1, 2, 3 … Kickstart Your Writing

Need new story ideas? Make lists.

A mashup of Brainstorming and Writing Prompts, I find that list making can help even the most reluctant writer generate new and unexpected ideas. This is a fun activity to do by yourself, tackling a prompt or two per day, perhaps. Or, if you’re leading a class, here’s how it works:

Decide how much time you want to dedicate to list making. I’ll often devote 20 to 30 minutes at the beginning or end of a class. You may, instead, decide to use one prompt per day as a writing warm up. I introduce the activity by explaining that I will read prompts one at a time and give students five minutes to respond to each one. Some prompts are silly, while others are quite thoughtful. Students are not expected to write full sentences. No one cares about grammar, punctuation or spelling. This is about idea generation only. Oh, and there are two very important rules:

Everyone participates.
No one judges anyone else’s work.

I encourage students to make the lists in their writing notebooks so they can revisit these ideas or prompts from time to time.

This activity works well with high school and college students. With minor adjustments, it could be used with any age level. You may find certain prompts are better suited to your students; pick and choose which you use. Better yet, develop your own prompts.

So, let’s get started making some lists

  1. What are THREE things people would be surprised to learn about you?
  2. If/when you become a parent, what FIVE things do you vow never to do or say?
  3. Who are the THREE people from history (living or dead) that you would most like to meet and talk to? Why? What would you ask?
  4. If you could only speak FIFTEEN words for the rest of your life, what would those words be?
  5. If you had THREE wishes, what would they be? (No, you cannot ask for more wishes.)
  6. Write a list of TWENTY things that make you happy.
  7. Which FIVE celebrities would you like to invite to a party? Why?
  8. If you could only eat THREE foods for the rest of your life, what would they be? Why?
  9. What TEN places would you most like to visit?
  10. You have been named ruler of the world. What FIVE changes will you make first?
  11. Emergency evacuation. You must leave your home within the next few minutes. Which FIVE possessions do you take with you?
  12. What are THREE lies you’ve told recently?
  13. What are your FOUR favorite things to do with your family?
  14. What are your FOUR least favorite things to do with your family?
  15. Some words just roll on the tongue. What are your TEN favorite words to say?
  16. What are your FIVE biggest pet peeves?
  17. You are adrift at sea – no land in sight. What THREE people do you want in your boat? Why?
  18. What are your top FIVE life goals?
  19. Imagine you’ve just been given a litter of FIVE adorable puppies. What names do you give them?
  20. What are TEN words you hope no one ever uses to describe you?

When you’re done with your list-making activity, you may find some students are dying to share their lists. That’s fine. Just don’t force anyone to share anything they don’t want to – otherwise they’ll begin to edit their brainstorming.

Encourage students to think about ways in which some of these prompts lend themselves to future writing. Words that are fun to say, for example, might find their way into a poem. Or, thinking about least favorite family activities could turn into a funny short story.

Where will list making take you?

Don’t Make Writing Punishment

I’ve been an adjunct artist at Tacoma School of the Arts for the past nine years. In this position, I get to “teach” creative writing to high school students.

I use the term “teach” loosely. I think, instead, I’m more of a facilitator. I encourage experimentation, let students sample processes, and promote the notion that writing may be the best lifelong hobby/therapy/entertainment you could ask for.

That’s right, I strive to make writing FUN.

So many students come into my classes with the mindset that writing is punishment. Of course they do. If they did something wrong in elementary school, they had to write sentences. If they performed poorly on a test, they had to write an extra term paper. If they got caught talking in class, they were assigned an essay on the virtue of silence. For so many, writing has become a penalty.

I spend a lot of time in my class, retraining those students to understand that writing can be fun and beautiful and creative.

Not every piece of writing is going to turn into the Great American Novel and I’m more realistic than to think many of my students will go onto earn their livings as writers. But I know for a fact, that many have taken the lessons from my class and made writing a regular part of their post-high school and post-college lives. Some are journaling, blogging or cartooning. Some are using writing to share joy and heal heartache. For some, words are the best way to connect with friends or revisit memories.

No matter how they use words, my heartfelt wish is that they find the process of writing both stimulating, rewarding and, yes, fun.