilty about not responding directly to the prompts. Thanks for a great article.

  22. Cool….am totally gonna try out the daily promts…….I’m gonna need ya’ll help to boost my blog…….please give me a follow……..thank you

  23. I have frequently posted photos in response to the daily prompts and then have fun writing a couple paragraphs explaining how my mind connects the photo with the prompt. In this way I can go with my creativity with photography and writing. I am always amazed that you and the team can come up with such unique prompts day after day.

  24. I learned how to enjoy prompts from an online class with Cynthia Morris, (originalimpulse.com) where I finally saw them as just a light switch flipping on my inner light to go with whatever flowed out of the pen. It helps that we do free writing, no stopping and thinking. Not allowed. I suppose if I did that, it wouldn’t work. But enjoy how it wakes up my “sub,” or what I would call “sleeping” consciousness!

  25. Once, at a drama workshop in 1990. The prompt was ‘He’s a writer.’ The teacher had asked if anyone could write a short play, then came the prompt,them came the question ‘Can you have something for us next week?’ I wasn’t a writer, but faced with the prospect of never going outside again, which I gave some serious thought to, I wrote a twenty minute play called The Trial of the Living Dead. It was a trial/gameshow about a reanimated corpse on trial for his life for not paying his poll-tax (a tax introduced by maggie tatcher, there were riots over it).

    And thus did I invent reality television.

    If only I’d thought of that at the time.

  26. Encouraging! this gave me some courage to run my fingers through the keyboard. fortunately, Embarrassment and anonymity are not good friends. ;)

  27. Since I started blogging 2 months ago, everyday I was always curious of the inspiration for the day. It always overwhelms me that the next thing I knew, it was already a new day; a new daily prompt again! So I never get to write anything at all :-)

    Another thing is the time difference; I should be watching out for the new Daily Prompt at around 8:00 PM here in my place. By then, I’d be already sleeping cause I’ll be working the next day. When I get home from work, voila! another Daily Prompt :-)

  28. The prompts really do help me to get rolling again when I feel blocked! I’m glad I’ve resubscribed to the Daily Post, because it helps me to feel like I’m part of the community, rather than just a voice out there writing on my own.

  29. Hi Michelle, You really got me there, though sometimes I respond to prompt but mostly after writing i think my idea is not good and it goes to pending draft. Loved your post and getting inspired. Thanks.

  30. This was a very encouraging and inspirational post! I’m just starting out in the world of blogging and I’m already a little “blocked” as to what I could post next. Thanks for the tips!:)

  31. Sometimes the Daily Prompt has been so close to something I have recently published it’s almost spooky. A couple of times I have actually gone back an linked a recent post with the Daily Prompt page for that reason. I don’t respond to all the prompts, time permitting I use the ones that “speak to me” and ignore the ones that don’t– but I have really appreciated them as a source of inspiration. Some of my favourites have been the ones I “deconstructed” because the prompt itself irked me so much.

  32. From a rookie blogger – sometimes I use my previous posts as prompts.

    Today you inspired me to recap my last twenty five days. Horrifying, inspiring and not what I expected!

  33. The short answer is no. The longer answer is over on one of my blogs where I actually did a pretty harsh critique about people who revolve their blogs around prompts and challenges, so I won’t add the link.

    One commenter to that post added a very valid point, saying that you can often end up with a load of posts that are all saying the same thing.

    I’ll do the photochallenge from time to time, but only if I can think of a different twist for it, rather than what WP suggests we go with, for pretty much the same reason, say the challenge was ‘bridge’ then I might not go for an actual bridge, but something different that was bridging the gap, I don’t know, muslim and jew shaking hands for example.

    I don’t like the idea of blogging daily (I could and without prompts) because I find it hard to keep up with daily blogs, and to comment on them too. I have more than one blog, and I don’t want to overload my regular readers. I spend half my time on commenting, rather than more blogging. So the idea of a prompt, whether daily or at all, just doesn’t fit with the way I blog.

    If other people need it, or find it helpful, that’s fine. But people should also learn to look for their own ‘prompts’. Is there something in the news locally or internationally that you could write about? Or post a photo of? That’s an easy but obvious one. Did you listen to some music, read a book, have a conversation that you could expand into a post? A little imagination is all it takes.

    1. “People should also learn to look for their own ‘prompts’.”

      Totally agree, for those of us who write personal or topical blogs. For those who have blogs to use as a place to cultivate a writing practice, writing to a prompt can be a useful exercise.