Now, I'm all about building community with writers, but for all the writer blogs I run across that provide writing prompt link-ups, I'm rarely tempted to spend my time actually follow the prompt. Why? Because unless the prompts fit into something I was already planning to write about, the prompts usually seem like a waste of my writing time.
I know writing prompts have many devotees. And if using a writing prompt is what you need to get your writing engine revved up, go for it. But I have my doubts about how much writing prompts really contribution to the creation of strong, confident writers. I think any writer out there dreaming of becoming a "real" writer needs to carefully examine their relationship with prompts.
As Jeff Goins wrote earlier this year on his blog: "Admittedly, prompts can be very valuable. As an exercise. But eventually, you don’t need another day at the gym. You need to sign up for the marathon and run. You need to go play a real game. You need to do something."
Hope Clark, who's never afraid of saying what she really means (bless her!) about the writing life, took her distaste of writing prompts one step further than Goins in this blog post.
"As you would imagine, prompts are used to teach children how to write stories," Clark wrote. "Children, while imaginative, have to first learn that a story has a theme, a beginning, middle and end. Prompts help them define those terms and create a story that’s molded properly. Adults, however, should be past that.
"As a freelancer, you are trying to earn a living. Ideas should be your meat and potatoes. You should be able to sit in your chair and not get up without an idea. In other words, you should be able to generate your own prompt, only you will use it to get somewhere, not just practice."
Most people have a finite amount of writing time each day. If you want to be a freelance writer, you need to spend that writing time productively. And yes by productively, I mean making money. You should be building your platform. Writing that will remain hidden forever in the depths of a notebook is not productive writing.
It sounds crass, especially since we writers are sensitive souls who love words and often write because it's the only real way we know how to process the world around us. Writing may be our art, but it's also our profession and there's a point in any writer's life where the artistic statement stops and the paying bills begins. When we've really make it as writers, hopefully we get to create artistic statements and pay the bills.
I think writers are especially prone to thinking that they have to pass over some magical threshold before they declare themselves "writers." UWe forget that it's the act of writing that makes us writers in the first place.
Think about it: in school, did you thrive in English and composition? Have you received compliments on your writing? If you've been writing for years, chances are you know how to write well enough to put yourself out there. Sure, it's scary and you're bound to face a fair bit rejection. Then again, if you can't take rejection, this writing gig isn't going to suit you very well.
I don't mean to come down so harshly on writing prompts. What I'm trying to say is that we the writers are the ones who decide whether or not this is our hobby or profession.
So, before you start in on another writing prompt, ask yourself:
- How does this help me reach my goals as a writer?
- Is this the best use of my writing time?
- What will I do with this piece of writing once it's completed?
Trust yourself. Write your own material. Own it. Sell it.