We’ve all been there: those days when, no matter how many cups of coffee you drink or hopeful-sounding songs you blast, you just can’t seem to write anything good. Maybe your plot is dragging, or your dialogue feels stilted, or your prose just comes out sounding totally uninspired. Of course, the worst is when you’re incapable of writing altogether, and the day ends up being a total waste.
I’m here to offer an unusual solution to these highly prevalent issues: instead of persevering through your creative obstacles, turn your back on them. Or at least turn your back on your current project, and your pen toward something new! Because one of the best ways to vanquish your creative demons is to get creative in a different way — through genres, plots, and characters that you might never have considered writing about before.
And how are you going to do that? Two words: writing prompts. Yes, these funny little story-starters are one of the most underutilized resources in any writer’s toolbelt. Believe it or not, writing prompts can solve just about any problem you might be having with your craft… as long as you know how to use them. So without further ado, here are five of the most common creative problems that writers encounter, accompanied by prompts to help you overcome them.
Problem #1: Your writing sounds stuffy and pretentious
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common issue. You worry so much about making your writing sound “literary,” you forget that there’s such a thing as too literary — i.e. when your writing starts to verge on purple prose, which is unnaturally ornate and often barely comprehensible. Not only is this unpleasant to read, it also tends to happen at the expense of the actual story… and that’s when you really get stuck in the metaphorical mud.
Solution? Play around with comedy prompts to lighten up your writing! You might even be able to turn stuffiness into parody, making fun of yourself as a means of genuinely improving your craft. Here are some great comical prompts that’ll loosen your tightly wound language:
- Write a short story about a professional hypnotizer.
- You’re on a blind date — with your sworn enemy.
- It was the highest stakes game of rock-paper-scissors ever played.
Problem #2: Your plot lacks suspense and excitement
Every story needs at least a little bit of suspense to keep readers intrigued. You’ll know if your story is missing it because every plot problem gets solved right away, moments of excitement and action quickly fade into the background, and you struggle to create meaningful conflict and stakes for your characters.
Solution? Take a leaf out of James Patterson’s book (literally) and write a thriller story! Building up to a big reveal will hone your sense of what’s exciting to readers, and maybe even give you ideas for a plot twist or two in your main project! The following prompts should give you a notion of what makes for strong suspense in a story:
- She has been walking for hours. Her feet are starting to bleed. But she can’t stop moving… she can’t let him find her again.
- You find a handwritten note on your windshield that says Drive west for 100 miles.
- A loved one confides in you, but the secret could damage someone else you care about. What do you do?
Problem #3: Your characters are totally two-dimensional
This one tends to happen when you’re so focused on the plot (which isn’t a bad thing in itself!) that your character suffer. You’re so eager to move the story along that your main characters devolve into cardboard cutouts, and your secondary characters are barely even present. But as you probably know, getting readers to care about your characters is critical to getting them invested in the story as a whole — so what can you do to sharpen your characterization skills?
Solution: Try your hand at romance! Though this might seem counterintuitive based on certain commercially popular romances (after all, Edward and Bella aren’t exactly the deepest characters around), romance is a highly character-driven genre as a whole. A good romance needs strong characterization to succeed — and playing your main couple off each other in a compelling yet realistic way may be exactly the challenge you need to up your character game. Here are some lovey-dovey prompts you might employ to that effect:
- Someone with anxiety falls in love with someone extremely adventurous.
- At a friend’s urging, you begrudgingly attend a Valentine’s Day speed dating event.
- You’ve been bumping into the same stranger for months. Finally you decide to say hello.
Problem #4: Your story is a carbon copy of someone else’s
Unoriginality is one of the greatest sins of the creative world, and therefore one of the hardest to admit. But deep down, you know the truth: are you actually writing what you want to write, or are you just trying to pen the next Gone Girl? Of course, there may be some overlap between the story in your heart and the story that’s done so well on the NYT Bestseller list. But at the end of the day, what’s going to make your story great is what YOU bring to the table.
Solution? Write fantasy! No other genre is more conducive to ultimate creativity. Whatever’s in your imagination, whatever sets you apart from the crowd, writing fantasy is your best chance at getting it out on the page. And again, though it might seem counterintuitive to originality, here are some intriguing fantasy prompts to get you started:
- Did that painting just wink at me?
- Bottled emotions are a product you can buy.
- I suddenly realized my survival depended on…
Problem #5: You just can’t get anything done
And now we return again to the worst of all prospects: you can’t seem to write anything and you’re completely deterred, discouraged, and at this point despondent. Your project is going nowhere. You have no idea why you ever wanted to become a writer. You’re ready to renounce this pipe dream for what it is. But wait… don’t give up yet!
Solution? Just write anything. No, it might not end up becoming part of your main piece — indeed, it might not become part of anything at all. But here’s the thing: not all writing has to be brilliant. Not all writing has to eventually factor into a larger project. Sometimes you write just to prove to yourself you can still write, and that’s okay.
Needless to say, any number of creative writing prompts will suffice for this solution. In fact, it’s better that you figure it out for yourself, because the best writing will come from the prompt that inspires you most. So go forth and write like the wind; all you need is to catch the right breeze.
Bonus solution! If you want a bit of an extra challenge, take any of the prompts above and try weaving a story in a different genre than the one suggested. It’s a great way to stretch your creative muscles (plus you might just end up with a 100% original bestseller on your hands).
Kleia Paluca is a writer for Reedsy. Reedsy is a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. They also provide tools and resources to help authors. If you’re interested in more craft-based tips like these, head on over to the Reedsy blog!
Categories: Guest Post