Prompt Me

by Steve

weird infomation machines on a stageFriend 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.

Image from US National Archives, via Flickr