Stop Wasting Your Time With Writing Prompts (and Start Using Them The Right Way)

Writing prompts. Those little snips of inspiration, be they characters, dialogue exchanges, setting or situations that are meant to spur us into writing with ideas we would never have come up with on our own.

Writing prompts are usually aimed at new writers but even long established writers can benefit from a prompt in the right creative direction.

The big problem is that few writers, new or established, actually know how to use a writing prompt.

how to use writing prompts the right way

Few writers realise the power behind writing prompts and this means that most writers using writing prompts are wasting their time and their words by writing trivial exercises that don’t actually serve where they want to go as writers.

Does this sound like you? Do you want to stop writing practice pieces and start producing real, publishable content?

This strategy is a bare bones version of the strategy I developed in my book Writing Prompts for Powerful Plots: A 12 Step No Fail Writing Strategy.

The beauty of this approach is that it lets you use writing prompts as both a creative exercise and a way to develop a complete  work of fiction.

Step 1.
Decide What You Want to Write

We’re beyond writing for the sake of skills exercise now. We’re practising as in actually doing, actually creating and we’re about to write a complete piece of fiction. What’s it going to be? Format? Length? Genre? Tone? Decide this from the start and commit. This commitment will guide you through the rest of your writing journey.

Step 2.
Choose a prompt

Whether you decide to select a random writing prompt or scour through a collection until one speaks to you and your creative sensibilities, is entirely up to you.

Critical Tips:

Choose a writing prompt not intended for the genre or style you want to work with.
Select multiple prompts, combine them and let them play off each other.

Why? Because unexpected combination is where originality happens.

Step 3.
Unpack the Prompt

Look at exactly what the prompts are suggesting. Who are the people? What’s the setting? Themes? Emotions? Anything else the prompt is prompting. Be sure to look for ways in which the prompts conflict and contrast one another – this is storytelling gold!

Step 4.

Take everything the prompts have suggested and everything you’ve already decided you want to write and bring it all together. Make notes on absolutely every idea you have.

Step 5.
Go and Do Something Else

Resting and distracting your mind is a critical part of the creative process. All of the ideas from your epic brainstorming session are now inside your head. Let them rest, mature, evolve.

Step 6.
Collate Ideas and Find Your Characters

If you’ve had any great ideas during your rest, note them down. Now, look through all your notes and identify your characters. Look for a protagonist, antagonist, supporting cast, love interests and the rest of the ensemble. The decisions you made in Step 1 will guide a lot of these choices. How many characters do you need?

Step 7.
Make Bad Things Happen

Good stories are all about bad things. Adversity, struggles, fears, threats, and the way people overcome these obstacles are what make plots. Yes, this is even true of the most schmaltzy happily ever after romance story. Think about what’s the worst thing that can happen to you protagonist and make them deal with it.

Step 8.
Complete The Character Arc

The reason we’re all drawn to stories about people suffering is that people change through adversity and triumph and all good stories have some form of satisfying character transformation. What changes your character? How have they changed? In a lot of cases, the type of story you’re writing will guide these answers for you.

Step 9.

You might be an pre-plotting outliner and all of these ideas and questions will form the basis of the plan you now come up with for the specific details of the narrative. If you’re a discovery writer (we’ll also call you a pantser) this is more than enough information for you to hit the page running and see what happens. Can’t decide if you’re a plotter or a pantser? Here’s why it doesn’t really matter.

writing prompts

For an in depth approach to using writing prompts, check out

Writing Prompts for Powerful Plots:
A 12 Step No Fail Writing Strategy.



Kate Krake
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Kate Krake

Kate Krake writes speculative fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of the urban fantasy series Guessing Tales. Kate blogs about popular culture, health, wellness and creative writing. She lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, daughter and two beagles. Find out more on
Kate Krake
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