Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

One-Night Stand

I think we can all agree that we writers have a world. Critique groups, writing circles, online forums, blogging, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter. We are inundated with ways for our traditionally hermit-like tendencies to branch out into social sharing, learning, critiquing and commiserating the woes of being a writer.

When I first started searching the online forums, reading blog posts and generally dipping my toe (then diving head first!) into the world of writers, I came across a lot of new information. For one, there a lot of acronyms. It took me awhile to catch on to all of these, and I might do a quick post in the future, but I did eventually get them. I still only use a few, because I’m a write-it-out kind of gal, but it’s helpful to know what other people are talking about.

And the process of writing and getting published was a huge mystery. I learned from doing and from listening to others talk about their process, until now I think I have a pretty good handle on it (says the woman without an agent or book deal.) What really has me confused are two things: Writing Prompts and NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I know what both things are, but I just don’t understand their purpose. They seem pointless to me. And for those of you who may be wondering what NaNoWriMo is, it’s National Novel Writing Month, held every year from Nov. 1 through the 30th. Pretty much everyone in the writing world has heard of this. If you haven’t, no biggie, but you might want to get out more. ๐Ÿ™‚

So why don’t you see the point?, you say, your hackles rising in irritation at my audacity. I love writing prompts and NaNo is my favorite time of year! I will tell you why, but let’s start with writing prompts.

I have notebooks full of ideas. I have ideas from my ideas. I have kernels of thought buried in my brain so small and inconsequential I haven’t written them down. What do I need writing prompts for? The exercise, you say. The act of taking an inspiration and turning it into a short story. Many a novel has been derived from a short story derived from a writing prompt. I’ll give you that. But if you have ideas that are inspiring you, why do you need more? And if you’re writing everyday like a good novelist should, why do you need the exercise?

This may sound like I’m being detrimental and mean, but really I’m not. I get they work for other people, but they are pointless for me. And there’s a tiny, persistent voice inside me that says they should be useless for you too. It’s small, easily shouted down, because what works for one writer doesn’t always work for the next. I allow that, but I feel if you are taking the time to write shorts based on writing prompts for the fun or the exercise, or you are doing writing exercises of another nature, you are wasting time you could be working on that novel. Writing itself is an exercise and if you are writing everyday with an end goal in mind (completed novel) then you don’t need the exercise of prompts. You’re already doing the work of improving by simply writing. And then there’s the editing phase. You learn more in that than you do the whole time your plowing away to reach The End, because now you’re networking out to others. Your betas will tell you what’s wrong and hopefully give you pointers on how to fix it. You yourself will read and see that first drafts are crap. Beautiful, shiny, wonderful crap, but crap nonetheless.

So this is where I’ll leave writing prompts. If they work for you, okay. But ask yourself if all the time you spend coming up with short stories you’ll never use would be better spent actually writing the novel you’ve been dreaming about for years. If the answer is no, then by all means, prompt-away. But if the answer is I don’t know, or maybe, or yes, then drop the prompts and get with that guy, er, novel that will stick with you through the test of time. Make a commitment. Don’t be scared! What’s the worst that could happen? You write 30k words then lose interest? Maybe, but that sounds a lot better to me than 30k split over ten stories that just sit on your blog or hard drive and never go anywhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day, my friends, and your writing career won’t be either. So treat it like a long term commitment, not a one-night stand. Quit being a writing whore!

And on to NaNoWriMo . . .

By now your blood is boiling at my insulting attitude, but hopefully you’ve stuck with me. I’ll be a little gentler on NaNo, though based on his popularity, I think he can take it. So, once again for anyone who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo’s purpose is to write 50k words in one month. And I have actually heard of writers who have turned their NaNo-baby into a polished, published novel. I think Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was a NaNo-baby. Hmm, I like that term, NaNo-baby. I think I’ll keep it. And like your NaNo project, you may want to keep it too. At least here I can see the purpose. NaNo teaches you discipline, gives you goals, shows you how to track progress and takes those constant-editors and turns them into word-churning machines.

But I’ve never actually worked that way. I have carved out blocks of time in my life for writing. Very little interrupts that. I get done what I can get done and that’s enough. Unfortunately, I am a constant editor, and this is an area where I could use some improvement, but the discipline required to complete 50k in a month has never seemed like an asset to me. I’m in it for the long haul, the career, the commitment. There’s no short cuts to success and serious writers don’t need gimmicks to get them to complete a novel. In case you didn’t hear the sarcasm in that last sentence, it was there. I fancied myself above such silly games. I didn’t need to be tricked into writing a novel, I’ve completed two, by golly!

