Why is it that no matter how hard you try, your own randomly chosen elements never spark the same sort of creativity as some stranger on the internet throwing some nouns together?
I’ve used random word generators, google image search, pointing at words on a page in a book— nothing. But someone posts “Write a story about a frog, a feather and a skull” and suddenly my brain is overflowing with ideas. They’re not very good ideas, granted, but it’s like a switch is flipped. I want to learn to control the switch! It’s my switch!¹
Alas, for whatever reason, much like tickling², writing prompt inspiration seems to be something I’ll forever need to rely on other people for. Maybe that’s for the best. If I could write without prompting or feedback, I might disappear into the mists once and for all, never to be seen again.
Realistically, I think inspiration probably just requires an element of surprise to stop you from second-guessing all the joy out of the idea before it gets the chance to randomly collide with enough elements to become the idea for a story. It’s like humour, you need that shock to allow it to be funny. No matter how funny a joke or a story is the first time you hear it, it’s not funny the fifth³.
Or maybe not! Maybe writing prompts have an art or a science of their own, that I have thus far failed to recognise or appreciate. Maybe there’s people out there right now, scratching out ‘frog’ and writing ‘antelope’, agonizing over whether ‘gazelle’ would spark more creativity. Whatever the case, I’m glad my brain still responds to writing prompts with short story ideas, because I have not been working on my novels4 as much as I should this month.
There are a few of you following this blog now, so if you feel like it, let me know below what gets you inspired. Do writing prompts work? What about music? Nature? Maybe you’re one of those people that gets water everywhere jumping out of the shower to write down ideas that seem to materialise whenever you spend long enough in steam, I won’t judge.
True story—last week I wrote all over the fridge with a whiteboard marker so I could get my train of thought down before I lost it. My lunch got cold before I’d even finished cooking it, but I wrote two short stories that I’m pretty happy with; one of which I intend to enter in a writing contest later this month.
Other than that, I get a lot of ideas right on the edge of sleep, or sometimes when I learn a new, weird scientific or historical tidbit because if reading about ancient Mongolia doesn’t make you want to write, I don’t know what will.
¹That’s starting to sound like a euphemism! I’m going to stop now!
²Though I don’t like tickling, and do like getting ideas, so that simile is pretty weak
³Or it’s funny in a different way entirely
4Yes, I said novels. Yes, I’m working on more than one at a time. Yes, it’s just as disorganised and ridiculous as you might imagine. I also read about eight books at a time, have since I was a kid. It’s just how my brain works, as far as I know. That’s my excuse, at least, and I’m sticking to it