So you want to write something, but you don’t have something to write. Writing prompts often get your creative juices flowing, but what if it’s a random day with no writers’ group meetings and you are bored with all of your typical writing prompt sources? Or perhaps you just want a new way to come up with a story, but you’ve no idea how to approach it. From where can you pluck some spontaneous inspiration?
The answer is: Everywhere.
Let me explain … no, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Years ago, I worked at a newspaper as a page designer. My cubicle was along the back wall of the newsroom. That wall was covered with many heavy, wooden plaques our paper had won over the years – awards that would frequently fly off the wall when the press people in their breakroom on the other side of said wall would slam the vending machine to retrieve a stuck snack. We who sat along this wall were under constant threat of getting a plaque in the skull, which led to all manner of morbid jokes and in-the-trenches comradarie. We were also a sarcastic sort, good at our work but excellent at cracking a joke to break up the workday (or night, as was sometimes the case.) My cubicle neighbor affectionately dubbed us the “Ne’er Do Wells” and he became our de facto leader. His name was Bob, but we all called him Grady. (That’s another story entirely.)
That backstory alone sounds like a writing prompt, doesn’t it? That’s a real-life snippet I’m sharing with you. Maybe you see where I’m going with this …
Grady told great stories. Often he’d send them to us Ne’er Do Wells – at first in a group email/newsletter format, and later in a blog that spanned for years. He had his own unique way of conveying information – Grady was a stroke survivor and experienced some aphasia as a result. Working at the newspaper helped Grady get his verbal skills back on track and writing fast became a creative outlet for him. His blog posts were always so entertaining. Many of them were observances of occurrences in his daily life that he put his own spin on, usually with a humorous tone. I loved his stories, and when I asked him about how he had so much – as he put it – “blog fodder,” his answer was simple:
“Marcy, it’s everywhere.”
Observation, my dear writers. Stories are all around you. Just look.
Now for Grady, his stories were snippets of his life, more of a memoir style than the fiction we usually write here at the Quill & Pint. Observing your interactions with the world around you clearly lends itself to memoir, but it can also be a handy tool for fiction.
Let’s say you’re in the checkout line at a store and people are cranky behind you. What’s their hurry, you ask yourself? Are they on a lunch break, or late for something important, or are they just impatient by nature? Perhaps they’re an undercover operative, trailing a suspect who’s two places ahead of you in line. You don’t need to ask them anything. The wondering you’ve done already is a writing prompt. Or maybe you’re the cranky one, and you’re looking ahead to the person holding up the process because of a price check. Why do they need that item? Is it important, or is the person just being stubborn? Or are they intentionally messing with the operative they know is trailing them – the one who’s standing behind you? Let your mind wander with the wondering, and maybe you’ll find a story there.
I’m not telling you to pry into other people’s lives, mind you. That’s intrusive and off-putting. I’m just saying that extrapolating on the questions that pop into your mind in these situations make for great writing prompts. Take these everyday moments and insert them into a fictional scenario. That stooped old man shuffling down the sidewalk with his walker – where is he headed? Is the stooped old man persona a disguise? Perhaps he’s a shapeshifter. The person sitting at the red light next to you, dressed in a clown costume with full makeup and driving a shiny Corvette? No, seriously, I saw that once, and the whole rest of the way to my destination I was like WHAT IS THAT STORY?!
Story prompts abound if you open your creative mind to the world around you and explore the moments of what and why and who that pop into your brain, or the interactions we have with the people around us.
As Grady would say … “It’s everywhere.” He’d also say, “There’s no plaque in the dental hall of fame.” But that’s another story.
Beware of falling plaques.
Have you observed anything recently that prompted a story idea in the moment? Share it in the comments or join the conversation in our forum.