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From Block to Brainstorm: Prompts to Activate and Inspire Your Poetry

About once a week, I do some of my pre-writing rituals—stretch, light candles, take a bubble bath, read a favorite poem for inspiration—and then when I’m relaxed and swathed in blankets, I hope an idea arrives. Unfortunately, I’ve realized more than once that no matter how much I try to open myself up to creativity, sometimes it just … doesn’t work. Though perspectives on writer’s block vary widely, even some of the most successful writers admit they’ve struggled with the process.

As much as I love canceling plans and layering on a face mask in the name of my craft, I’ve accepted that there’s no magic spell or formula. However, there are hundreds of resources— also known as writing prompts. With more than one million Google search returns, dedicated Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts, and books like 642 Things to Write About and its follow-up, 712 More Things to Write About, writing prompts are everywhere. The flood of ideas can seem overwhelming and endless, so here are some shortcuts.

 

#SummerofPrompts Twitter thread 

Explore prompts imagined by poet Mary Biddinger, a professor at the University of Akron, an author of six poetry collections, and a recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Not only are Biddinger’s suggestions evocative and unique, but the hashtag, which has been around for a few years, underscores why I love Twitter: its power to connect writers

Sample prompt: “Write a poem that takes place underground. This could be taken literally or figuratively. Include one or more of the following: a slice of pizza, a potted plant, an iron-on badge or patch, a disposable camera, Top 40 music, and a friendly snake.”

 

Write or Die Tribe Prompt Board

Read Poetry contributor Kailey Brennan created the Write or Die Tribe site and community where prompts take on a different, creative theme each month. Examples include unconventional narrators, fairy tales, and exploring place. Though not exclusively poetry focused, poets, alongside memoir, short story, and essay writers, will find plenty of gems to hone their craft.

Sample prompt: “Pick a favorite myth or fairytale. While focusing on metamorphosis, transformation and transmutation, creatively retell the tale as a poem.”

 

Kicking in the Wall by Barbara Abercrombie

This book by Barbara Abercrombie, a writing instructor at UCLA, has been one of my favorites for several years. It contains a year of writing prompts and exercises and also incorporates quotes from famous writers. Abercrombie suggests that writers devote five minutes to each exercise, and more if it proves intriguing. 

Sample prompt: “Write about something that you don’t want to remember but don’t want to forget.”

 

Little Infinite Writing Poetry Resource Tab

A poetry lifestyle site that celebrates modern poetry, Little Infinite hosts contests, as well as posts about book recommendations, relevant articles, and lots and lots of prompts. The prompts come from different, established poetsstart here with this list from Lisa Marie Basile, one of my favorite poets and the founder of Luna Luna Magazine.

Sample prompt: “Write from the perspective of a color. What is this color saying, or hoping for? How do they feel? What if blue was happy, and red was peaceful? What if blue always wanted to be more like green? What happens when pink dies? Personify your poems, speak to life through color.”

 

The Time Is Now from Poets & Writers

Poets & Writers, the largest nonprofit serving writers, posts three prompts in this weekly feature: poetry on Tuesday, fiction on Wednesday, and creative nonfiction on Thursday. I love these prompts because they manage to be both detailed and open-ended.

Sample prompt: “A recent United Nations report found that nearly one million species are at risk of extinction in the not-so-distant future, in large part due to human overconsumption of land and resources. This week, write a poem to honor one of these endangered species.”

As myself and many others have found, there’s no perfect time or state in which to write. Instead, prompts can help you create a daily, weekly, or an otherwise structured writing practice —because when we write more often, it becomes more natural and intentional.