Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Prompt Jar

Instead of giving you a writing prompt this week, I want to help you build a collection of your own writing prompts. Saving up writing prompts is just like saving up your pennies for a big vacation, only without a ceramic pig you have to break open to get into.

Writing ideas rarely hit us exactly when we need them — when we sit down to write. If you're anything like me, some of your best ideas come to you when you allow your mind to wander — in the shower, while fixing dinner, while mowing the lawn. You need to capture these ideas when you have them so you can dip into them when you need some inspiration.

It's very simple: Write them down and put them in a jar near where you write.

On my desk is a jar that used to hold salsa. (I love salsa, so I see a lot of these jars.) After emptying it of comestibles, I ran it through the dishwasher and taped a rudimentary "Blog Ideas" label on it. Whenever I have an idea for a story or blog post that I can't use right away, I write it on a piece of scrap paper and drop it in the jar. Then, at any time when I'm not feeling inspired, I can reach into that jar and pull out an idea and get to work.

You don't have to label yours "Blog Ideas," of course. It could say "Writing Prompts," or it could be an inspirational quotation about writing, or it could be unlabeled. The point is to create a place where you collect ideas for later.

You uber-techno types can do this electronically, too, with a text file that you keep on your computer's desktop. To make it more accessible from all your electronic devices, sign up with DropBox and save your text file in the cloud; create a shortcut to that file on all your devices so that you can add to whenever and wherever you are. (Mine is called "Sparks.")

Here are two random ideas I jotted down in the past — one from my Blog Ideas jar and one from my Sparks file:

Absurd office documentation, e.g., proper restroom use.

Star Wars + Lewis Carroll = "The Jabberwookiee"

Someone once said that the secret to having a great idea is to have a lot of ideas. Feed your prompt jar regularly. Some of your prompts will fall flat, sure, but the more ideas you put in there, the more likely you'll have one that leads you to the story you need to tell.

And they don't even have to be your ideas. You can make the two prompts above your first deposits in your prompt jar.

Inspiration strikes all the time, just never at the right time. Capture that inspiration so you can use it when you're ready.