Here's a favorite from Bonnie Grove.
I was an actor in my former life. My high school years can be summed up in two words: drama geek.
I love the sweaty palm feel of a night at the improv—you know, when you jump onto a bare stage, someone yells out a situation, or maybe just a character trait, and then says, “GO!” You start acting your heart out, creating scene, tension, character, and reaction on the fly.
There’s nothing like a creative riff to blow the rust off your brain.
There’s a secret rule to improv: never say no.
No matter what happens, no matter what a fellow actor insists of you, don’t resist. The challenge is to find a way to go it. Run with an ever changing, ever evolving moment. If you’re up on stage pretending to fly a kite and another actor comes in and tells you he’s a lion tamer and starts cracking his whip at you, you don’t turn to that actor and say, “I’m not a lion.”
You embrace your inner creative and bend to the lion tamer’s will (not to mention that whip), by reacting in a way that allows the kite flying scene to evolve and become more than it was. You are no longer a person flying a kite, but a lion clawing at a rope, trying to escape.
You go with it.
Writing prompts are the improv of words: permission to let go of our preset ideas and splash in the puddles of our minds. And when we let loose, when we go a-playing for the sheer fun of it, something amazing happens.
We get real honest, real fast.
When we let our mind fly, the fetters come off. We let go of our fears. We're no longer worried what an editor might think. We let go of social constraints, family, church, fussy friendships that hold us back from riffing on what we truly think, feel, ache for.
Writing prompts help us stuff our inner nagging Granny in the closet. They invite us to, mentally and emotionally, take off our girdles and scratch. Words flying without constraint. We only react. We only pour out the words.
And that’s why we should all be riffing with writing prompts.
If the golden rule is to write what you know, then the governing rule is Writer, know thyself.
Here are a few more prompts to nudge you to the knowing place. Have fun with them, and, if you’re daring, please share your riff with us in the comments section.
1 1 A bag lady finds a crying baby in a back alley dumpster.
2 Write a paragraph about orange.
3 3 Write a stream of consciousness sentence that begins with the word “noise”. Write down the next word that comes to mind, then the next, and the next. Do not stop to think, just write the words down for three minutes.
4 4 Describe falling asleep.