If you feel like you are stuck in your writing, writing prompts might be just what you need to get out of your rut.
Whether you’re experiencing writer’s block or you’re tired of your own voice, style or subject-matter, writing prompts can give you a creative jolt to help you begin something new.
In addition to being a writer and editor, I teach writing in public schools and in a nearby detention center. This means I regularly use writing prompts with students of all ages.
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What is a writing prompt?
A writing prompt is a brief image or topic that can help writers generate new ideas. Writing prompts can be a great way to inspire ideas in any genre of writing.
They can also take a huge variety of forms. Whether you’re inspired by news headlines, objects, one-word prompts, detailed questions or reading a poem or full work of prose, writing prompts can help you explore a particular topic, engage in a “conversation” with other writers or get through writer’s block.
Writing prompts can also help you make new or unusual connections between things. I was once asked to write an essay that incorporated a dog, a wristwatch and scuba diver. This prompt resulted in an essay that was published in a magazine.
Where to find writing prompts
Writing classes can be wonderful places to encounter interesting prompts, but the internet is also swimming with more prompts than you can ever use.
The following list is a collection of some of the resources that can help you generate new work no matter what genre you’re working in.
While these prompts are grouped in categories, many of the websites offer prompts in multiple genres. Remember that a genre-specific prompt can often be used to generate interesting ideas or connections in other genres, too.
Here’s where to find writing prompts.
Fiction writing prompts and creative writing prompts
Poets & Writers Magazine publishes a new fiction prompt online every Wednesday. These prompts are typically a paragraph in length and they encourage ideas through a series of questions and suggestions.
These prompts are aimed at inspiring plot and character development and are meant to generate the sparks needed to fuel writing a book. Sets of prompts are grouped into genres of fiction writing such as mystery, dystopian, fantasy, and more. Each group of prompts is also accompanied by a series of tips for how to write in a particular genre.
Nature writing typically brings to mind nonfiction writing, but this list of prompts encourages nature- and place-based storytelling. The prompts contain detailed visual descriptions to help you jump into a particular place or scene.
These prompts are posted weekly and help to generate specific scenes or ideas you can expand on. Most of the prompts are a series of questions to help generate details about plot and character development.
These short prompts offer a topic, scenario or structure broad enough to build a book around. Each prompt is accompanied by a gif that works as an additional prompt for people who are inspired by visual imagery.
This simple but innovative website offers digital flashcards to help writers explore character, situation, prop, and setting. Four specific cards are offered to the writer and when you finish (or if you want a different idea) you can just press the “shuffle” button and get an entirely new combination to write about.
The heart of any story often involves a character’s internal or personal journey. These prompts offer a full paragraph to flesh out a particular character and the personal or relational challenges they are facing.
Designed for shorter works of fictions, these short story prompts offer brief scenarios for inspiration. Each set of ideas comes with a writing challenge, and you are encouraged to mix and match ideas from each of the prompt lists. There’s even one set of prompts that helps you brainstorm personal fears and habits and helps you fictionalize them.
Scroll through a list of fiction sub-genres, such as “utopia,” “space opera,” “science fiction romance,” or many other sub-genres, to pull up a carousel of prompts. Each prompt is about a paragraph long to set the scene and situation—perfect for any fiction writer who just needs a nudge to get them off and running.
The prompts provided on StoryADay often ask writers to imagine a momentous moment and dive right into the action. These prompts can be great for helping writers craft plot. Each prompt is paired with a photograph, too, which can be another boon for anyone who derives inspiration from imagery.
Writers looking to combine mundane, everyday life with secrets, mysteries, or other strange twists will likely find these prompts intriguing. Paired with colorful and engaging images, these prompts are updated weekly on Fridays.
If all you need is a scenario, these prompts should do the trick. Each prompt sets up the situation, and it’s up to you to provide the story!
Click a button and receive a few random prompts! These work well for writers who just need a handful of objects and archetypal characters for inspiration to strike. And for even more random story prompts, check out the links to other story generators below the prompt box.
For fiction writers who need inspiration for how to begin, these prompts are detailed and focused enough to help you zero in on an opening paragraph, a brief scene, or a vivid description of a character.
