An Irregular Arrangement of Bones: The Value of the Writing Prompt

Last Saturday I attended my very first writer’s conference at the Ann Arbor Book Festival in Michigan. For the first time in ages, I was exposed to writing prompts, which have always seemed silly to me, since most aren’t intended for fantasy. As a fantasy author, they therefore always seemed like a useless diversion that had no real potential to propel me.

But now I realize that a good prompt can make you think outside the box, force you into a new mindset, and rejuvenate your writerly faith in yourself.  If you have ten or so minutes to create something, so much the better. Give it your best, most free-flowing shot; and your creativity will come to a boil.

You want to succeed at the prompt, at the challenge, to prove that yes, you are a writer. You aren’t faking it – are you?

Take this prompt, for example:

A situation occurs between two people where both have just been denied something they dearly want, yet the two people are not in opposition to one another.

Well, that sounds hard, right? But dammit, you’re a writer, you can do this. Fifteen minutes, go!… and this is what I surprised myself – and the conference’s keynote speaker – with:

Martin looked at the ear again, the irregular arrangement of the bones, and all he could think about was the money.

The keynote speaker, Rachel DeWoskin, told me she was impressed by this line, and that it needed to become a published story. Besides that, I recognized for myself the value of finally, finally, having written a first line that worked… a battle I have been fighting and losing with my current book. This outside-my-purview prompt, however, made me believe again that I could do it – that I could draw upon my own personal spark of brilliance, and make my current book work. 

In addition, the story I worked up was pretty decent; it’s always a boost to know you can write convincingly about a contemporary doctor and patient, not just about fantasy beings you make up. I look forward to future prompts, and to the unique perspectives that each one can bring to my desk.

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