Friend of the blog Mike posted a fine list of blogging ideas last month. This was in response to a similar post of mine. And here I am now, inspired to write a post, from a post that was inspired by mine. And the idea I’ve been inspired by is to reflect on the nature of writing prompts. This makes this either an incredibly neat and apt post or a bit indulgent and inward-looking. Probably a bit of all of the above.
So, why does the prompter create the prompt? I guess, or hope, the fundamental reason is to reach out to other writers. Writing is a lonely business, as is the world of writing posts on odd little personal blogs. Prompts are a great way of engaging with others as it hopefully encourages a response beyond “Nice post”. I’ve found blogging to be at its most stratifying and fun when it has felt more like an ongoing dialogue than just me shouting in an empty room. Sometimes this dialogue happens organically, through comments, or through various posts covering a similar ground. Sometimes that communication might need a little nudge.
I’m sure some writers prompt for more nefarious reasons. If people take up the challenge of the prompts they will invariably link back to the post with the original ideas. Link-building heaven, right? I suspect this is only a motivation for the larger sites, or the cold, dead-eyed blogging advice sites we really shouldn’t read but can’t help looking at from time to time.
A less nefarious reason, but probably a kind-of hidden one, might be that the author of the prompts knows who is likely to read the post, and who is likely to then respond. The author then might think ahead to what sort of thing he/she would like said reader/responder to write about. I guess it becomes less a prompt and more a request, if that makes sense, an indirect way to ask someone to write a post you would love to read.
And why would they then take up that challenge?
I suppose you would hope someone would respond because the prompts were genuinely inspiring. It is not uncommon for the old creative well to run dry, so to have a load of (good) ideas presented to you from a whole new perspective can’t help but be a good thing. It is hard to maintain momentum around a blog, especially one without a singular theme. Prompts can be an excellent tool for…er…prompting us lazy bloggers into action.
There is probably also similar feelings of wanting to communicate, be part of a dialogue. If you read blogs other than your own, chances are you are the kind of writer who likes to engage with other writers. Even if nobody else reads your response, the prompter will probably take a look. And one reader is better than none, especially if it leads to comments, debate, further posts.
And then there is the reason that probably nags away at most prompters. Maybe they are only responding because they feel a bit sorry for Mr or Mrs Prompter. If someone is trying to reach out, trying to communicate, it is pretty sad when they are greeted with silence. Maybe responders are doing something vaguely charitable.
Whatever the reasons, it is fun to write a prompting post and it is fun to respond to one. Blogs aren’t necessarily the easiest mediums for building community or building dialogue with others. But I do think, when it works towards those goals, it is far more satisfying than the more user-friendly and immediate social media tools, or whatever else online.
Blogging feels like a natural progression from letter writing, or print articles that reference and respond to one another. There is quite often a lot more substance than you might find elsewhere. It can be thought-provoking, it can challenge my own views and it can take me in new directions as a writer and a reader. Which is no bad thing as far as I’m concerned. I’d like to see more of my favourite writers/bloggers posting prompts, and maybe replying to some too.
A fun post. Thank you!
I enjoy taking on prompts occasionally to kind of get me out of my own head a bit. Kind of like you were saying with having ideas presented from a new perspective. I get bored with something if I dwell on it too long, which is a bad thing because I’m prone to dwelling on things. So it’s nice to have something else to think about. Even if it’s just a temporary diversion.
Prompts are also interesting for the creator. In my creative nonfiction course, we’re going to write a food essay this week. Our teacher picked the prompt, I suspect, because she’s a therapist by trade so she wants to see how the class uses food for comfort and healing. So it will be interesting and surprising for her to see what we come up with, I bet. Especially if it isn’t about comfort and happiness at all.
All that said, I remember a few years ago when WordPress would do a prompt a day. Maybe they still do it, I don’t know. But they were awful. Questions like “What would you do if you won the lottery?” and “Think about something that made you smile…” those aren’t writing prompts. They were psychological prompts, inspiring a relatively bland journey from id to ego and, what’s worse, the responses made for a piss poor read. So the prompts need to be thoughtful at least.
You conquered thoughtful prompts quite nicely. I’m still mulling over how I can make some of them happen.
The WordPress daily prompts are generally awful and such a missed opportunity. They have this massive audience who they could encourage to discuss some pretty interesting subjects and experiences, yet they choose to flood them with platitudes and cliche. I love WordPress, but those prompts really let them down.What makes them so frustrating for me is that if they were any good I’d almost certainly use them and probably post more.
For sure. But I do feel like we’re not in the WordPress target demographic. It almost feels like they’re shooting people who feel the need to express their true inner selves, so the prompts seem geared toward some kind of lunkheaded spiritual discovery. But I saw Susan Sontag speak once, and I’ll always remember that she called self-expression “a rather low literary ambition.”
Oh, another thing. I know you’re a fan of writerly advice/ideas. My new website obsession is io9, a geek-out sci-fi blog. I don’t get a lot of the pop culture references, but they have some fascinating history/futurism/outer space stuff that’s total chicken soup for the brain. Anyway, they have a really nice series of advice for writers which I thought you might enjoy. It’s mostly geared toward sci-fi/fantasy, but there are good tips for every genre.
I saw one tip that said it takes a million words of practice before you’re ready for the big leagues. I did the math, and I’ve got a ways to go. I’m maybe a little over halfway there!