Flash Fiction Prompts
The prompts on this website are creative and include sentence fragments, excerpts of poems, and sentences with fill-in-the blank spots. The variety makes these prompts unusual and great for experimentation.
Designed for fiction 1,000 words or under, these prompts will likely spark ideas for short stories or even novels. The prompts are grouped by category and each prompt introduces the main character and the tension for a writer to run with.
This list of prompts is perfect for fiction writers who want to try their hand at writing flash fiction. Steph Fraser provides an overview of flash fiction and tips for how to write flash stories successfully. This introduction is followed by prompts which are grouped by sub-genres such as “horror” and “romance.”
If you need a little more to go on than a few words, but don’t need a full paragraph, these prompts provide brief dialogue and just enough sensory detail to spark a flash story idea.
These brief prompts created by Eva Deverell are designed to keep you writing every day, but can be used at random, too. As a bonus, her website offers a number of other free writing resources, too!
Nonfiction writing prompts
Writers who submit work to literary magazines are likely familiar with Submittable — but did you know their blog has an archive of writing prompts? Each blog post is accompanied by an image that relates to the theme of the prompts. There are 8-10 prompts focused on a particular idea or theme. Most of these prompts can easily be used for other genres.
Poets & Writers Magazine publishes a new nonfiction prompt every Thursday. Writers can also subscribe to the Time is Now weekly e-newsletter to receive prompts for nonfiction as well as fiction and poetry.
Not only are these prompts grouped in easy-to-navigate categories, but each prompt is linked to background information, a brief summary of someone’s story as it pertains to the topic, and a series of questions aimed at helping a writer think through the various aspects of a particular prompt. This is a great option for writers who need more than one-word prompts!
Each of these prompts lays out a brief scenario and asks a question aimed at self-discovery or introspection. These would be particularly useful for personal essayists or memoirists who are trying to find a way into writing about their bad or regrettable behaviors.
Writers with years of expertise and a keen eye for structure and tone will benefit from these advanced writing prompts. Each prompt provides loose guidelines for modeling a piece on the writing published in particular sections of The New York Times. The prompts include links to published work writers might reference as good examples.
The 50 prompts on this list are pulled from Melissa Donovan’s book, “1200 Creative Writing Prompts.” The list is made up of strings of questions that ask writers to recall various types of memories, or to engage with emotional or intellectual responses to music, art, and media.
Most memoirists and personal essayists explore relationships in their writing and this list of prompts is bound to jog particular kinds of memories. Most of the prompts relate to childhood or family relationships, but some prompts focus on other types of relationships, too.
While some people prefer a word or phrase to spark an idea, others benefit from paragraphs and series of questions, and some enjoy reading a full essay or article before beginning to write. This list of prompts offers all three options for each of the 30 ideas. Some prompts suggest a straightforward retelling, but others suggest looser associations and experimental nonfiction writing.
Derived from the quotes of renowned writers, these prompts ask writers to dig deep and consider the connections between small, detailed moments and larger themes or events. The prompts can easily be used for either fiction or nonfiction.
It can be difficult to write about your complex life story in a clear way. Each of these ten prompts provides a frame so that you can dive into one aspect of your life story that will likely illuminate larger themes as you keep writing.
Perfect for people who prefer a minimalist approach, Writing Class Radio provides daily prompts of one or two words. The website also hosts a nonfiction writing podcast that features writers sharing work and discussing craft.
Writer Vanessa Martír posts prompts weekly. Each prompt invites writers to reflect deeply on a particular memory or set of memories and most prompts include a quote from a book or movie that connects to the topic. Many of the prompts are focused on reflection and healing.
You don’t have to seek publication to be a writer. Writing for yourself counts, too! People who want to journal but aren’t sure where to start or what to write each day (or week) will find this list of prompts to be helpful in sparking ideas for topics.
For beginners and advanced journalers and nonfiction writers, this list is divided into categories to give you ideas for themed journals, topic ideas, and quote fragments meant to inspire. There are also longer prompts that encourage experimentation with structure, form, and collaboration.
