Tuesday, December 18, 2012

4 Benefits to Writing Prompts

by Shellie Neuemeier

Married for over 20 years, Shellie and her husband have four wonderful kiddos and two goofy greyhounds.  Shellie writes because it keeps her away from her husband’s power tools and because every now and then, she doesn’t have the choice, it just takes over.  Her best inspiration comes from God and the occasional walk along a country road with her greyhounds. Shellie is the founder of NextGen Writers, a free on-line writers conference for teens, and the author of several books, including Driven. Her latest release is Grudges Not Included, which you can learn more about here.

Hey Go Teen Writers! **Waves**

I’m really excited to talk to you all about writing prompts for a couple reasons. First because sometimes we just need to know why we do the things we do. Are you responding to Stephanie’s writing prompt contests because you love writing? You’re competitive and are dying to get that top spot? Because you’ve made great friends and connections through the challenges and can’t give that up? Or is there another reason? And second, we’re going to take a moment and give back to Stephanie for all the hard work she’s done for us.

First, why do we bother with writing prompts? Or rather, why should we? Let’s take a step back from writing and look at biology for a second. While the brain is considered an organ and not a muscle, mental exercises have been shown to enhance the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that improves with learning and controls logical thinking, anticipates events, considers decisions, and regulates social control) similar to the way physical exercise benefits a muscle. With that in mind, let’s look at ways those mental chin-ups can improve your writing…

Pulls you out of your box

Prompts widen your writing horizons by exposing you to new topics. As writer’s we’re always encouraged to find our niche, write what we know, brand our genre; but prompts give us the freedom to write outside our preferred genre. They expose writers, even seasoned ones, to worlds and subject matters we otherwise ignore.

Smashes writer’s block

Because prompts provide new landscapes for our writing brains to play with, they rip through writer’s block like a runner through the finish line. They provide new focus and new questions which we can bring to our other writings. If we save them, prompt writing can become our go-to scrap file. You know. That place where we keep our favorite descriptions, our pet phrases. Why those prompts may even inspire an entire storyline. It worked for me. Grudges Not Included, my recent Christmas release, started with a prompt from a new friend. The prompt: every year in Boerne, TX, a nostalgic Christmas event takes place—The Dickens Event. What happens when The Dickens Event gives life to classic Dicken’s tales? The results: old world Christmas meets modern-day Texas. Cake Boss meets David Copperfield.

Creates new focus

As prompts permit us to write through unfamiliar territory, it refines our preferences and style. Think of it this way, if we didn’t try new foods, we’d never know we hate Brussel sprouts, but love peppermint-stick ice cream (ok, my discovery…you may love sprouts and hate ice cream…it could happen). Our food preferences narrow. Similarly, our writing style sharpens. Remember that Texan Christmas novella? An odd story for a non-baker from Ohio to write, but I’ve since learned I enjoy writing comical characters and have expanded my writing to include romance (but only a little :)).

Frees your writing

Writing prompts encourage free writing without self-edits. Sometimes that inner editor squashes the best ideas, metaphors, plot twists, and creativity. Regular free writing teaches us how to bind the inner editor, if for only a moment, and it permits our imaginations to fly. The resulting creativity is the very thing agents and editors are looking for in fresh manuscripts.

Perfects your craft

Best of all, frequent writing through prompts polishes our writing skills. They provide literary practice for us to hone our grammatical rule usage, to enhance our descriptive writing, and to wrestle with imagery. So whether you submit your writing prompt answers because you’re competitive or because you itch to receive first place accolades, you and your writing will benefit from participating in Go Teen Writers’ prompt challenges.

But it takes so much work from the judges to the organizing to creating the prompts themselves. Let’s give back to Stephanie. Call it our Christmas gift to her. Let’s make up next year’s writing prompts for her. In the form or comments section below, submit your most creative writer’s prompt (keep it to 25 words or less). Who knows, maybe you’ll see your prompt in the next Go Teen Writer’s challenge.

Stephanie here - While I feel like you all give me a gift just by being return visitors to Go Teen Writers, I love the idea of hearing your suggestions for future Go Teen Writers challenges. If you're like me and you're a bit shy, you can utilize the form below and it'll be just between you and me. If you're blessed with boldness (how I envy you!) you can leave your suggestion in the comments section.

Thanks, Shellie, for such a wonderful post! 


  1. Wow, that's such a cool idea! And thank you for posting!

    By the way, Go Teen Writers is a gift :)

    1. Thanks, Amanda! You all are what make it such a special place :)

    2. My pleasure. And I so agree, GTW is an amazing gift!

  2. Stephanie, if it wasn't for you and Go Teen Writers, I would never have finished the first draft of my first book! Thank you so much! :) And thank you, Mrs. Neuemeier, for reminding us why we do writing proptms and why we need to keep saying thank you to all of the blog authors!
    ~Sarah Faulkner


    1. Oh, that's so wonderful to hear, Sarah! Thanks for hanging out with us and engaging in the conversation so often.

    2. YW, Sarah. My pleasure:) and Congrats on your first draft!

  3. Fabulous idea (and great post.) I love the freedom writing prompts offer - a quick way to jump into the fun bits of writing, without the added commitment of writing the whole book (outlining, planning, etc.)

