Lately I've been using my first edition copy of Judy Reeves' A Writer's Book of Days as jumper cables for the muse, mostly reading bits of writerly trivia but occasionally using the daily prompts to do some practice writing. In the process I've discovered I dislike the term free writing; to me it implies that writing by schedule, planning what you write or otherwise organizing your writing time is imprisoning. I for one never felt more smothered or uninspired than the time I tried to write a story organically; even then I kept trying to outline it in my head.
Anyway. I was looking over the writing prompts for this week, and these four started to tell me a story:
October 5 Write about a fragment.
October 6 Write about small mistakes.
October 7 You're in a cafe.
October 8 Losing control.
For me writers don't make especially interesting characters, but I immediately envisioned a would-be novelist parked with his laptop in a book store cafe, indulging in some free writing while he hopes to impress the counter chicks with his stoic suffering. Only he writes something 1) that triggers a repressed, horrible memory, or 2) that another patron reads over his shoulder and then uses as a reason to physically attack him, or 3) finally makes him realize that whatever he writes alters his reality because he's an alien. Or a psychic projector. Or a ghost.
Once I had jotted down these thoughts, I promptly outlined and deposited them in the future stories idea file. The prompts also made me think of an interesting setting for a troublesome scene I've got to write for my current WIP.
I've always thought that writing prompts and practice writing can be great workouts for the imagination. They exercise your vision, warm up your problem-solving skills, and get your head in the right place for the serious stuff. I think the trick is to use them to get you started, but not allow them to distract you with the new/bright/shiny allure of new story. I'd love to spend the rest of the day writing the cafe story, and if my day were completely free I might, but my writing schedule is packed. I feel like the prompts did loosen me up, so now I'll see if I can keep the energy flowing as I transition over to the contracted work.
One more thing the prompts did for me: they sparked the idea for this post and a couple of others. When you haven't been blogging regularly, getting back into a daily routine can be a bit tough. Prompts may be the nudge you need to change that.
What's your favorite online or offline resource for creative prompts? Doesn't have to be for writing, either. Tell us in comments to this post (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, October 7, 2011. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner an unsigned paperback copy of the newly revised edition of A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.