A Somewhat Ridiculous Roundup of Writing Prompts


I’ve been collecting writing prompts…at least since middle school.

At the moment, I have literally thousands of writing prompts—everything from fiction prompts like “Write a story about…” to blog and journaling prompts like “What’s in your dream home?” And they’re scattered all over—in my Bookmarks folder, on Pinterest, in my email, somewhere in my hard drive.

(Also, for awhile, I kept an Evernote…um…note of random ideas and snippets and thoughts I came up with. I came across that note while researching for this post. Some of the entries include:

“Something about a chef…”


“The caterers forget the white zin for the bride’s grandmother. Chaos ensues.”

Make of those what you will.

Actually, if anyone writes the white zin story, please send it to me. I think that would be a killer short story compilation.)

(AND. Also when reviewing my Evernote archives, I found ALL SORTS OF STUFF. Blog posts saved from 2009 and 2010 – before Pinterest. Most telling? At least a dozen posts and articles about freelancing that I saved back in 2009 – 2011. Why the hell did it take me so long??)

(Final note on Evernote. I had a notebook titled “Wedding” with exactly ZERO notes saved or added after I got engaged. So. I don’t even know.)

So! The reason for this post is a little selfish, to be honest—I wanted to collect all those prompts, or as many as I could, in one place for my reference. I decided my blog is the best place to do that.

Why do I incessantly “collect” these prompts? After all, there’s no possible way I can write all these stories.

Which isn’t the point. It’s not about writing all the things. And it’s not about only writing using prompts. To me, writing prompts have two main purposes:

They get you out of a rut.

When you’re really struggling to come up with anything to write about, when none of your ideas sound remotely exciting or interesting, it’s an excellent practice to pull up a prompt of some kind, whether it’s specific or vague, a character question or a plot twist, a first line, whatever, and set a timer and just get something out.

They get you in a different creative headspace.

If, say, you’re always writing YA short stories, it can be really fun to scribble out a romance scene, or come up with a character for a western. Sometimes it can be good to answer a journaling question instead of trying to get in a character’s head, or make up something crazy and wild instead of trying to write another personal essay.

The ways I use prompts has shifted over time. I’ve gone periods where I have a dated list of prompts and I will go through and write about each one each day, whether it’s “calling” to me or not. Other times, once a week or so I’ll skim through a dozen or more ideas until I find one that gets me nodding my head and I’ll start writing on that.

I almost always use prompts in conjunction with some sort of timed practice. A warm-up, of sorts, to get my “creative writing mind” going before I turn to a larger project—or just to keep the rust from building up during the (too often, too long) periods when my mental energy is focused elsewhere (work, usually).

I very rarely try to write a complete story from a prompt. A blog post, sure, but there are some listed here that specifically challenge you to “write a 1000-word story about ____” and I don’t do that (yet).

All that said—there are, of course, no rules and no limits to what can and can’t be done with writing prompts. So if you’re inclined, enjoy.

This is one of the few you’ve gotta pay for, but I’ve been working through Laurie Wagner’s 27 Days e-course (slowly) and so far I’m loving it (edit: this version no longer available, sorry!). I will probably order the “27 Wilder Days” when I’m done. Less about writing fiction, more about self-exploration.

Last year, Death to Stock issued writing prompts on their Medium page. I imagine you can still write something down and respond directly, though they’re probably not actively reviewing responses. Or just look through the archives and get a jumpstart (there are 26 total).

Doesn’t look like this is updated anymore, but there’s almost 700 prompts in the archives.

Decent archive of themes and “first lines.”

The Write Practice shares daily articles with writing tips and advice, and they all have some kind of writing practice/prompt at the end.


(Also, if you sign up for email alerts for the Write Practice blog, you’ll get a PDF of 14 prompts that are expanded versions of some of the popular exercises.)

Of course, Writers Digest: sign up for their email list for a “Writing Prompt Boot Camp” ebook, and then they have weekly writing prompts. I also like their weekly poetry writing prompts (which don’t have to be used for poetry, do whatever you want).

Not so much fiction, more journaling/personal/essay/blogging: I’ve seen other bloggers share “8-minute memoirs” and I kinda love the idea of delving into memories based off a random object. Explanation/overview here and frequently updated prompts here. (Also, you can always turn a journaling prompt into a fiction one by writing it from the point of view of a character, just for fun.)

One of my favorite things to do, when I’m really stuck, is go to a coffee shop or a park or restaurant or somewhere people gather and talk, and I just write exactly what I see. I start with physical, objective observations, like two men sitting at the corner table. Both middle-aged. One with salt-and-pepper short hair and one with longer blond hair, like a stereotypical surfer. The blond is wearing… They’re talking about… Eventually, I move away from the empirical: The salt-and-pepper guy in the Hawaiian shirt is named Ralph and he’s a history teacher. He separate from his wife last summer. He likes to read Tom Clancy novels and adopted a dog after his wife moved out. These “storytelling exercises” also start you in the real world and help you move from there to your imagination.

I love visual writing prompts. Not all of these are great, but they’re definitely designed to challenge your creativity by thinking about bizarre scenarios.

