Daily Writing and the Power of a Good Prompt

The value of a daily writing habit can take many forms. A few hundred words a day might be my therapy; your brainstorm session; his story workshop; her blog building.

Whatever your creative goals — from journaling to ideating to reflecting to storytelling to teaching to inventing to sharing — there are unifying factors what it comes to mustering the will to write on a consistent basis.

Writing can help you bring clarity to your thinking, generate new ideas, build discipline, and make progress on long-term goals. These benefits are tied together by threads of exploration, invention, and discovery. And at root, they’re all united by a powerful practice of giving yourself space to focus and create.

Finding a Creative Catalyst

However, it’s often not enough simply to set yourself a writing goal — like most challenges worth taking on, this is easier said than done! If you want to make your writing habit stick, one incredibly useful way to start is to find a strong catalyst. That could be an external goal like NaNoWriMo, a certain structure to hold you accountable (a class, a writing group), or a reliable source of creative inspiration.

For this latter class of catalyst, one of the best things you can do for your writing is harness an array of sparks or prompts to use as inspiration.

The writer Steven Johnson explained how he keeps a “spark file” — a growing list of fragments, notes, and ideas that can serve as starting points for your writing. I certainly recommend starting one of your own, and adding to it whenever appropriate. At the same time, it can also be quite useful to bring in ideas from outside your own head, to kickstart the process.

The Power of “Prompt”

My friend Edlyn has created an awesome project that can help with this. It’s called Prompt, and it’s what you might call a “SLaaS” app — spark list as a service. It’s an email newsletter of a very special sort, where upon signing up, you’ll start to receive short, evocative prompts intended to kick your creative muscles into gear.

One of the great things about it: Prompt encourages you to respond right away, with whatever your initial impulse or idea might be, and share it with a quick emailed reply. Edlyn then aggregates these replies and sends them back out to the list later, so it becomes a two-way street — an emergent community of writers and readers, in a fun and low-pressure feedback loop.

Part of the beauty of Prompt is that there are many ways you can use the service. You can answer once a month, once a week, or every day. You can read and reply to others, or just do your own thing. You can save prompts for later, or respond to them right away.

To get the most out of Prompt, I think it’s important to consider it as a tool and a framework for helping you put your creative impulse into daily action. The prompts themselves are useful, but equally useful is the structure around them, and how it gives you permission, and encouragement, to participate in a creative community. This offers the reassurance that “being a writer” isn’t some elusive state attainable only by novelists or poets laureate — it’s a hat each one of us can don at will, on any given day. All we have to do is choose to jot down a few words and hit reply.

If you haven’t yet signed up for Prompt, go ahead and do so here!

And if you’d like to download a collection of 50+ prompts/sparks I’ve compiled from my own daily writing adventures, just drop off your email below.

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