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Find your flow with writing prompts—part 1

I love to write and I especially love to write poetry, but I also go through long periods where I don’t write. I get busy with work and life. Or roadblocks appear that zap my time and energy and leave me with little creative mojo. 2018 was one of those years. It was a rough year. One thing after another ate up my physical and emotional energy and left me with no extra creative juice.

I didn’t write a single poem from February until the end of November. I was beginning to wonder if I even remembered how to write a poem. I started a few times, but the poems felt forced and contrived.

Then I happened upon a book my friend and writing partner gave me several years ago. “The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop,” by Diane Lockward is an incredible book with poetry prompts, essays, and articles on the craft of poetry and much more. What I love about the book is that it gives you a poem, dissects the poem, and gives you a writing prompt. After the writing prompt, you get two more sample poems based on the prompt. Since then, Diane has published “The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop.” 

In the past, I rarely used writing prompts. But this book has gotten me back on track twice in the last five years. I thought prompts were a crutch, but now I see them as a jumping off point. Starting with a prompt doesn’t mean you have to stay with the prompt. The prompt just gets you writing, and once you’re in the zone, anything can happen.

One prompt was based on this poem below by Bronwen Butter Newcott:


We lie on warm rocks and watch helicopters
swing down to the river and inhale water.
It’s seeing this with you
against the image of last night: the fire
jumping the ridge, its sharp leaps of breath, the trees
that burst into silhouette as we moved
our binoculars to scan the hill for house lights,
the quiet thrill that we could see
these houses burn, watch the fire come down
and hit the water.

This prompt directs you to begin with a title that is a general word for an emotional state such as anger, fear, love, desire, or sadness. Then use images to evoke the emotion and keep the poem to 10 or so lines. Also, Lockward says to avoid the inclination to tell a story and let the images do the work.

I chose the word “desire” and started describing a scene from last summer as I lay on my deck, convalescing from surgery. I had no idea where the poem was taking me, but I just stuck with the images and kept following them. One image led to another until I got to the end. I wasn’t sure how to end it until suddenly the perfect ending just appeared.

And that’s what can happen with a poetry prompt. The prompt—the jumping off point—can get your brain in the flow of writing, and that flow takes over and brings you places you never imagined. It feels a little like the time I went white water river rafting—minus the screaming.

Below is the poem I wrote from the above prompt:


I lie on my deck chair, warm weave
of fabric tickling bare legs.
Red-painted toes stretch skyward,
thigh and calf muscles tighten
as my foot flexes just so
to reveal the Marilyn Monroe
beauty mark above my perfect arch.
I take a picture—tan shapely legs
with just enough fringe of jean shorts
to grant your imagination a bridge
to the unexplored territory of me.

I’ve been so happy with my results using poetry prompts I ordered another poetry prompt book: “The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice,” by Kelli Russell Agodon. I look forward to reading this book and unleashing even more of my creativity.

You can also find poetry prompts at think and a selection at Writing Forward from Melissa Donovan’s book 1200 Creative Writing Prompts.

You can use prompts not only for poetry but for any type of writing: short stories, flash fiction, essays, articles, or whatever you’re working on. I use them when I’m stuck writing my novel.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll explain how I create my own writing prompts for my novel and other works-in-progress.


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