Okay, I also have a ton of saved prompts that are specifically for blogging (and journaling, but mostly aimed at bloggers). I have mixed feelings about these because they’re so damn repetitive. There’s thousands of lists of “show us your workspace” and “what’s your morning routine?” and “your top 5 beauty tips” (for the record, mine are: floss at least 5 times a week, wear sunscreen, almost never put product in your hair or heat-style it, and…ummm…okay, I’m out). But, while there are still a lot of cliche prompts here, there are quite a few good ones too.

However, if you’re looking for non-cliche blogging-type writing prompts, look no further than Alex Franzen:

Again, “conversation starters” (and again: instead of answering as yourself, write your response as a character).

If you really want your standard list of “things to blog about,” this is the best I can find.

More blogging/journaling prompts, again, some cliche, but a lot are actually pretty good—and if you’re using it for blogging, several of these prompts could spur multiple blog posts. Like “What are you a ‘nerd’ for?” could get you writing a handful of posts about different passions or interests. Or the things you were really really into when you were [insert age]. Or the things you tried to get into but couldn’t hold your interest. See? Five bucks but well worth it.

Alright, if you’re just dying for blogging prompts, here and here. Sarah also doesn’t stand for “what’s in your purse” posts.

Still want more?


Storymatic. I freaking love this thing. It’s the tool I’ve used most frequently as of late.

Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves

In-person writing groups. Search for “writing groups” in your area on Meetup. I’ve just started going to one that meets weekly at a local coffeeshop that has a private separate room for groups like this. The group leader provides a prompt—in this group, it’s usually a short phrase—and we write for about 15-ish minutes, then we each get a chance to read what we wrote. Reading aloud is totally not terrifying. I was shocked to discover that. The first time I went, I was determined, oh no way in hell am I reading anything today. I wound up being the very last person to read. The next time I went, I volunteered to go, like, third. And it was fine. It was even kinda sorta a little bit fun. Really.


What’s really a shame is that, in researching for this post, I dug through archives on my external hard drive. Somehow, I have shit from high school on there, guys. I have attempts at God-awful fanfic. I have horrific poetry. I have old college essays. Thank God I’d had a couple glasses of wine before opening those files.

Anyway, the actual shame is not the writing I found in my hard drive. It’s the pages and pages of prompts and exercises and ideas I’d copied into Word docs, screenshot from blogs probably long gone now, scanned from old school assignments. Stuff I can’t share because if there’s a way to attribute it, there’s no way I’ll ever figure out how.

What I can do, and might do, one day, is start sharing prompts or exercises based on some of the “fiction” I’ve got stored away. I mean, some of those files…weren’t terrible. I could share a line or two as a “getting started” prompt, or somehow turn a half-page start of a story into an exercise. Or something. We’ll see.

On Starting


I plop to my butt in the snow and secure my boot in the binding. To get up, I do this awkward maneuver that involves pressing my hand down behind me and lurching forward with just enough momentum to stand up but not enough to fall on my face.

I stand poised at the top, my board perpendicular to the run extending below me. I’ve done this before. It’s been a year, but I’ve done this hundreds of times. I’ve done this very run dozens of times, at least, in my life.

And yet, I need to take a deep breath and convince myself to start.

This is unnatural. I’ll lose control. I can’t do this. I’ll fall. I’ll go too fast and hit something. My thoughts run loose in my head.

Shut up and do it. I shake my head, wiggle my toes, do this weird little hitch-hop to get momentum, and go.

I’ve been snowboarding since I was twelve or so—almost twenty years now. Most years, I get on the slopes just one or two days. A couple years in college I went on weeklong trips—four or five solid days of shredding (sort of). I’m not great at it, but I can get down pretty much any blue run and (sometimes) some easier black diamonds.

And yet, every time I strap in and scooch through the lift line for the first time, every time I less-than-gracefully slide off at the top of the lift, every time I check that my bindings are secure and gaze down the mountain, I have the hardest time pushing myself up and starting that dance with snow and gravity.

Within half a second of starting that first run, though, muscle memory takes over and my hips, quads, glutes, calves, whatever do their thing, and I turn and curve my way down. I watch the ground in front of me, keep an eye out for slower riders and skiers ahead, try to stay aware of how close I am to the trees, and constantly remind myself to “tell the board where to go,” as my friend once implored me during an impromptu lesson in high school. It’s easy and hard, simple and complicated. I’m focused on the big picture while my muscles perform the instant-by-instant tasks necessary to keep me upright.

Throughout the day, each time I get off a lift, it’s easier to just strap in, jump up, and go. My confidence returns with each ride and as I go down the same run three or four times, I learn about how it moves, the slow spots, the areas I can safely pick up speed, the icy patches to avoid, the bumps I may or may not be able to handle. After a couple tries, I take a certain turn harder, I know to watch my speed before approaching a steep drop, I feel more comfortable picking up speed during that drop, I scoot far to the side to attempt a small jump that’s been built up.

The first ride is just about getting down safely. The rides after that are about having fun, building confidence, and pushing my limits. And the couple times I’ve been lucky enough to go out more than two or three days in a row? The first ride of the second, third, fourth, fifth days feels like I’m just picking up where I left off the previous day.

