Using Prompts


I have taken to writing in response to some prompts, my last post here is a result of doing so. And, if you go back and read that post, it didn’t start out with a great deal of eagerness to continue. As a matter of fact, I was definitely trying to talk myself out of doing it at all. What exactly is a prompt? Someone else’s idea of what you should write about? A crutch for a would be writer who can’t think of anything on his/her own? A test, or even a competition?

The dictionary says that the word prompt can be used as both noun and verb. He was prompt with his refusal to attend, uses it to define a quick response, an action taken. She didn’t want to use the prompt, because she had her own ideas, uses it as a noun, an object. And the most common definition is the one that means a silent sign to an actor who has momentarily gone blank, can’t remember his lines, and is prompted from offstage as to how to continue.

This blog is mainly about journal writing, using a regular writing regimen to stay in contact with ones own experience of thoughts, feelings, dreams, desires, and the low points in that process as well. As such, do we actually need prompts to do that? The answer to that question depends on the personal reasons for keeping a journal in the first place.

If your journal is simply a log or diary, meant only to record activities, people one has encountered, etc., then probably not. But, if journal writing is an attempt to have and to continue a dialogue with self, then prompts can be a very real and useful tool in the process. They can become a very real challenge to that dialogue, taking one to places one might not consider on ones own.

My last post is an example of just such a challenge. I was trying to talk myself into not responding to the current prompt, only to have some part of my psyche, leap into the idea behind the prompt, and ended up with a wonderful little piece of fiction: something I do not ordinarily do.

Prompts are really good for those days when you get all settled in front of that blank sheet of paper and find yourself blanker than the paper. And that can and does happen, probably more than we are want to let ourselves or anyone else know about. A prompt, just one word, can be a beginning, a starting point that leaves one mark on that overall blankness. Like that actor who has forgotten his place, or the next line, a word or two can act as a signal to get that motor moving again.

I view my journal as many things: a friend, a map, a journey in its own right, a non-ending conversation with me, a bit of a treasure trove for inspiration, and sometimes a drag, slowing me down, forcing me to look at scenery that I might not want to see in a given moment. All of those things and so much more. It is me taking note/s of my own existence, finding meaning and definitions that I actually choose in the process.

And there are many days when I don’t need a crutch, or a walking staff to aid me. But, there are definitely times when I need that and maybe even more. There are days when I get a bit adventuresome and want to see where it all might end up. It might be no more than a whim, who cares, it’s my journey, my journal, I can do as I please within those pages.

This is my space, the one I’ve given myself. I gave in to the whim in that last post, and was more than rewarded. I still find myself a bit bemused by the whole experience.

When I taught, the first night of class was always filled with jittery feelings, my own, as well as those of  whoever had come to see what they might see. And one of the things I did was use prompts. I made small polymer clay stones and carved words on them. I would pass a basket around the room, filled with what I chose to call Journey Stones, and direct the people in that classroom to simply start writing about whatever came up when they thought about that word.

And many times, there were first groans, and then nothing but silence punctuated with the scratching of pens across blank sheets of paper. Much the same as that last post I did here. I think the groans might be a perfunctory tool as well: the necessary exhalation to clear out that old air, that must be followed automatically with breathing in, inspiration. And by the way, I still have a basket of Journey Stones on my night table by my bed, and I still occasionally dip my hand in and blindly pick one out. And most often, I immediately groan.

There are many online sites that provide such prompts. I haven’t even begun to fully explore them. I use the once weekly prompt at Writer’s Island  for prose writing, and a once weekly poetry prompt from   for use at my poetry site. I am finding an interesting number of correlations between the two. Together they satisfy me and my need for both elements, and sometimes dovetail together to make extremely interesting side trips. Side trips that often fill my journal pages with questions and more.

There are many who might see a prompt as no more than a crutch, some sort of sign of inadequacy, even failure. I’d rather admit that my knees are full of arthritis, grab the crutch or the cane, and still arrive at some destination, rather than sit home, alone, bemoaning my inability to move with ease and grace. As a matter of fact, I’ve found a lot of grace at the end of such journeys.


About 1sojournal

Loves words and language. Dances on paper to her own inner music. Loves to share and keeps several blogs to facilitate that. They can be found here:
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6 Responses to Using Prompts

  1. Jane says:

    Hi Elizabeth–

    A prompt for me is often something I read or hear. This triggers thoughts and ideas that sometimes pull me along rather than push me. I find myself needing to write about these and there are times when this leads to my greatest breakthroughs.

    Far from a crutch, these prompts are inspiration, they are doors opening, and all I have to do is to step through.



    • 1sojournal says:

      Hi Jane,

      good to see you again. And I most heartily agree that they are, most often, sources of inspiration, and not crutches at all.

      I think I was speaking more to those moments when we get stuck, somewhere inside of our own path, journey, and need a completely different source, or voice from outside to call us back inside the task again. I deliberately went looking for these prompts, not because I was stuck, but because I was curious. And once again, that curiosity has brought an incredibly fruitful reward, not only to my journal pages, but in my ongoing work as a writer.

      But, I must confess that there was a time when I saw them as far less, refused their opportunity, and missed a great deal of treasure. Ahh the sins of youth and idealizm, lol. It really is a good thing that we eventually grow up, yes?



  2. Jingle says:

    agree with your reasoning…

    smart post!


  3. 1sojournal says:

    Thanks Jingle, it is always nice when someone appreciates what you do.



  4. neil reid says:

    What I think first when I think “prompt” is participate!

    I most often am happy to find my own experiences for the core of a poem, or perhaps some unintended lucky phrase or word that strolls along, sprouts new legs. But I personally dislike the idea of writing for a closet, unseen, unread. So participation, interaction is what gives life to a poem for me.

    And yes, of course, sometimes the other-unique point-of-view sometimes suggested within a prompt may open new possibilities. Wouldn’t we want to be within such glad orbit of our writing companions? I am grateful for such friendships as these.

    As well yes, prompts may lubricate the process too, and in many ways.

    I much appreciate your thoughtful writing process here. Thank you Elizabeth, and I see I have much more to read as you have written too. ~Neil


    • 1sojournal says:

      Neil, the man with the poem that stopped and stilled me, just a few hours ago. And with his response to a prompt, prompted me to spend the last hour writing the first draft of a poem, that has been hiding deep in my shadows for years. I can only hope that I myself find the same courage I found in your poem, to not turn away from that child.

      And I most adamantly agree with you, that prompts invite participation and a whole lot more, as I have proven in this past hour. How do I thank you?



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