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Creative Writing Prompts for Crushing Writer's Block
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Written by
She Writes
10 days ago
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
10 days ago

This guest post was provided Marilyn McCoppen creator of TaleKick, a writing prompt app for creators who need a nudge to get their story started.

I sat staring at my computer waiting for the muse to appear. 

Longing for some inspiration to show up outside my window. A bird? A jogger? A memory? And the pressure of a deadline made it even worse. The clock ticks. Slow panic creeps in. I feel the blank screen in front of me as an adversary; a challenge I maybe am not ready to meet. Maybe sit here and wait, as suggested by some. It’s agonizing. 

Writer's Block

For many of us, the symptoms of writer's block – staring at a blank computer screen or page with no clue how to begin, stomach clenching, throat tightening,– are all too familiar. But is our suffering a real syndrome or simply an excuse for being unproductive?

"Sure, writer's block is real," says poet and essayist Julia Spicher Kasdorf, director of Penn State's Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. "It's as real as any kind of anxiety."

Writer's block, defined as a temporary inability to begin or continue a writing project due to fear, anxiety or lack of inspiration-strikes professional and non-professional writers alike. It is not a clinical psychological diagnosis and you won't find the causes and cures for it on WebMD, yet the creative paralysis can last a few minutes or up to decades in extreme cases.

For instance, thirty depression-filled years passed for American novelist and short story writer Henry Roth between the publication of his first and second novels. And The Metamorphosis is believed to be the only novel Czech writer Franz Kafka finished in his lifetime. (Most of his work was incomplete and published posthumously.)

The anxiety of writer's block can be particularly potent when there is pressure to produce. Explains Kasdorf, "When being a writer is entangled with your personal identity or when your product is going to get you tenure or not, that raises the stakes."

Author Ernest Hemingway dodged bullets as a war correspondent, fought bulls in Spain, and hunted big game in Africa. But when asked to name the scariest thing he ever encountered, he answered, "A blank sheet of paper."

Writer’s block is a recognized problem. In his book Understanding Writing Block, Keith Hjortshoj says: “Writing blocks are most common among advanced undergraduates, graduate students, scholars, and other professional writers who are not supposed to need help with writing and do not need the kinds of writing instruction offered in the typical composition course.”

Writer’s block can even hamper younger writers, not professionals, but high school students or even grade school kids. It’s an equal opportunity dilemma. 

Writing Prompts

Knowing this and having experienced the frozen feeling myself as an aspiring writer, I did some research on creative writing prompts available to help. There are quite a few on the web. Some suggest the first line of a paragraph which you are to complete. Some offer a character facing a situation. Others throw out hypothetical situations to help you get inspired. 

All of them encourage you to begin. Just begin somewhere. It’s a good idea to loosen up the imagination. Maybe try new things out and exercise your thoughts in a new direction.

A quick search on the Apple store or Google will send you to all sorts of options. There is a list at the end of this article which will link to some of the best websites offering ideas.

And now there are apps as well. I designed my own simple prompt to help generate original stories.

My app is designed for the more adult writer. TaleKick. 

Many of the apps I found are educational, for younger writers. TaleKick uses the five classical storytelling elements:

  • Theme
  • Character
  • Conflict
  • Setting
  • Time period

The app provides a five-tiered spinning wheel to randomly serve up options in each of these categories. 

Here is an example of a random spin:

Theme:             Heartbreak

Character:       An illiterate person

Conflict:            Family pressure

Setting:              Bookstore

Time period:    Past   

“The year is 1910. The place is New York. A young woman, 21 years old, is a recent immigrant. Her name is Giselle. She works as a maid in a fine upper-class neighborhood, which contrasts with her own shared tenement. She notices a bookstore in the neighborhood where she works and she ventures in. There is a poets gathering and she slips in the back and listens. She has no education to speak of and knows enough English to get by, but she wants to learn more. This poetry is drawing Giselle in. She has been struggling to save money to bring her husband and baby to join her. Though in truth she did not love the man she was forced to marry back home and while the baby is wonderful, she was not a natural mother. She longs for more in her life”…. to be continued.

The above is an example of where one can go with the suggestions.

And here is another example:

Theme:             Security  

Character:       Flake  

Conflict:           Rainstorm 

Setting:             Jail

Time period:   Future 

“The electro fields have been on and off all night, maybe because of the non-stop rainstorm. Heck, it has been raining for 2 months straight and this lousy cell block has had leaks from above and the sides. Fuck the solar idea. It’s old and spotty and won’t hack the rain anyway. Twenty years ago they blamed “global warming”. My ass. It has only gotten wet and cold here. Maybe that’s why they put us all up north. Keep us on ice. The other stiffs in here are making noises because of the lights and all. Me, I’m hoping it goes dark and I can find a way out of this hell hole. I have my ideas. The locks won’t work soon. I know that. My cage door swings open, I am out. Yessiree. My story? I am not made for this life in here. I can’t keep it up. I made some deals and I am not going to come through. I owe too many too much in here. They’re coming for me, so this electro screw up is the best thing. Thank you rain! I have no friends in here anymore. Wore them out, just like in my old life. No good in here, and no good back home. I have to find a new set of suckers.”

Here is the app which I used for the story starts above:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/talekick/id1333626941?mt=8

Here are some helpful links for storytellers:

https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_stanton_the_clues_to_a_great_story#t-564520

https://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/how-to-tell-a-good-story

https://goinswriter.com/tell-story/

And some creative writing prompts:

http://creativewritingprompts.com

http://stoney.sb.org/eno/oblique.html

https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

And some writers writing about writing:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/03/advice-on-writing/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/03/top-10-writers-tips-on-writing

Please be patient with yourself and let your imagination flow. We all have stories to tell and it’s like sitting around a campfire long ago before laptops and podcasts. When you have a good one, you don’t want to be anywhere else and you hope it’s a long one.

Best of luck!

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Comments
  • Delin Colón

    I believe that part of the problem lies in the perception of the issue as a "block." I prefer to see it as a crossroads. The latter allows for choices whereas the former simply indicates a stoppage. If you're going to write an article, or a work of non-fiction, it always helps to define the subject matter first. From that definition, the scope of the subject matter can lead to further elaboration.
    As stated above, a writer can gain more focus by identifying the theme, conflict, characters, etc. Personally, I find that writing a background piece (solely for the author's benefit, not necessarily included in the work) describing the characters and their histories can often move the work along. In the process of writing a fiction piece, when you get to a point where you don't know what happens next, and feel stuck, don't call it a 'block.' There are choices. You can make a list of the various possibilities, the various directions, the plot or the character could go.
    Frankly, sometimes you just need to walk away and go do something mindless, like household chores, and stop trying to force something. I often find that ideas come to me while in the process of doing some repetitive, physical chore. Sometimes you can't just force inspiration; you have to let it bubble up from your subconscious, which happens more easily when the brain is in a more relaxed mode.