What do we owe our writing prompts?

Most, if not all, of us have experienced writer’s block at one point or another. I tend to experience writer’s block the most when I first sit down to begin a poem. That being said, I have come to be quite fond of prompts. I honestly believe that some of my best work has stemmed from a given prompt, as they usually force me outside my comfort zone and away from my natural train of thought. Thus, I always appreciate the prompts that Professor Lytton feeds us through our class handout. While, I usually have fun challenging myself to write a poem about a “One night stand with an astronaut,” or reproducing my favorite poem in negative images, I still struggle with writer’s block.

For instance, this week’s main prompt asked us to create a poem that felt like its lines were balancing both gravity and flight. As the wheels in my brain began turning, I could not think of anything “worthy” to write down. This feeling of being lost on the page eventually subsided and a poem began to emerge. It was literally about flight, as in the act of flying in a plane, not the war between weightlessness and mass in my lines. I felt as ifI had failed the prompt, even if it had done its job of giving me something to work towards.

Similarly, last week we were asked to choose ten outstanding lines from other poems, compile them all into one poem, and then build our own poem off of this foundation. I ended up using an image from the first line I chose and scrapped the rest. Again, not what the prompt was asking.

I understand that the prompt is meant to simply lead one down the path to a new poetic concept, yet I can’t shake the feeling that I owe the prompt something once I use it as a springboard (especially considering that none of my latest exercises look anything like the prompts that they originated from.) What are your thoughts on this or prompts in general? Any cool ideas for a prompt? Please feel free to share!

2 Replies to “What do we owe our writing prompts?”

  1. That’s why I like games so much! A game lets you write down goofy stuff without worrying about whether or not it’s worthy – you just write stuff down and hope it sticks!

    Try playing games with your friends! Even the friends that don’t like to write might have some fun coming up with goofy sayings etc.

    You’d also be surprised by the dark recesses of the internet. Check out this site for some inspo: http://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

  2. I also am a fan of prompts. What I really like about your post is how it shows all the different ways to interpret a simple prompt, like the one we wrote about that dealt with gravity and flight, that you described. While that idea led you to flying a plane, it reminded me of running and feeling like you’re flying because you’re going so fast, but yet also getting tired and wanting to just fall to the ground, like gravity. It’s so great that we got totally different ideas, but both came from the same source. I also think prompts can get you to think about different aspects of your poetry, for instance there were some prompts earlier in the year that dealt with punctuation or form, while other’s prompts I thought of as more about ideas. So I agree that prompts can be really helpful!

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