A creative writing prompt is a simple technique or a few words or phrases you can use as a starting point for your creative writing.
Once you’ve begun to write, and used the prompt for inspiration, you’re off on your own.
Where your writing goes after this is entirely up to you and your imagination.
Many creative writers feel uncomfortable using creative writing prompts.
They think it’s cheating or taking a short cut and all their ideas should be 100% new, original and their own.
On the surface that sounds like an honourable point of view. Of course we all want to be able to compose work that’s uniquely ours and the fruits of our creativity alone.
We know how bad we’d feel if we simply copied someone else’s writing and claimed it as our own.
But the fact is, nothing is completely new.
Everything creative builds upon the works of those who’ve gone before us.
For example, think about when a major car company begins designing a new model.
They may introduce many new features, some of which are truly revolutionary in car design and innovation. They’ll most likely use cutting edge technology to design each new element of the new model.
But that new car, even after all the millions spent and the thousands of man hours of design and labour invested, will still have four wheels and an engine.
It’s the same with creative writing.
At the most extreme fringes of creative writing, you might invent new words, you might even invent new letters. But they’ll have meaning in some form.
Creative writing is about the expression of ideas and emotions. Yes it can be as experimental as you want to make it, but it’ll always return to being about that human expression.
Creative writing prompts help us explore that creative expression.
If you’re a dressmaker, do you make the material from nothing. Do you have your own factory that processes the raw fibres into larger pieces of material? Unlikely. You probably buy material that’s already been woven and then make your dress from that.
If you’re a musician who composes using computer software, do you write a completely new software program from scratch each time you want to start a new composition? It’s not very probable. You find software that works for you, and use it to help you explore your creative music ideas from there.
If you’re a photographer who specialises in photographing buildings and architecture, do you go and erect a new building each time you want to take some pictures? Do you build a new camera, piece by piece? No. You have cameras you’re comfortable using, then you find buildings that inspire your photography.
Would you consider any of the 3 artists described above as “cheating” or “not being original”?
So if you have any concerns about whether using creative writing prompts is cheating or somehow not allowed, think again.
You’ll no doubt realise that in fact creative writing is in many ways already one of the simplest and purest forms of creating, because we need so little equipment, tools or technology to begin.
So using a few words or techniques as a starting point is even less of a possible concern.