    Thank you for GTW, Stephanie. :) I love having new insights to read (instead of going over old textbooks) and the interaction and community here is so wonderful. :)

    Merry Christmas, everyone! *hug*

    1. Thanks for being a part of it, Olivia! Merry Christmas to you too!

    2. TY, Olivia! Merry Christmas to you too!

  4. Ooh! Prompt suggestions! Hm...

    Prompt: "I am now a liar."

    1. LD, that invokes so many places to go. Love it!

  5. Great post, Ms. Neuemeier! I'll definitely submit a prompt in the form!

  6. First Mrs. Morrill, thank you for all you do. I love the blog and have learned so much. Thank you.

    I think a great prompt would be to have each writer come up with something from a historical period. Either a generic time period or a specific era or year of something. Maybe say that the entry must be set in the Civil War Era. Or around a certain event, like the Civil War or even more specific, like about the Gettysburg Address or battle. Maybe open it up to a year. Like have each entry be about 1945. Or to inspire other creativity and force writers to

  7. think even more outside the box with a fantasy/futuristic type prompt. That would be challenging to me because I mostly write modern day stories and some historicals. I have

  8. never attempted a futuristic or fantasy story. I could be interesting.

    PS. Sorry that I have so many comments. It is messing up.

    1. No worries, 4. Those are great ideas. Definitely thought provoking!

  9. Awesome post! thanks Shellie and Stephanie! I never thought about using writing prompts before but i guess its a pretty good idea!
    I like the idea of letting us make up some prompts!
    Thanks again! =D

  10. Scenario Prompt: A character named Jordan is trying to remember something.

    Sentence Prompt: "And so it continues"

    Merry Christmas!

  11. Write a scenario where a 13 yr. old has her hands tied together and her friend is standing in front of her.

    ~Robyn Hoode

  12. Sentence prompt! 'And then she burst into flames."

    ~Robyn Hoode

  13. Loooved this! Thanks to both you fabulous ladies. "Things couldn't have been worse/better"

  14. Here are my prompts:
    -He had said it more times than anyone could count, and they still didn't believe him.
    -Every time she closed her eyes, it happened.
    -She was too old to be afraid of the dark.
    -The voice was _______.
    -The song on the radio made her gasp.
    -It was everywhere and nowhere.
    Thanks for all the great prompts, Stephanie- and the great article, Mrs. Neumeier!

  15. I'm taking notes, guys. These are great!

  16. That was 5 benefits, not 4! The benefits of word prompts know no limits...

    1. That's my bad :) Shellie is way too good with numbers to ever make a mistake like that!

  17. I love goteenwriters! These posts as well as the facebook group, have definitely made me a better writer! Thanks Stephanie for all that you do and Mrs. Shellie for the great post!
    Scenario prompt: A character named Kendra feels extreme guilt over something that happened to her brother
    Sentence prompt: I never thought I'd be facing my death at 13.

  18. Hi Stephanie,
    I've been following your blog since you began the writing prompts. Thank you so much for providing all the writing advice and contests. It has been very helpful and encouraging and fun!

    Here are my prompts:
    "Promise me you will return."
    "When I heard she was a crippled mental case I had expected something ugly."
    They had been living happily ever after for some time now.
    (scenario) The not quite long enough lost (blank) returns.

    My brother's prompts:
    Why don't you just kill me?
    Are you always like this?
    "Well, you can tell him...
    "We can't always be friends and you know that."
    (scenario) The knight saves the princess only to find out...

    My sister also had a prompt:
    The sock was full of M&Ms.

    1. Lol at the last prompt. Some of those are really cool.

  19. Thank you, Stephanie, Jill, Rachel, Roseanna, Shellie, and all the others who have posted on here. This blog has been a Godsend for my writing. Merry Christmas!

    Prompt ideas (from me and my mom):
    - I'd known I wouldn't be able to keep my secret for long.
    - I thought you were dead!
    - No matter how many times...
    - She wished she hadn't planted that in the garden.

    - a character is running from a fire.
    - The character is in a situation where they have to be nice to someone they really hate.
    - A character is visiting or staying at a lunatic asylum.
    - The character is cooking/baking.

    1. I thought of some more! Coming up with these is a lot of fun.

      - For once in my life...
      - Never again...
      - I/she/he/we/they/you will not be stopped (confession: I stole this one from Pinterest)
      - I looked around the room for the last time.

      - a character is standing in front of a grave.
      - a character is trying to undo a really tight knot.
      - a character is on a sailboat.

  20. Sentences:
    - what is this/that/it?
    - I am so dead.
    - I won't do it.

    - The character can't see, and has to rely on other sense.
    - The character is tied up.
    - The character is playing a game of chess.

  21. Prompts:
    -Everything I thought I knew was a lie.
    -Why was he/she looking at me strangely today?
    -Where is medical care when I need it?
    -"I can't believe you did that."
    -My sister is "perfect". I'm not.
    -Life's a mess.