writing prompts: prose

  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. Write a post about eating alone.  Describe your environment, the restaurant, the food, the textures, the flavors, the sounds, the smells, the people. If you’re at a sidewalk cafe, describe the shops around you, the action on the street, what strikes you about a place. How do you feel being alone? Do people respond to you differently than when you’re with someone?  What are your thoughts during your solitary meal?
      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. 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.
      7. Write about things you can do without words. For example, if you’re in a culture where you can’t speak the language, what do you do to connect with others?  How do you respond to the environment?  How do you occupy yourself?
      8. 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.
      9. Write an unusual TITLE.  Let the TITLE be funny, silly, poetic, or strange.  Write a story about it related to your journey.
      10. 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.
      11. Write a compare/contrast essay – how does one place evoke the spirit or other aspect of another place.
      12. Write about how the immediacy of a journey is juxtaposed with other aspects in your life at that time.
      13. 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?
      14. 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.
      15. Write an essay in the third person, as if you are a character. Have fun with it. 🙂
      16. Write an essay in 2nd person present tense, such as in Laura Fraser’s An Italian Affair.
      17. 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.
      18. Write about what you’re currently reading. How does it inform your journey?
      19. 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.
      20. 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.
      21. Write about expectations.  What did you expect about a place?  Did the place meet your expectations, exceed them, or ultimately disappoint?
      22. If, when you died, you could carry only one memory about your journey with you into the afterlife, what would it be?
      23. 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.
            1. My example: Imperfect Lives
      2. Create a fictional character and take him/her on a road trip.  Check out Jim Harrison’s The English Major for inspiration.
      3. Keep a travel journal in the voice of a fictional character and then write a short story about it when you return.
      4. Pick three disparate ideas and juxtapose them all in one story.
      5. 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)


There are hundreds of great writing books and resources with ideas galore.  Some I recommend are:

For Prose:


  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron *****
  • Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity by Julia Cameron
  • Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg ****
  • The Writer’s Workbook, Ed. Jenny Newman, Edmund Cusick, Aileen La Tourette ***
  • Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg *****
  • Thunder & Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg ****
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman ****
  • Let the Crazy Child Write! Finding Your Creative Writing Voice by Clive Matson ****
  • A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves ****
  • The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel *****
  • The Portable MFA in Creative Writing (The New York Writer’s Workshop)
  • The Pocket Muse: ideas & inspiration for writing by Monica Wood
  • Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico, Ph.D.
  • To Write Is to Know: Making Friends With Your Mind by Gabriele Rico
  • Creating Re-creations: Inspiration from the Source by Gabriele Rico
  • Shimmering in a Transformed Light: Writing the Still Life by Rosemary Lloyd
  • Writing Well by Donald Hall
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne LaMott
  • Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson
  • Elements of the Writing Craft by Robert Olmstead
  • Writing from the Body by John Lee
  • Write from the Heart: Inspiration and Exercises for Women Who Want to Write by Lesléa Newman
  • The Writer’s Path: A Guidebook for Your Creative Journey by Todd Walton & Mindy Toomay
  • Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan
  • Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence and Captivating Readers by Barbara Baig
  • Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink: Everyday Creative Writing by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg
  • Creativity Rules! A Writer’s Workbook by John Vorhaus
  • The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself by Rosemary Daniell
  • A Writer’s Workbook by Caroline Sharp
  • The Writer’s Partner: 1001 Breakthrough Ideas to Simulate Your Imagination by Martin Roth
  • The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
  • Writing with Power: Technique for Mastering the Writing Process by Peter Elbow
  • A Community of Writers: A Workshop Course in Writing by Peter Elbow
  • Everyone Can Write: Essays toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing by Peter Elbow
  • Write for Life: How to Inspire Your Creative Writing by Nicki Jackowska
  • Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice by Linda Trichter Metcalf, Ph.D., and Tobin Simon, Ph.D.
  • Discovering the Writer Within: 40 Days to More Imaginative Writing by Bruce Ballenger & Barry Lane
  • So You Want to Write: How to Master the Craft of Writing Fiction and the Personal Narrative by Marge Piercy & Ira Wood
  • Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser
  • Fruitflesh: seeds of inspiration for women who write by Gayle Brandeis
  • The Art of Description: World Into Word by Mark Doty
  • The Creative Habit (Learn It and Use It for Life) by Twyla Tharp
  • Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path by Nicole Gulotta
  • Wild Ideas: Creativity from the Inside Out by Cathy Wild
  • Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Travel Writing:


Short Stories:


  • Writing Life Stories: HOW TO MAKE memories into MEMOIRS, ideas into ESSAYS, and life into LITERATURE by Bill Roorbach *****
  • Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas
  • Writing My Life: The Step-by-Step Autobiography by Alison Bing
  • Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past by William Zinsser
  • Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, Ed. William Zinsser
  • Writing Your Life Story by Nancy Smith
  • Writing from Within: A Guide to Creativity and Life Story Writing by Bernard Selling
  • Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freyman
  • Writing Personal Essays: How to Shape Your Life Experiences for the Page by Sheila Bender
  • handling the truth: on the writing of memoir by Beth Kephart
  • The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
  • the story within: New Insights and Inspiration for Writers by Laura Oliver, M.F.A.
  • Courage & Craft: Writing Your Life Into Story by Barbara Abercrombie
  • Tell Me True: Memoir, History, and Writing a Life, Patricia Hampl (Editor), Elaine Tyler May (Editor)
  • I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory by Patricia Hampl
  • Memoirs of Soul: writing your spiritual autobiography by Nan Pfifer
  • Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art by Judith Barrington
  • You Can Write a Memoir by Susan Carol Hauser
  • Write from Life: Turning Your Personal Experiences into Compelling Stories by Meg Files


  • Writing for Story by Jon Franklin
  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
  • The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit


  • Creating Characters: How To Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain ***
  • Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood
  • The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D.
  • Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon
  • Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson
  • What’s In a Name? by Susan Osborn
  • 35,000+ Baby Names by Bruce Lansky



Magazine Writing:

  • You Can Write for Magazines by Greg Daugherty

The Writing Life:


  • Literary Agents by Debby Mayer ***
  • 30 Steps to Becoming a Writer and Getting Published by Scott Edelstein
  • The Practical Writer >>From Inspiration to Publication<< Ed. by Therese Eiben and Mary Gannon
  • Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by  Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott

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