I can remember sitting with my peers in our little desks as we scribbled away in our journals, responding to the teacher’s writing prompt of the day. Compared to learning the multiplication table, journal writing was one of the better parts of the school day. Our thoughts were our own, and teachers couldn’t really put a grade on that. It seemed like an easy A, but I still have some of those journals filled with the elementary me and some of them aren’t too shabby. Most of the time the teachers said they wouldn’t read the entries, but just check them off if they were completed.
So when I sat in a college creative writing course for the first time and found the professor making us essentially do the same thing, I was a little put off. It felt so elementary. And so for a solid year nothing ever came to pass with those prompt-led writings. My critical judgement of them created a brick wall, keeping out all the creativity my brain had to offer.
I don’t know what I thought was the secret to great writing or the secret to tapping into the creativity in my head, but it wasn’t something that my second grade teacher made me do. It couldn’t be.
Thank goodness I eventually learned my lesson. In my final semester of college, sitting at a new university with my heart open to any new opportunities and the judgement monster long gone, I found that it didn’t take any grand ideas to write something meaningful. In fact, the things that came out of these “childish” exercises blew me away. I wrote things I never dreamed I could write, but there they were on a meager scrap of paper while I worked from some sort of prompt. Shoot, I was even writing poetry, and everyone knows how scared I was of poetry. One of my favorite little short stories came from a simple prompt of using the atmosphere of “lonely” and a “dirt road.” I created such a genuine character that a part of me fell in love with him, and I have a feeling I’ll use him somewhere down the road.
The tricky thing with prompts is you do have to keep them a little elementary. You can’t take them too seriously or expect too much, just like with so many other things. You just have to open yourself up to them and enjoy the process of having something to write, digging for a way to say it.
Perhaps more than anything, they finally helped me realize how right Picasso was.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” ~Picasso
Now if only this meant I didn’t have to pay bills….