How I wish it was the same with writing.

Every day, I open up my laptop and check either Gmail or my planner for the day’s tasks. I might be working on a nonprofit’s email newsletter or drafting a preview of a beer fest or trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about when describing a home’s architectural details.

It doesn’t matter what I wrote the day before, or even, in the afternoon, how much I wrote that morning. Opening up a new document and starting a new assignment is fucking hard and terrifying and almost every time, I just don’t want to do it.

It doesn’t get easier.

It’s not like I “warm up” and then pick up momentum and confidence as I go through my day.

Sometimes, when deadlines aren’t imminent, I’ll decide that my time today is better spent sorting through email or rearranging the piles of papers on my desk or tweaking my blog design. Anything, absolutely anything to not have to make words appear on the screen.

With snowboarding, the panicked mental chatter goes away as soon as I show myself I can still do this weird and crazy and exhilarating activity. With writing, I’m telling myself to shut up and do it from the first word to the very last word, every single day. That initial gut check, the terror that maybe I can’t actually do this, never seems to go away. And I can’t do anything but face it down, deal with it, and do my work.

Every single damn day.

The Doing Is the Thing


Everyone loves the line “Good for her, not for me” from Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.

And with good reason. I love that line. I repeat it to myself several times a week. But that’s not the line that stuck out most to me when I read the book. I fell for a line that I think resonated with a lot of other people, but for some reason I haven’t seen it discussed/mentioned/quoted as much.

Actually, it was this whole passage:

And then you just do it. You just dig in and write it. You use your body. You lean over the computer and stretch and pace. You write and then cook something and write some more. You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true. You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.

The doing is the thing.

The doing is the thing.

And her brilliance continues:

Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried is it not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.

Yes. Yes!

Lately — most of the summer, I’d say — I’ve spent a lot of time talking and worrying and thinking. Planning, too. But not doing. And the stuff I have “done” has been half-hearted, at best.

And I know, at least in part, why that is. I’m scared — terrified — that I’m not good enough.

That I don’t have it in me to succeed as a freelancer.

That I’ll always be stuck doing the same types of projects for the same clients. (Just to be clear, I love the clients I have right now, and I enjoy the work I do for them. But that doesn’t mean I want to do that and only that for the rest of my career.)

That I’ll forever be spinning my wheels and just barely staying afloat (and mixing metaphors).

That my writing just isn’t that good.

That I don’t have the discipline or persistence to get better.

In the beginning of the year, I signed up for this online course on writing for magazines. It was pricey, for me, but taught by two really successful and respected freelancers and I thought, hey, I don’t really have any training in journalism or that style of writing and a lot of people say it’s fun and can be lucrative. They had weekly (bi-weekly?) assignments and a private forum/message board for the course where we’d submit our homework and it would get reviewed by actual magazine editors.

I only completed one lesson.

I told myself it was because I got really busy in January and February. Because I was focusing on other projects. Because I probably don’t really want to pursue magazine writing, anyway. Because online courses just aren’t my thing. Because I could still download all the course materials and go through them on my own time, eventually.

But come on. I was scared that I’d submit my work and these real-life, big-time editors (and fellow writers!) wouldn’t like it. That it wouldn’t be any good.

And rather than face that fear and get some feedback and instruction that would help me get better, I chickened out and didn’t do anything. It was a huge disservice (and expense!) to myself, my business, and my writing.

I didn’t do the thing.

I’ve realized and been thinking about this a lot recently. My big 29stories project has sputtered and basically come to a full stop. I hit some major “blogger’s block” and got frustrated because I’m not taking the steps I know I need to take to grow this blog because I don’t really know what I want it to be. So I spent the better part of August trying to “brainstorm” and “plan” and “taking a step back” and “evaluating” which are all a bunch of fancy words for not really doing anything.

I made plans and goals to land some guest posting opportunities and send out pitches and letters of inquiry and queries to drum up some more business and potentially new clients…and spent two hours making this big spreadsheet of all the businesses and publications I want to contact. When I did send out some pitches, they were formulaic and half-hearted and barely got any responses, so I got frustrated and scaled back to “re-evaluate” and realized hey, I need to re-do my website before sending any more pitches! And I started…planning and brainstorming on how to do that. My website has yet to be touched.

Instead, I’ve been updating old blog posts with re-sized photos and typo corrections and double-checked links. I’ve been avoiding writing the posts I really want to write because I don’t want to screw them up. I’ve been putting off doing things like buying ad space or editing my website copy or sending out legit, polished letters of inquiry or pitches for actual, developed guest posts. I’ve been trying to keep my Feedly unread list from getting out of control. I’ve been building spreadsheets to track my income and expenses or time per client or project. All things to keep me busy and feeling accomplished without doing the thing.

And I’m writing this now — and feeling downright terrified, again — to say that needs to, and will, change. That I am committing to doing the thing — to writing, to blogging, to growing my business, to improving. To facing my fears and trusting the worst outcomes I imagine actually won’t happen. To stop giving myself excuses.

Because the doing is the thing.