Flash Nonfiction Prompts
As a writing instructor, Zoë Bossiere has a lot of wisdom to share about the various kinds of flash nonfiction and the elements that make flash writing different than longer types of writing. Although this is essentially a lesson plan on Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, writers can learn a lot about the four main types of flash nonfiction, and gain inspiration for their own flash pieces from the many examples and resources that Boossiere provides.
In each of these prompts, the writer is invited to approach the truth of the world or themselves from a different angle, whether it’s a memorable phone call or something from the news you just can’t shake. Some prompts walk you through a series of steps, and others offer just a couple of lines to help you begin.
Poetry writing prompts
Poets & Writers Magazine releases a new poetry prompt once a week on Tuesdays. You can access these on the website or sign up to receive the prompts in their weekly writing prompt e-newsletter. These prompts are typically in the form of a paragraph with excerpts of poems or quotes accompanied by a series of questions or suggestions.
If you want to jump right into a poem, these prompts are a great way to start. Each prompt is one short sentence and the list is filled with suggestions that will evoke memories or spark your imagination.
These prompts consist of two words or a short phrase or image meant to evoke life memories. The prompts are grouped in categories like “Momentous Occasions” and “Mysterious Places.”
These short prompts are open-ended and each one might be used repeatedly to produce different kinds of poems. Many of the prompts suggest using a set of specific words. Using words you might not use ordinarily can help you stretch creatively as a writer!
Choose the number of words you want to appear on this page, and the number of challenges. Then decide whether you’d like to draw inspiration from an image, and press the “Get Prompt” button. Voila! You now have a set of instructions, a list of words to try to use in your poem, and an image to get your creative juices flowing.
Each of these prompts involves a series of instructions or steps. For poets who are feeling particularly stuck or benefit from structure, the prompts here just may do the trick.
The 25 prompts on this list are pulled from Melissa Donovan’s book, “1200 Creative Writing Prompts.” Books can be great resources for writing prompts and many authors make some of these printed prompts available online. Many of these prompts suggest writing poems that use a specific set of images or sounds.
Take your shoes off, grab the nearest book, or find a recipe: Many of these prompts derive inspiration from the objects and ideas that surround you.
How do you feel about putting a penny under your tongue before writing? For poets or other creative writers looking for embodied experiences to inspire their writing, these exercises are more than just prompts. Each exercise calls on writers to engage in a particular activity while thinking about particular memories and ideas.
Writing prompts on social media (including Reddit writing prompts)
You can find anything on Reddit — including writing prompts. Most of the prompts on Reddit are for fiction writers, but the search bar will turn up other genres, too. Reddit prompts are great for people who want to write and get feedback in an online community.
Tumblr is a virtual treasure trove of writing prompts of any genre and topic you can imagine. Story Prompts curates prompts from across many different Tumblr accounts, but you can also search for specific blogs or genre types.
Windcatchers is one of many writing prompt Facebook groups and it is run by writer Michelle Labyrinth. Prompts are posted about once a week and other articles and resources for writers are posted, too. The prompts are generally targeted to nonfiction writers.
Hashtags make it easier than ever to find the kind of prompts you are looking for. #writingprompts generates lots of different kinds of prompts, but there are also Twitter accounts you can follow that are devoted to particular kinds of prompts.
Obsessed with TikTok? You can find writing prompts there, too! Type “writing prompts” into the search feature and you will find a list of the top accounts posting writing prompts. Some accounts post multiple times a day, and others post less frequently but have an archive of prompts you can scroll through.
Do you squander valuable writing time by watching too many cat videos on YouTube? Not to worry—there are tons of writing prompt videos on YouTube. Often, the key to inspiration is looking for it in the places you spend the most time.
Like Twitter, you can easily find any kind of writing prompt by searching for a specific hashtag. However, Instagram is ideal for the image-oriented writer; many prompts are accompanied by an image or background that can provide additional inspiration.
Pinterest is not the first place most writers would think of when searching for prompts, but like Instagram, it has a wealth of image-oriented prompts across all genres. For people who already spend time on Pinterest, this can be a great way to find writing inspiration, too.
Photo via frantic00 / Shutterstock