The Glass Jar of Writing Prompts

Is it better to take a few moments…or 15 minutes…to work out your response to a writing prompt? To think about characters? Or should you just get straight into it?

Following exhausting – I mean, exhaustive – research, I began to see two categories of writing prompt enthusiast emerging from the depths of writer’s block purgatory: those that will tell you that the writing prompt is simply a nudge: don’t think it into oblivion, just get on with it; and those that recommend a considered, reflective approach: think about this, think about that, and take your time about it.

Let’s just go back to the start for a minute: why does anyone go looking for a writing prompt to begin with? Why do you? And when you find one, what’s your approach?

I went hunting for writing prompts because I wanted to practise my writing. Re-invent and re-work an old skill I – and my Year 10 English teacher – thought I might once, vaguely, have had, with hope held out for the chance to change careers (dreams are good to have). One article I read about improving your writing pointed out that even if you never have time to finish your prompts, all your half-starts and almost-finisheds become a resource stockpile. Before you know it, you are rich in characters, scenes, possible plot-lines, maybe even an anti-hero. And all can be considered for later works – re-make them, re-cast them, keep them, evolve them.

My approach to taking on a writing prompt bootcamp was to flip through the prompts till I found one ‘that spoke to me’. (Don’t worry, I irritate myself beyond belief sometimes, too.) For similar reasons, I found subscribing to a weekly prompt frustrating. All week I would wait breathlessly for a prompt to come through. And when it came, it would be something unhelpful. For instance, there was the prompt that wanted me to write for ten minutes about jars. No, really. Glass jars. Produced a lot of doodling, and not even of jars. This meant there were tears before bedtime because I couldn’t even flip past it to the next one: I had to wait a week, didn’t I.

Prompts come in all types, and can be used for all purposes. There is one site I found, Bookfuel, which gives you prompts for all sorts of plot-problems and character development. Another site, which I am particularly fond of, offers straight-up practice-writing scenarios with a kind of what-happens-next flavour. These are designed to help build your stockpile as you practice your craft, or you just want to get out of your own headspace for a while. You might have heard of it…thehughesmuse.

My frustrating tendency to flip through prompts aside, once I get that one prompt that sparks the imagination, I’m off. And I can write for hours. That’s what works for me, and I absolutely have now amassed – amassed! a stockpile of people and places that I have already used for some other projects.

Wherever you find prompts, and however you approach them, your end goal is to get writing. Your success will depend on what works for you, so try them out.

Even the ten minutes on jars.

piles of books (2)

thehughesmuse publishes two writing prompts each week – Mondays and Thursdays.

If you’re looking for a challenge, give The Glass Jar prompt a go – send it to me direct at

You could also give the 14 Day Writing Prompt Challenge a go. Sign up for a copy here, and a pdf will be sent to you!


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