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Writing Prompts for the Not-So-Prompt

If you are a stranger to the delightful world of wordcraft, perhaps spending your time on more respectable and rewarding occupations like say, Roadside Carcass Removal, you might believe that those who call themselves writers would have long ago resigned themselves to the fact that sooner or later they would be called upon to produce verifiable written material.

You would be wrong…

explodetypewriter.gif courtesy of

There comes a time in every blogger’s life when having answered every email, researched every YouTube video, and basically exhausted every imaginable resource, he finds himself1 in the desperate position of actually having to write.

If you are a stranger to the delightful world of wordcraft, perhaps spending your time on more respectable and rewarding occupations like say, Roadside Carcass Removal, you might believe that those who call themselves writers would have long ago resigned themselves to the fact that sooner or later they would be called upon to produce verifiable written material.

You would be wrong.Bratwacker ~ photo courtesy of

You see, being a writer is a lot like being a rock star: you are allowed, and even expected to dress funny, hold bizarre and often conflicting opinions, and basically act like an adolescent.

The act of writing, however, is a lot like work.

This is why the great majority of activities undertaken by writers, bloggers, and other content providers are specifically aimed at postponing the moment of creation as long as physically possible.2

However, once all contingencies of denial are exhausted, once the sheltering tissue of fantasy is punctured by the viscously barbed shafts of plummeting deadlines, an author simply has no choice but to buck up and write something.

Even if it is a note explaining why he can’t write.

A handwritten excuse for why the writer can't write

One time-honored tactic used to leverage reluctant writers into literary productivity is the writing prompt, a suggestion or hint used to startle the subconscious into an accidental discharge of useful ideas.

And, due to the kindness and generosity bestowed upon me as licensed internet resource, not to mention the fact that I can’t think of anything else to write, I have decided to share with you three of my most punctual prompts.

Start at the End

Determining how your tale will conclude can provide you, the author, with many useful clues on how to construct your story, such as who’s in it, if they’re me, and if we all end up in Acapulco.

An example of an excellent end-starting is this:

Slowly the blogger rose to the dais, glanced at his notes and began, “ I accept this lifetime blog achievement award, with generous cash prize, in the field of humorous quasi-fiction in name of all part-time writers, frustrated comics, and overlooked luminaries everywhere.”

The crowd combusted in an endless thunderclap of applause. As he returned to his seat he grinned a thoughtful little grin, Now I can afford that species change operation.

Start in the Middle

Just because many good stories begin in the middle doesn’t mean that yours can’t start there too. Jump right into the action. Boring chores like introduction and conclusion can be handled with flashbacks and time travel.

A modestly awesome example of this technique is:

So there I was surrounded by a ring of angry Pomeranians, their harsh growls rumbling like a thousand tiny leaf-blowers. Slowly they inched their way forward, constricting the circle around me step by step. Desperately, I searched my pockets for any shred of hope.
Coming up with lint, a gum wrapper and– A rush of excitement coursed through my limbic system– the enchanted chew toy!

Start at the Beginning

Starting at the beginning, while endorsed by many grammar schools and other educational afflictions, is in fact the surest sign of a true amateur. However, if you are feeling nostalgic for the heady days of young writing-love and its baseless optimism, feel free to revisit this technique. You will of course require a strong opening line, something that firmly grasps the reader‘s attention if not his entire nervous system.

Something like:

Of all the flatulence that has escaped all the colons in all the world, why did this one have to come from mine?

That’s It

explodetypewriter.gif courtesy of graph.slndesignstudio.comThere’s no time like the present to write, unless of course there is new material up at Or fresh road kill on the turnpike.

Keep those keys clicking and remember: when you fail to write, you only write to fail…to write…or something.

For more practical writing advice, see the fine folks at

  1. I will be sticking with the masculine pronoun for the duration of this piece, not from any chauvinism or disrespect for female writers, but because in this case “the writer” is a thinly veiled reference to myself, a man of unquestionable maleness.
  2. The true reason that most writers have migrated from typewriters to computers is not because of the fancy formatting options and spell checkers available with modern software, but mainly due to the fact that typewriters had crummy games.

