by | Mar 21, 2020 | Article Writing


Prompts for creative writing enjoy a trendiness nowadays, especially on blogs that offer ever-expanding lists (Prompt #452: The color blue—write about something blue!) While there’s definitely some value in these lists, it’s an approach to prompts that aligns with the idea of “giving a person a fish”—or in some cases hundreds of fish at a time. In this article, we’ll explore another approach: “Teaching a person to fish,” as the old adage advises, so that you can create your own prompts for a lifetime of creative writing.

How to Create Your Own Writing Prompts

(Not 365, not 700+, but an infinite number of writing prompts.)

This approach to creative writing prompts works by asking the aspiring author to engage with their environment and imagination. It takes practice (like becoming a successful fisherman also does), but once you learn how it works and make it part of your writing life, the dividends pay off over and over again.


man being creative thinking of writing prompts to list out

A combination of prompt lists and self-prompts can help you write a better book.

Doing a search online, you can find some great writing prompts, for instance, like here on Pinterest.


By category, with additional tools for self-prompting


Fiction writing prompts

  1. Create a fictional explanation for a current event.
  2. Imagine another (secret) side of a former president.
  3. Describe the journey of a young boy/girl from Europe to America in the 19th Century.

Self-prompt: The best fiction comes from truth. Think about a true story. What about it can be fictionalized? Maybe ALL of it! What characters and details in the true story inspire wonder in you? Feel it and write it.

Creative writing prompts for adults

  1. Unusual dynamics in a romantic relationship.
  2. The effects of varying amounts of alcohol on a household.
  3. How parenthood/grandparenthood changes people.

Self-prompt: Presumably you are an adult. Do you always feel like one? Act like one? Why or why not? Think and feel about what it means to be an adult. Freedom? Responsibility? Ask other adults. Write it all down.

Science fiction writing prompts

  1. What if aliens lived among us?
  2. What would the ideal spaceship for humans be like?
  3. What if pollution created a new species of mutant “Bigfoot” creatures?

Self-prompt: Do you own a telescope or binoculars? Take a closer look at the world around you. You can even do this without any equipment. Meditate on the millions of stars and planets in the universe. What thoughts come to mind? Where do your feelings lead you? What fictional ideas resonate with you? Write it all down.


Robert Nahas on an inspirational walk to find creative writing prompts.

Creative nonfiction writing prompts

  1. Write about a true story in reverse chronological order.
  2. Tell a true story as seen through several people’s perspectives.
  3. Add a vivid dream sequence to a biographical story.

Self-prompt: Think of a true story that fascinates you. In what way(s) could you write it to make the telling equally fascinating? Let your imagination run wild.

Realistic fiction writing prompts

  1. What if our election system completely failed?
  2. How would a priest or pastor deal with his/her own disease of alcoholism?
  3. What would it be like for a boxer if he never won a professional bout?

Self-prompt: In the previous prompts, you’ll notice that conflict is essential to a good story. How can your fiction writing elucidate a real conflict in the world today? The conflict(s) can be major or minor; it’s HOW you write about them that matters. Put your deepest thoughts and feelings about fictional (and real) conflicts down on paper.

Historical fiction writing prompts

  1. What if one of the framers of the Constitution had been a communist?
  2. What if Julius Caesar had not been assassinated?
  3. What if President Lincoln visited ghosts at a cemetery? (By the way, in the mid-2010s, author George Saunders wrote an acclaimed book of historical fiction on exactly that. The book is Lincoln in the Bardo.)

Self-prompt: Generally speaking, great writers are great readers. Writers of historical fiction, as a rule, should know their history. Books on historical events and figures are readily available at any public library, as are copies of historical films. Travel, reading, and movies make for excellent prompts in this genre.


man holding stack of books to read for finding writing prompts for his book idea

Most great writers are/were avid readers. Don’t skimp on this important element of good book writing.


Fiction writing prompts for adults

  1. Raising children diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
  2. Your first foray into entrepreneurship.
  3. A relationship that just keeps getting better and better.

