I've been thinking a lot lately about writing prompts. In October I was perusing Writer's Digest and saw the prompt for Your Story #29, "While remodeling a room of your house, you discover a door to another room you didn't know existed."
Based on that prompt, the contest is to write a short story of 750 words or less. Sometimes I read prompts and pass over them, nothing hits me. No inspiration. Other times there is a spark. On this occasion, there was definite sparkage. I had an image in my head, the beginning of a story. How the door was hidden, how it is found, and a vague sense of who was doing the finding. I knew her emotional connection to the room and that she was alone in the house. I didn't know her name or age but I wanted to meet her. She felt familiar. I started typing. I thought, it would be fun to enter the contest and to write a little something unrelated to my work in progress, which was taking a long time to complete.
After 1,500 words, I realized the story was not going to be told in the length, the contest asked for. After another 1,500, I knew this was a big idea. I didn't have time to work on a big idea. I saved it in my "Ideas" folder and moved on.
Four months later I finished editing my first manuscript and decided to shelve it. It wasn't ready for publication. The more I worked on it, the more I felt I had the wrong character as my focus and that the most of the book is back story. That stings. Unprepared to rework the whole thing, I went back to my "Ideas" folder and resolved to start something new.
The Writer's Digest prompt glared at me. Begging to be excavated. Two months later, I have a nearly complete YA Fantasy, which has nothing to do with the original prompt. This is the fastest I have ever written and I suspect many months of editing ahead. I am glad I saw the prompt. How else would I have found my story?
Then, flitting around the blogosphere on Wednesday, I stumbled on a picture someone posted and my writerly cogs clicked into motion. In less than five minutes I had a premise for another story, this one would be Contemporary YA. The details came to me so suddenly, I was in awe of, well, I guess I was in awe of myself or of the inspiration.
Where does the inspiration come from? Is my brain getting better at asking the fiction writer's question, "what if?" at every turn, and what appears to be inspiring is really my own acknowledgment of possible answers to that question? Or is credit due to the great prompt writer or to the photographer who snapped the picture?
I don't know where stories are born. Though it feels like they come from a place outside of myself. I don't think I have a say in the matter. Frankly, I don't care. I am just grateful that they come.
I did my best to type up a few paragraphs of the idea and then walk away. I still need to focus on my current project. I love when I am the only one in possession of a story and I am responsible for delivering it to the world. And though, I don't need to know where or how stories and inspiration come into being, I am still fascinated by the flint that causes the spark. It's amazing to me that a few song lyrics, snatches of overheard conversations, or a curvy road through the woods can be the catalyst to tens of thousands of words being written.
Where do your ideas come from?
Places to Find Prompts
The One-Minute Writer
Creative Writing Prompts
Young Adult Highway