But you know what, I’m beginning to rethink that. No, I don’t need NaNo to complete a novel. I really have written two full-length novels. I know I can do it, and I have no doubts about my abilities to complete decent fiction. I’m no Hemmingway, and neither do I aspire to be, but I’m pretty sure my YA is better written than half the crap produced these days. Of course the other half makes mine look like cow dung, but still, middle of the packs not bad. So what can NaNo do for me? Well, like I said, I’m a constant editor. If I really look at the amount of time I’m writing, (this includes networking, blogging, etc., not just writing) I have a part time job of 18-20 hours a week. Some weeks more if I can squeeze it in. But I could write faster. I could force myself not to go back and correct every mistake, or re-write something because it “sounds” bad. That’s what the editing stage is for.

Like I said, I don’t need NaNo, and I’ve never participated, not only because it seemed pointless, but because I was already in the throws of writing (or in the throws of life!) when NaNo came around. Right now, though, I’m querying agents. So really, how much time per day does that take up? I’ve been networking and blogging (a very little) and generally spreading myself thin over Facebook, Twitter, Absolute Write and Pinterest. All of which has value, but I’m ready to start writing again. So why not? I have the second book to I HAVE NO NAME pretty much plotted in my head. It’s ready to go. I just have to pull the trigger, er, hit the keyboard. Why not turn it into a NaNo-baby? I’ve heard NaNo-babies have a face only a mother could love, but that’s okay. I’ll polish that precious bundle until she’s a shiny, sparkly manuscript.

And I have no illusions about winning NaNo. (You get to call yourself a winner if you complete the 50k, no matter how terrible they are!) Chances are good that life will prevent me from achieving that illustrious number, but it will kick start my writing. And for me, it’s more about teaching myself to push through and write than anything. Even if my NaNo-baby is a preemie at only 20 or 30k, I’ll have something to work with. So okay, I’ll give it a shot!

Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready To Be Seen By Anyone!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally Green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me . . .
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you LEARN!
Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .

8 thoughts on “Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

  1. You might want to take out that judgemental little voice and give it a good wake-up whack.

    The thing is with both writing prompts and NaNo, is they exist to get people writing. Period.

    Peeps who, for all sorts of reasons, ranging from childhood, and into life-the-universe-and-everything reasons, feel as though they can’t write. Or feel like they can’t write good enough, or feel stuck. Or what to challenge themselves and write out of their comfort zone. Or whatever.

    Some people may never want to write anything more than a ‘prompt story’ or a NaNo first draft.

    And some, may be somewhere on the path between not writing at all and being a published author and are using them as another learning tool.

    To challenge the analogy you used, having one-night-stands does not make one a whore. (unless one charges for it)


    • You seemed to have missed the part where I said they work for some people. Getting started and writing for fun are absolutely great things to do. And some people write shorts for publication. If you are serious about writing a novel, then you need to commit to that project. That is what I am talking about. There are many kinds of writing and purposes for writing, but if you keep taking your time to write shorts, prompts and other exercises, you are using the time you have available to write a novel. It’s all about your expectations and end goals. My first novel wasn’t great, but I learned a lot more from that than any prompts or exercises I completed. Besides, the post was meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek and analogies aren’t meant to be all-encompassing. If we qualify every aspect of an analogy we’d take up paragraphs on explanation. It was just a joke.


  2. Haha I totally agree with you on both counts. Neither have really helped me. Never do writing prompts, just work on my novels. And NaNo, I guess I don’t really need that to get a novel done, like you said. I keep signing up for it and never doing it because I’m usually in the middle of writing or editing something else that I’d rather be doing instead of writing something new. It’s peer pressure that gets me to sign up, writer friends, but then I just never do it lol. Well said!


  3. I think it depends on how you use writing prompts, whether it’s as the sole basis of your story or as a part of the story. I often find myself stuck halfway through what most people would call a short story (anything that takes more than 20 mins = long to me, due to my short attention span!) and then I’ll look for a prompt (not a fully fledged idea, but a sentence or dialogue) and 9 times out of 10, I find something that helps.

    I have notebooks full of ideas. I have ideas from my ideas. – I would consider these to be prompts in a way, but I respect that you don’t see the point in prompts. I think that they’re good for more spontaneous writers. There’s something rewarding about taking an idea and churning out X number of words for it after getting a rush of ideas.

    As for completing a novel being more rewarding than completing short stories; people can do both, surely? ๐Ÿ˜›

    As for NaNoWriMo, I’ve never done it myself because I get into a weird seasonal type of mindset around November and usually don’t write at all. Good luck with it! ๐Ÿ™‚


    • It’s not that a novel is more rewarding than a prompt, just that if you want to complete a full novel you should concentrate on that and not shorts. I respect that they work for other people, just not me, and like I said, if they work go ahead with it, but if it’s pulling you away from completing a novel there’s a problem. As another commenter pointed out, some people will only ever write for fun or maybe the prompts will get them started in writing. I get all that. I ‘m just saying if it’s holding a writer back they need to drop them. If it’s moving them forward then by all means prompt-away’ ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. Pingback: Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready to be Seen by Anyone! | Jennifer Austin – Author

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