Confessions of a Prompt Snob

Trust Your LifeI confess. I’m a prompt snob. Why? Everywhere I look, everyone I encounter, every time I think, I am flooded with ideas for stories and essays. Prompts? Please! I’ve got enough barely legible notes, half-finished pieces, scratched outlines, orphaned stories to last me three lifetimes. I have a hard time believing any writers who say they have no ideas for stories or articles.

Okay, prompts have a place. Especially if you’re new, scared, blocked, or wrung out, prompts can loosen you, revive your creative juices, stretch your imagination. But I consider them unpleasant medications prescribed by self-styled writing medics who make you think they’re the only remedies for writing (or nonwriting) woes.

I think too that writers feel if they take their medicine like good children they’ll reap the magical results: “If I do this prompt, I’ll have the great beginning of a novel.” “If I do this prompt, I’ll be guaranteed publication.” “If I do this prompt, my teacher/professor/mentor/partner/mother will finally see my genius.”

Prompts seem to abound in almost every writing site: Prompt Boot Camp for Writing Reboots, Nine Months of Pregnant Prompts, Desolate Dystopian Prompts, Romance Writers’ Raised-Skirt Prompts, Who Prompted the Murder Mystery Prompts. Whatever writing ill ails you, there’s a prompt for that.

Most prompts feed you all kinds of odd scenarios. Even though some prompts, admittedly, encourage your feelings/opinions/memories (if you must, see The Journal, Resources,, I feel prompts can become addictive and a crutch. Overdependence may prevent us from discovering and exploring our built-in resources, from delving into our own vast wells of creativity.

Each of us has a thousand, million stories inside. From much inner personal prompting, I’d like to suggest three sources closer to home so you too can be a prompt snob.

            Spotting others. I love I. J. Schecter’s observation: “You see an average man sitting on a normal bench on a regular day and you suddenly feel compelled to write a story about it” (“15 Ways You Know You Were Born to Write”). Do you watch people and make mental notes (or photographs)? What gets your attention? Slump of shoulders, slope of nose, bulge of eyes, tremor of hands, imbalance of gait? The irregular prettiness, stiff carriage, direction they’re headed? You can jump off from every fascination into a story, essay, poem, or novel.

Your past experiences. Scratch any year, or month, of your life, and you’ll find proliferating stories. Yes, this is a version of “write what you know,” but it’s also tremendous fodder for stories. When you think about events of the past, it’s likely that now you’ll have enough distance to write about them with that combination of dispassion and feeling necessary for good creation. Stuck in childhood snow coming home from a friend’s house? First love at summer camp? First depression? Rage at early-job impossible boss? Jitters at moving in with your sworn soulmate?

Your recent encounters. They too abound. On the elevator, a stranger tells you his life story. In the movies restroom, you meet a friend you haven’t seen for twenty years. At the proverbial stiff Thanksgiving dinner, you can’t believe your sister’s sudden supportiveness of your writing. Even last week, in the supermarket you help an elderly person find a can of tuna and receive a sorely needed compliment.

            I realize that, ironically, these suggestions may be labeled prompts themselves. But with a difference—they all come from you.

We’ve all got it all, right inside. We do our best writing, and therefore impact on readers and editors most, when what we write comes from our internal sources rather than external ideas. Daily, listen and watch for what excites you. When you write from your limitless inner springs, you’ll produce pieces that not only give you great satisfaction but keep prompting readers to read and reread your work. 

Trust Your LifeAuthor, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Women on Writing, Funds for Writers, Children’s Book Insider, Transformation Magazine, and Unity Magazine. A story appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls (2013). With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, she is completing a handbook for doctoral students to aid them practically, psychologically, and spiritually. In her 2011 book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), Noelle draws on examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her webinar about the book is on YouTube:  Website:


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