Self-prompt: What makes the adult writer different from the youth writer? Adult writers seek writing prompts that are not for children for the same reason they can trust themselves with self-prompting: greater life experience. Use your experience in your writing. Want more prompting than that? Go out and gain MORE experiences.

Weird writing prompts

  1. Net-fishing the high seas for canned tuna.
  2. A day in the life of Tiny Tim.
  3. The land of talking backwards.

Self-prompt: This category of prompts puzzled me a bit when I first encountered it. Do we REALLY need prompts for WEIRD? In THIS world?? Just look out your window! Take a walk on ANY street in America! Well, of course I’m partially joking here, but the point I want to make is that, as writers—as artists—we don’t need prompts for EVERYTHING. Weird is everywhere. We only have to open our eyes, ears, minds … and notebooks.

Inspirational writing prompts

  1. Your earliest memory of your family’s faith.
  2. How could Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophies benefit us today?
  3. Moments of everyday grace.

Self-prompt: One might look at this prompt category and think, “Well, isn’t this really searching for inspiration to write about inspiration?” In a way, yes, but is that such a bad thing? I think of the humble person of faith who wants to serve but perhaps doesn’t know exactly how to do it. Whether a kindhearted person is looking for creative writing prompts online or self-prompting by searching the soul or talking with a faith leader, the virtue of their search can be admired.

Book writing prompts

Perdue University has an article that talks about writing prompts assignments, which will be helpful for greater understanding of them.

  1. An issue in your life that has been unresolved for a long time.
  2. Settings and characters from a vivid dream.
  3. Thoughts and feelings on a person you have long admired.

Self-prompt: Though the idea of writing a book might seem daunting, your choices in taking the first step—as you see above—are nearly endless. Stephen King goes so far as to suggest deciding on what your book is about when you begin your second draft. So where you start, or what prompts you use to start, is not as important as where your writing takes you.


older man writing down his personal anecdotes as writing prompts for his book

Your personal experiences are of utmost importance in writing a great book. Share them generously, in your own way, and always be open for more.


CEO Robert Nahas talks about writing prompts.

Book prompts for writing

  1. A history book to inspire historical fiction.
  2. Works of Charles Dickens to inspire young adult (YA) fiction.
  3. A book of the Bible to prompt inspirational writing.

Self-prompt: Looking for writing prompts for a book? Look no further than … a book! Some of the best writing prompts for books can be found in existing books. Going a step further, books in public domain offer stories, characters, and concepts you can use in your own work—all free of charge!

Video Transcript:

Hello, aspiring authors and entrepreneurs out there. I’m Robert Nahas, Founder and CEO of Writer Services. Today, we examine the popular practice of using creative writing prompts to generate ideas. The concept behind prompts is that writers who want to practice their craft every day will inevitably run out of ideas on what to write about. The verdict is out on this because I nor any of my writers have ever gotten writer’s block, and there is a specific reason for that. But I’ll take you through two distinct approaches to writing prompts for creative writing.

First is the process you might have seen online, where somebody makes a list of scenarios, characters, places, or even primary colors, and the writer is then supposed to practice their daily writing using one or more of those ideas or prompts. These can also be creative writing prompts for book ideas and parts of your book.

The second is more organic. One where the writer takes a little time and effort to create their own prompts. This might involve taking a pen and paper and going outdoors for an hour; visiting the local coffee shop and discreetly observing your surroundings: the cafe workers and other patrons as they come and go. Even just picking up and going into a different room in your home can really get your ideas flowing. It’s about changing your environment and really EXPERIENCING things in the world, instead of just on a computer with a list of prompts that someone thought up for you. Experience life and let yourself really THINK and FEEL. Write down your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. The world itself is out there waiting to prompt you in unexpected and wonderful ways.

And as always, I’d love to hear your comments and questions, so please take a moment to leave a comment below. You might also enjoy subscribing to our RSS feed, so you’ll be alerted as soon as our articles and videos are posted each week. Thanks for watching. I’m Robert Nahas. See you again soon.

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