Sunday, February 15, 2015

Creative (Pre)Writing for Non-Creative Writers

I am not a creative writer.

I mean, I'm creative. I went to a youth conservatory for visual arts in high school. I can play "Colors of the Wind" on the piano. I'm crafty-as-all-get-out.

And since having children, I've gotten pretty good at making terrifying sea monsters with Play-Doh:

But I am not a creative writer. Poetry. Fiction. Novels. It's all magic and wonder to me. It is something I simply can. not. do.

Well, that's not entirely true. I do it a lot, but not for an outside audience. Instead, I dabble in creative writing to get my mind ready to tackle other tasks. Playing with creative writing prompts for 15 or 20 minutes helps me transition from the chaos that is my real life (have you ever tried to write a conference proposal with a 4 year old in the room? Don't) so that I can actually think. I can also use silly prompts as a way to motivate myself when I face a writing task I'm not looking forward to; I'll avoid things I dislike like the plague, but I can usually convince myself to write about silly things for a few minutes. Once I've started writing (even though it's not serious), transitioning to the writing I really need to do isn't as difficult.

Here are a few of my favorite creative writing prompts

  • Making Mythology: Explain why some aspect of everyday life is the way it is in the style of a myth, fable or creation story. How did the rock get to look like an elephant? Why do strawberries have seeds? What mystical Armenian immortals birthed the forefathers of the Kardashian clan?
  • Man Up!: Most of the time, manifestos are serious documents that declare a person's (or people's) views or intentions. There's Mina Loy's feminist manifestos (and Valerie Solanis' even more radical S.C.U.M. Manifesto). There's the Communist Manifesto of Engels and Marx. One of the great things about manifestos is how much they push and play with language and hyperbole; if Solanis' manifesto is an indicator, the more over the top the manifesto, the better. I give myself 15 minutes to write passionate, exaggerated treatises on tiny things that don't matter: turn signals, how to sit on a couch, what color highlighter to choose.
  • Rewriting History (with Zombies): self explanatory.
  • Limited Letters: Decide how do limit your letters (no Ws? Only words that start with consonants?), then describe a person, place or moment following the limit.
  • Writing Wikipedia:  Choose a random article on Wikipedia. Read the title (nothing else!) and write an encyclopedia entry for it. (caveat: with this prompt, there's the risk of falling into a wikipedia hole and spending 2 hours reading about obscure animals--oh hai, Jamaican Coney).
So, what about you? Do you incorporate creative writing in your writing routine? Got any prompts I can add to my arsenal?


  1. Good, creative stuff here. I love doing timed writing when I'm starting a new project. It gets you to write quickly and generate ideas before the overly critical editor in your head kicks in. I also like to draw a brief sketch of the image/scene/idea just before I begin to write.

  2. I use creative writing prompts at the beginning of each of my Comp. classes - for 10 minutes the students write about some bizarre thing (I'm totally stealing your manifesto idea!). It helps to get them in the zone. I am thinking about using your playdoh idea, I already have the students draw as a pre-writing activity....but I think playdoh would be fun too! Great ideas here! Fabulous post.

  3. Re: creative writing. Yeah, you can. I love this piece. See ya at the conference.

  4. I appreciate this psychological "bait and switch." Doing something low risk, doable, and fun before tackling a less appealing writing task could save me hours (days! weeks!!) of tense procrastination. And I am convinced that a stirring on-topic manifesto would help me articulate some goals for a piece of writing I have not been able to wrap my head around.