Larry Kahaner

Writing Prompts are Dumb and a Waste of Time

By Larry Kahaner

I must say it, no matter how much you’re going to hate me: Writing prompts are dumb.

I don’t know any working writers who use them.

zombie prompts

Yeah, this is a real book.

Why would you spend time and energy on something that you’re not going to use, something that’s supposed to “get your creative juices flowing” and then toss aside?

Why not just start working on your short story, book, blog or whatever you’re trying to churn out? That’s how you get your creative spark ignited.

I know, I know… many new writers feel naked without the cloak of writing prompts. They love ’em. Websites have lists and lists of ideas like: “Write about a day in which everything went wrong” or “what would happen if we found out that we actually could breathe on the moon?” You want to write about these things? Fine. Go ahead and write a story or novel based on one of these premises, but why waste time writing a few pages just to get your engines revved?

I can hear the cries now: “But I need something that I can throw out as I get my ‘writing mind’ in gear.” What are you, a car on a cold day that needs to be warmed up? (Actually, you haven’t had to do that with cars for about the last 20 years.) I will admit that sometimes what we write first thing in the day is not as good as what we write a few pages down the line. That’s to be expected. The brain gets in the groove like it does for all jobs (not just writing) that we undertake. When you’re done for the day, week, or even the whole book, pronounce your work a first draft and rewrite it. That’s what writing is, not some phony-balony prompt that someone gives us.

My guess is that writing prompts were the product of creative writing teachers who didn’t think students were smart or creative enough to come up with their own ideas. Bull. Students have lots of great ideas. Let them loose. For whatever reason, the concept of prompts has been passed along to where there are entire books devoted to writing prompts. Don’t believe me? Go on and type “writing prompt books.” I saw one that touted “1200 Creative Writing Prompts.” They’re even broken down into genres like horror, mystery and romance. I saw prompt books that were written by cats and dogs.

It’s crazy.

Know who else likes writing prompts? Bloggers who write about writing. When you’re searching for something to write about just do a blog about prompts. Throw out a few ideas, and bing-bang, you’ve got a blog.

If you’re a writer, why waste your time with these distractions? Yes, that’s what prompts are. Distractions from your real writing. It’s no different than procrastinating, not wanting to do the hard work of writing. Some people call it ‘writers’ block,’ a concept which I don’t believe exists. Here’s my blog on this fallacy.

In their heart-of-hearts, why do people love prompts? They’re safe; no one will read them (unless you’re in class) so you don’t have to endure criticism of your work. More important, you can make believe you’re working on your novel (Hey, I’m writing, ain’t  I?) and you won’t feel so bad about not sitting your butt in the chair and really doing the work that needs to be done.

Is all this a bit harsh? I’m not sorry. Not a bit.

If you want to be a writer, stop being such a wuss. Forget prompts.

Just write.

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10 thoughts on “Writing Prompts are Dumb and a Waste of Time

  1. allenappel on said:

    Agreed. More than a dozen books published, never wrote one in my life.

  2. Pretty funny stuff. I know that wasn’t the goal, but still.
    I have submitted stories to The First Line magazine. But I don’t write from their prompt. I altered the first line of a story to fit their requirement. It didn’t change my story in any important way.
    No, I don’t use prompts. I’ve looked at them and came up blank. I can’t think of anything to fit someone else’s ideas. On that vein, I have never used workshops, creative writing courses, or writers groups. Or character development sheets, I only use the sketchiest of outlining for the longer stuff. I am not opposed to those things, just never saw them useful for me.
    I like your blog. I’m going to follow it.

    • Thanks, Donald. I’m glad that my blog amused you. I wasn’t aiming for that; it was more of a screed against writing prompts which I think have gotten out of control among would-be writers. But, hey, laughter is always a plus.
      I’m now following you, as well.

  3. Peter B. Giblett on said:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    What do you feel about writing prompts? Sometimes I use them, other times I don’t. The Non-Fiction Novelist, Larry Kahaner pulls not punches in this piece by saying “Why not just start working on your short story, book, blog or whatever you’re trying to churn out? That’s how you get your creative spark ignited” Is he correct? That is a good question, My friend Marilyn Davis is a firm believer that everything should have a plan, there are times when I agree, but there are also times when I believe in Free Writing as the only way to get the joices going and get you piece moving. His question, are you wasting your time getting your engine revved.

    This is an interesting question, I am truthfull in neither camp fully, I like a plan, but I also like to get going. I do add a prompt if I think of an idea to be used at a later point in my writing even when free writing. I would love to hear your view my readers.

  4. I quite agree they’re a waste of time, the type of thing that may have been useful in school when learning basic composition. I actually find blogging often gets in the way of my writing goals, but it’s fundamental to keep up communication with other bloggers and specially reading as much as possible of what’s out there. Btw thanks for following mine!

  5. I think writing prompts work best if they’re images or based on a theme. “You can only bring one book on an island” is an icebreaker, not a writing prompt.

  6. Pingback: Writing Prompts are Dumb and a Waste of Time - GobbledeGoox

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