The Art of Responding to a Writing Prompt

by Sana Hameed, jaBlog! Fiction Editor


Question from a jaBlog! reader:

“I would like to know how to understand and interpret poetry prompts in a broad and wide-ranging manner instead of just sticking to the wording of the prompt.”

When you first read a writing prompt a unique idea may or may not immediately come to mind. If you have a “knee-jerk reaction” and automatically know exactly what stance you want to take, it’s likely to be an idea that’s already been thought of.

I will tell you that even in slow months, it’s very easy to confuse two pieces if they use the same tired cliché, and it’s very easy to identify the writers who put forth that little bit of extra effort to come up with a central idea that both fits the prompt and stands out. Brainstorming an original idea can be far slower and more difficult in comparison to merely settling on the first idea that comes to mind. However, there are some ways in which you can try to speed up the creative process.

Take an ordinary idea and use an experience to make it extraordinary.

If it’s a one word prompt like many of the jaBlog! prompts, your “knee jerk reaction” may be to take the prompt literally. For example, the February fiction prompt of the month for jaBlog! was “shapes.”

While many entries talked quite literally of triangles and circles scattered, the most interesting entry applied a seemingly personal anecdote and gave context to the prompt so that her entry would stand out. Read the piece titled “The Optician’s” by Bethany Wood to get a better understanding.

Find Visuals.

Whether it be from magazine clippings, Google images, or a simple stroll through a park, writers can harness inspiration from nearly anything around them.

Say you were brainstorming for the March fiction prompt “butterflies,” and you decided that you were un satisfied with the idea of basing your poetry or prose around the fluttering orange wings of a Monarch. By looking for sensory input from a variety of sources, you would be giving yourself more opportunities to be inspired and look at the prompt through different lenses.

Rather than describing merely a living, breathing butterfly, you might be inspired to shift your focus from the butterfly to the cocoon or to the idea of new beginnings. Our prompts here at jaBlog! are loose and meant to accommodate all types of writers so that they may express themselves to the best of their ability.

Check the dictionary.

If you’re having trouble coming up with alternative interpretations for a writing prompt, it is always helpful to check out the dictionary definitions. For example, the April writing prompt for jaBlog! involves revamping a classic fairy tale.

While most people would immediately jump to the conclusion that a fairy tale must involve a prince, princess, and happily ever after, they would be overlooking several other tales which qualify as classics. The dictionary defines a fairy tale as “a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands.” This serves as a reminder that fairy tales can have supernatural beings as the focal point rather than just star-crossed lovers. You could select anything from “Rumpelstiltskin” to “Goldilocks” to “Hansel and Gretel” and write a story with a plot distinct compared to the rest of the batch.

After saying all this, it is important to remember that your thoughts are the driving force behind the originality of your writing. No one can clone your ideas and convey them in the exact same manner that you can. No matter how cliché it sounds, you must recognize the value of your perspective and embrace it to truly elevate your writing.


Click to view our submission guidelines and monthly prompts.

Sana Hameed

About Sana Hameed

Sana fell in love with writing creative fiction in first grade and has over time developed an interest in other areas such as poetry and nonfiction. She enjoys writing short works competitively to hone her abilities as well as working on her own fantasy novel. In her free time, Sana loves volunteering regularly, doing Tae Kwon Do, and spending time with her friends and family.

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