94 replies on “Writing Prompts for the Not-So-Prompt”

Well. I think you “un-blocked” nicely, don’t you? And now you have the whole weekend off. Meanwhile, I sit here, reading other people’s posts, which is much more fun than coming up with my own…

You mean those are my only options? Beginning, Middle and End?

What if I’m writing a time-travel story where the hero goes back in time to narrowly avoid being seduced by his mother so that he can get his father to be seduced by her, only to then have to travel to the far future where a race of barely coherent human toad beings eat nothing but spicy rum cake? What then? m.

Also, some of the masculine pronouns – like “he” – are easier to write than the feminine pronouns – like “magnificence”. Of course, if you wouldn’t try to preserve the facade of anonymity, you could just use “I”, which is the easiest one of all to use and to remember.

And typewrite games truly did suck. I mean, just how exciting IS “Dash to the End of the Line”?

I took your advice and now I’m sitting in a room filled with yellow lined note pages covered in excuses. And I still feel uninspired. Maybe I’ll go play Oregon Trail.

I wish I could write blog posts starting at the end. That is, everybody would comment first, and then I would write the actual post.

It doesn’t seem to work that way, however.

I’ve had some luck starting with stuff from the margins. Obviously, not recently, but it’s a weak fallback in case your middles, ends and beginnings are off shopping.

I think I’ll just stick to humor blog commenting instead of going to full-out humor blogging. That way I can still be unproductive and there no pressure to actually be funny. Also, I can forget everything you just said and take a nap.

Somehow, the method that works best for me, its carrying a small notebook and a pencil with me all the time, the good ideas come when I’m not trying to pull them conciously.

Those are some fine tips. Myself, when I get stuck, it’s always because I’ve come at the problem wrong.

It it seems to be daunting to write a chapter where such and such happens in a certain sort of way, I change perspective somehow — I try to sneak up and jump on it sideways. Like, what if instead of describing the key moment I describe the moment right after it? Or, what if this chapter takes the form of a letter instead of regular narration?

Failing that, I have a stiff drink.

Cheeseburger Brown

I usually just take a sentence from each of the blogs I subscribe to and then rearrange them in alphabetic order. Oh! And write a really suggestive title that will appear prominently on google.

They may never come back, but at least I get the hit on my meter.

In your professional opinion, would creating pulp fiction cause splinters or paper cuts?

I cannot think about injuring myself, but the prospect of writing “fiction dealing with lurid or sensational subjects, often printed on rough, low-quality paper manufactured from wood pulp” is very alluring to me.

I would then like to post images of said something.

I would value your expert thoughts as long as you don’t demand high payments.

This is great advice. It’s very similar to my own technique of starting somewhere between the middle and end of somebody else’s story and then plagiarizing the whole darn thing.

I highly recommend Multiple Personality Disorder. If one of me can’t think of something to write, one of the others will surely have an idea or two.

Okay, so I can start at the end? I can start at the middle? Or I can start at the beginning? Those are three choices that I was completely unaware of. Thanks BrentD, what would I possibly do without your insight? :)

Sorry to be so late getting back to all your comments but the HCM got me an early graduation present. (Talk about confidence.)

A shiny new computer.

So I’ve spent the last couple of days transferring files, trying to organize bookmarks, and trying to figure out Vista.

Sorry to leave you all hanging.

Pulp fiction is high in fiber, which is always good in a bathroom reader.

Whenever I feel the urge to post lurid images I look to Dr Toboggans, and after the nausea has passed, I often find that the desire to post has too.

Although often overlooked, Dental Obstruction is an serious literary problem, resulting in thousands of lost writing hours every week.

At least that’s what I heard on Oprah.

I don’t consider myself a writer of humor, but I feel so at home here at The Comma, I feel like there was a breeding issue at some point in time, and we may have been byproducts of the same aftermath. Did I mention that I like fire? No, really, I love fire.

I can fix that, for a modest service charge, with this improved patch to our latest OS. Just go to our site and purchase a customer support services membership to allow you to search our price list of licenses that will allow you to browse our price list of patches that will fix your problem and automatically upgrade your patch periodically for six months for free.(you can extend this offer to 9 months for a small sir charge.)

Its good that you put that disclaimer. I have been having this recurring dream that some kind of giant punctuation was destroying the city. I don’t know where it comes from, but its like I’ve seen it before.

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