How I Used Prompts To Write 31 Stories in 31 Days #amwriting @StoryADayMay

If you don’t already know about Story A Day, lemme tell you about it: IT’S GREAT! Julie Duffy oversees it, and it’s just a wonderful place to get inspiration and encouragement. She posts daily prompts, but I haven’t used them, since I’ve used prompts of my own.

PromptsSo far, I’ve done the challenge for four years, and I’ve been lucky enough to complete it every year and post a story a day to this blog. I say “lucky” because I’m aware that luck has a lot to do with it. I haven’t had a major health issue with myself or family or close friends during May, I haven’t had electrical or internet problems that kept me from posting (which wouldn’t have stopped me from writing!), and I haven’t had the well suddenly go dry. Any or all of those things could easily have happened, and I’m very glad they didn’t.

First, the prompts I’ve used:

2013 — I keep a binder of pocket dividers, into which I stick story starts, story ideas, bits of dialog, and writing exercises that turned out fairly interesting but not interesting enough to follow up on right away. In 2013, I dipped into that binder and pulled things out and used them. I was going to a writing group at the time, too, that did writing exercises with prompts, and I used those.

2014 — In April, I went around the house taking pictures of random things: a small globe of the world faced with thin bits of semi-precious stones, a pair of cow sugar-and-cream holders, a fireplace, a bit of knitting. I numbered the pictures randomly from 1 to 31 and used one a day.

2015 — I began by using the number of the day as my prompt (“One is Enough”, “Two of a Kind”) but, after Day 21, I gave that up. After that, I just used whatever I happened to be reading or looking at or listening to AND I used some of the wonderful spomments — spam comments — that grace my spam folder. Many of those stories were … surreal.

2016 — This year, I decided to go for a three-fer, so I made a beginning at cleaning up my office. I had two boxes of bits of paper I had collected over the years and forgotten about: story ideas, business cards, convention programs, photographs, and pens. Many, many pens. I’m also wanting to write some stories connected with various books and short story characters I’ve already written, so I used stuff from the mess I sorted out to write those stories this May. Some of them will have to be fleshed out, and some of them are tight but complete.

How I use prompts:

I’ve discovered that the way I don’t like to use prompts is to have to stick too closely to them. If I have a set of words, I get itchy if I have to use them exactly as they are. If I have a sentence or phrase as a prompt, I don’t want that to have to be the heart of the story. If my prompt is “Write about a dog,” I don’t want the story to have to be about the dog.

The way I like to use prompts is as a jumping-off point. This is the way the Green River Writers did writing prompts, and that’s what I like best. It lets me free-associate and follow thoughts wherever they lead. Now, mind you, I can’t be all that free during Story A Day May, because I have to turn out a story BeginningMiddleEnd, but I’ve learned that I can do that best if I have that structure in mind, but let my thoughts play around it for a while. If the prompt word is blue, I want to be able to use sad or cerulean instead. If the prompt word is dog, I want to be able to write about a wolf or a pig or a pangolin. The prompt is like, “We need to go to the store for milk,” and writing the story is like, “Oooo! Ben and Jerry’s has a new flavor!”

This is excellent practice for writing for themed anthologies. The editor’s guidelines give you a range for word count — for instance, 2,000 – 10,000 words, with shorter being better — and a theme, either specific or general. Maybe the anthology is stories about sweet romantic love between supernatural beings in Medieval Russia. Maybe it’s stories about survival after a non-zombie apocalypse in Atlantis. Maybe it’s private detective stories set in space or other planets. You know what the story has to have in order to qualify for submission to the anthology, but the only way you can write something uniquely your own and have fun doing it is to be able to let your mind play on those monkey bars.

Does that make sense?

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write about monkey bars.

p.s. Are you thinking about a low dive where non-human primates go and get hammered on banana daiquiris? ‘Cause I am.


I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

You may also like...

One thought on “How I Used Prompts To Write 31 Stories in 31 Days #amwriting @StoryADayMay

  1. Jane

    June 6, 2016 at 8:47am

    I am thinking about post non-zombie apocalypse in Atlantis!
    Imagine this:
    After the last Ice Age, ocean levels began to rise, at times, extremely rapidly. In Europe, much habitable land has been inundated “forever.” Suppose Atlantis is just sitting there watching the ocean rise…..and rise….

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 6, 2016 at 8:51am

      OMG, it’s like On The Beach only not! What do they do? How do they feel? Are there enough boats to get everyone to safety? NO! WRITE THAT STORY!!!!!

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  2. Maryann

    June 6, 2016 at 6:00pm

    Well, I thought about those fun monkey bars on playgrounds. Does that mean I’m regressing to my childhood? 🙂

    I love writing prompts. Some of the best ones I’ve used were actually given to me in a humanities class. The professor showed us pictures of great paintings and had us write a story. That was great because there were no strict guidelines or specific themes that had to be included. Just write whatever came to mind.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 7, 2016 at 7:36am

      Oh, Maryann, I love that one, too! We were given that one in a creative writing workshop! I later found out the true story of what was going on in “my” painting, and I was totally wrong. lol! But I liked my story, anyway. ~grin~

      Playground monkey bars is (are?) what I meant when I wrote the prompt, but then my brain *poing*ed off in another direction. heh

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
      • Maryann

        June 7, 2016 at 11:44am

        I figured you meant the playground apparatus, but I did like where your creative mind took the prompt. Will we get to read the story?

        Permalink  ⋅ Reply
        • Author

          Marian Allen

          June 7, 2016 at 2:22pm

          The monkey bar story? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, if you keep reminding me. I already wrote a penguin bar story, so why not monkeys?

          Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  3. Alana

    June 6, 2016 at 6:28pm

    I was going to say I could start writing autobiographical stories about monkey bars, but I have to say, instead, that I would love to see that Atlantis story, too. What a fantastic idea, Jane!

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author
    • Jane

      June 7, 2016 at 10:46am

      U R 2 kind!

      I think my vision was partly inspired by some old 1950’s Atlantis movies. They were the bomb! Short skirts! Golden shoes! Pretty men!
      I think I’m getting off the subject. 😉

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  4. Dave Lynch

    June 11, 2016 at 8:21am

    Lol @ your monkey bars. Now I can’t help imagine monkeys downing Mojitos and swapping pick-up lines.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author
  5. Holly Jahangiri

    June 13, 2016 at 11:50pm

    Took me a while to get around to this – and I apologize in advance for spoiling anyone’s sunny, happy recess. But story needs conflict. Idyllic hours spent hanging out on a steel frame don’t have much conflict. Usually. Except maybe that one time…

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      June 14, 2016 at 6:28am

      Any time you put a child on a set of monkey bars, there’s automatic conflict! Can I get an amen?

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply

Leave a Reply, If You Ple-az

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.