writing prompts: prose & poetry

  1. PROSE:
      1. Write a post describing a place using all five senses.
      2. Pick random lines from poems, songs, or books, and write a post where you interweave those lines or titles into the piece.  Let the words inform some aspect of your journey.
      3. Pick five random verbs and use them in your essay.
      4. List the top 10 experiences of your life.  Then PICK ONE.  Don’t think about it for long.  Just write the first things that come to your mind.  Write it in a narrative form: first this happened, then this happened, etc. Put yourself back in the place and time.  Relax and allow the memories to trickle into your mind.  Finish by writing WHY AND HOW this was a significant moment in your life.
      5. Go to a restaurant in a culture different from your own.  Write about the experience of the food, the difficulties of understanding the food choices on the menu, the colors, textures and tastes of the food, the decor in the restaurant, the service and any companions you have as well as any interesting conversations you have.
      6. Write about an unusual encounter with a person of another culture where the language barrier presented some kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication. Or it helped you appreciate or learn something about another person or culture.
      7. Write an unusual TITLE.  Let the TITLE be funny, silly, poetic, or strange.  Write a story about it related to your journey.
      8. Go to a museum, an art gallery, or a historical place in your destination and tell about the experience, using as many of your senses as you can.  Describe how the place feels, how it looks, the sounds and the smells.  You can go anywhere that you think is artistic: a flower shop, a fruit market, a library or bookstore, a nature trail or garden, a concert or live music performance or a night club.
      9. Write about how you think you are changing as you travel.  Do you think you will have the same friends or the same interests when you return home?  Do you think that you will be so changed that you will have to find new people who will understand you?
      10. Visit a familiar place at an unfamiliar time.  For example, you could go to a supermarket after midnight, a city at night, a cemetery at sunset.  Describe it and how you feel while you’re there.
      11. Pick up any book you have on your shelf.  Turn to page 79.  Pick the 4th sentence on the page and write that sentence.  Then brainstorm any ideas that come to your mind related to that sentence.  Write a travel essay using that sentence as your topic sentence.
      12. Tell about a particularly difficult day you had while traveling.  Describe the situation, telling why it was difficult, and how you felt, and how you managed to overcome the difficulty.
      13. Tell about something you DON’T LIKE about your destination.   Describe what it is you don’t like and then compare how the culture is different from what you’re used to in your own country.  Consider how the way something in another culture is done could be better than how it’s done in your own culture.
      14. If, when you died, you could carry only one memory with you into the afterlife, what would it be?
      15. It can be a very lonely existence when you travel to or live in a foreign country.  Describe how you deal with loneliness. 
    2. FICTION:
      1. POEM, DREAM, CONFLICT (Exercise from The Portable MFA in Creative Writing (The New York Writer’s Workshop):
        1. Select a line from a poem, biography, anything that resonates with you. Next consider a recent (perhaps troubling) dream. Then recall a problem you’re having with another person.
        2. Once you have each of these items firmly in mind, begin a fictional account that weaves these three disparate strands together, following the steps below:
          1. POEM: Write one or two paragraphs based on the line of poetry (or prose) you chose. Then skip a line.
          2. DREAM: Write one or two paragraphs using fragments or themes from your dream. (It’s unnecessary to make any explicit reference to the text you used for step one.) Again, skip a line.
          3. CONFLICT: Write one or two paragraphs concerning the conflict you thought of. (Again it’s unnecessary to make any explicit reference to steps one or two.) Skip a line.
          4. PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER. Begin weaving together elements from steps one through three. Follow your impulses. When you write the piece, set it in your destination.
      2. Create a fictional character and take him/her on a road trip.  Check out Jim Harrison’s The English Major for inspiration.
      3. Pick three disparate ideas and juxtapose them all in one story.
      4. Cut paper into 50 phrase-size strips and on each, write different nouns, verbs, adjectives, people, places, activities, stray phrases and seasons.  Mix up the pile and pick three. Use them in a story or essay (From The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel)


  1.  POETRY:
    1. WRITE A POEM a day during a journey abroad. “When everything is a possible poem, the world is suddenly more interesting.”
    2. Write a villanelle about a place: See The Society of Classical Poets: “How to Write a Villanelle (With Examples)”
    3. Use anaphora: (Repeat phrases) I know… I know… This is a story about….This is a story about…. Now that I’m free, I will….Because my time here is short… If I were rich (or kind, sincere, happy, loving, open-minded, and inhabitant of a different place…)
    4. Write down some words or a phrase that inspires you. Freewrite using that word or phrase in relation to your journey and see what comes up.
    5. Use participles: Getting off the phone… Running down the road … Climbing out of the car… Balancing on the edge of the pool…Yelling at her kids to come in for dinner…Toasting bread in the morning…
    6. Take an intangible: hate, joy, loyalty, sorrow, imagination, frustration, beauty, success, failure. Make two simple opposing statements using the word you choose: “Success is sweet. It is as bitter as unripe apples.” Give the word an ability to perceive. Personify the word further. Freewrite about this.
    7. Use prompts: “The last time I heard ______, I was ________.


There are hundreds great writing books with ideas galore.  A few I recommend are:

For Prose:

For Poetry:

This list is a work in progress!  I’ll be adding more ideas and books as time goes on.