Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration

When no choice is the right choice

I started my writing career as a short story writer.  As soon as my stories started selling in significant numbers  I realised it was no good sitting around waiting for the ideas for my next stories to come to me.  I had to go out and find them.

I read every how to book I could get my hands on that contained advice on how to get ideas.  One of the methods I liked most was the use of writing prompts.

But the problem with prompts for me was that I spent way too much time reading through them until I found one that ‘spoke’ to me and inspired me to start writing.

I was doing it the wrong time around.

I’m a Libran and find the whole process of decision making a nightmare. Also by introducing the element of choice, I was using the analytical side of my brain to find the prompt that appealed to me.  But, in doing so, the analytical side was overriding the creative side.

All that changed when I discovered daily prompts.

A daily prompt can be anything – a proverb, a quotation, a book title, a fact, an anniversary  or merely a phrase.  I started compiling a list of them, one for each day of the year.  And the time I spent doing this has been repaid over and over again.

The important thing about daily prompts is that they remove the element of choice from the process.  Instead, you take whatever prompt is set for that day and get writing before the analytical part of your brain kicks in.

So I tried it and, to my surprise, it worked. It’s still working.  And it will work for you, too.

So what do you need?

Ready to give it a try?  This is what you’ll need.

  • a list of prompts (see below)
  • A notebook
  • A pen that you enjoy using
  • An open mind

These are not set in stone (apart from the open mind).  By all means, write on a computer, or even your phone, if you prefer.  Or on the back of supermarket receipts, cereal packets or fancy notebooks.  Whatever takes your fancy.  Use a gold fountain pen, or a ‘free’ pencil from Ikea.

Having said that, I believe it’s important to honour your craft.  You’re a writer and proud of it.  And consequently, you owe it to yourself to use that special notebook with the kitten on the cover, or the picture of your favourite team.  And if you enjoy writing in purple ink, or love the feel of a roller ball as it glides across smooth, thick paper, then go for it.  Do whatever makes you feel good.  Indulge yourself.  Have a good time.  Because you’re about to let your inner child out to play. And your inner child is worth it.

Next, take the prompt for whatever day of the week it happens to be (no peeking at tomorrow or yesterday) and start writing.

I’m writing this on 16th March and the prompt for that day, as you will see below,  is  ‘The Fool on the Hill’  OK, so you don’t want to write about this?  I can’t say I did either.  Then start by saying so.  Start writing about why you don’t want to write about it rather than thinking about it. Just sit down and write.  Don’t stop to go back and read what you’ve written.  Or to correct spellings or typos. The important thing is that you just keep going and keep the analytical side of your brain out of the way while you do so.

When do you stop?

Sometimes I do a timed ten minutes or whatever time I have to spare.  Other times (and this has proved the most productive) I’ll keep writing until I get that ‘buzz’ that tells me I have the beginnings of a story. Or the characters come alive and start telling me their stories. And that’s what keeps me in love with writing.

These prompts aren’t meant to be used every day, although if you can come up with a different story every day for a month then respect to you.  But it’s not something I could do because sooner or later you’re going to have to stop playing and settle down to do the tricky stuff.

In his brilliant “On Writing”  Steven King, writing about finding ideas says” “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.”  But recognising what makes an idea worth developing into a story is something I’ll explore in another post. At this stage, you’re still scrabbling around in the recesses of your mind for those very ideas.

To sum up, then, the most important thing about these daily prompts is that you don’t have to stop and think what you are going to write about.  That decision is taken for you. (Great news for us Librans!)

I’m writing this on  March 16th and today’s prompt is “The fool on the hill”.

Go on, then. What are you waiting for?   I will if you will. …….

My Fool on the Hill  (warts, bad handwriting and all)

March 16th. Fool on the hill

I wrote:

The fool on the hill is today’s prompt and it’s not something I want to write about because all that’s going through my mind at the moment is the Beatles’ song and if I am not careful I’m just going to end up writing down the words of the song.

The man with the foolish grin is sitting perfectly still.  See?  I’m doing it.  Why is the man sitting perfectly still?  And why the ‘foolish’ grin?  Why not one of those grins that are infectious?  Like a happy labrador?

Charlie Masterson couldn’t stop smiling. He sat on the bench at the top of the hill without moving.  Just sitting there, thinking.  And smiling.  He tried several times to think of something that made him sad like maths or Man U losing in the last minute.  But it was no good.  Back would pop that smile again.

Now when I started this I didn’t know I was going to write about a child. But there he is, little Charlie Masterson.  Sitting alone at the top of the hill, smiling.  I’m not sure I want to write about a teenager though.  I think Charlie is much younger (although what is he doing alone on that hill?) and that he knows a secret that he’s bursting to share. But can’t.


I could go on.  I probably will because I want to know about Charlie and his secret.  Maybe it will turn out to be one of those stories that are based on misunderstandings.  I love the way young children can so easily get hold of the wrong end of the stick when they’re trying to make sense of the crazy world of adults.  And I really want to know Charlie’s story, so watch this space.

So, are you up for the challenge?  Just remember, no picking and choosing.  Go with whatever comes up for the day.

March prompts.

As I’m posting this half way through the month of March, I am setting out prompts from March 17th, starting, obviously, with the Fool on the hill.

16.The fool on the hill

17. St. Patrick’s Day. Keeping a promise

18. The ugly duckling

19. This is what happens when someone doesn’t listen properly.

20. Out of sight, out of mind.

21. ‘A host of golden daffodils’. (W. Wordsworth)

22. Crocodile tears.

23. Being inappropriately dressed. (Eg Batman and Robin in Fools and Horses)

24. ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth/Is it to have a thankless child’. (Shakespeare’s King Lear)

25. Write about a Saturday night.

26. You’re in a cafe, the door opens and ….

27. Living a lie.

28. Publish and be damned.

29. The anniversary of the first London Marathon, 1981

30. ‘He had something of the night in him’ (Anne Widdecombe)

31. It’s 2.30am and sleep is a long way off.

Next month, I’ll post the entire month of April.

I’d love to hear which, if any, you used.


Where do writers get their ideas from?

How asking the right question led me to a job that’s lasted ten years …. and counting.

There’s so much good advice out there for writers it’s difficult to know which, if any, to follow.  We’re told to:

  • show don’t tell
  • Write every day
  • Write about what you know.
  • Kill your darlings.
  • Don’t work for nothing


All good advice.  But sometimes working for nothing can pay off in unforeseen ways.  I’ve just written my 125th column, The Writers’ Idea Store, for the UK writers’ monthly magazine, Writers’ Forum. You do the maths – that’s over ten years!  (I have to pinch myself sometimes).  In that time I’ve written approximately 103,750 words – and I still haven’t run out of things to write about.

So where did I get the idea for The Idea Store from?

For many years I was a regular attendee at the wonderful Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon, a place where I made so many good friends and happy memories. (Writers’ Holiday is still going although it is now held at Fishguard.)

Apart from all the great courses and workshops (not to mention the amazing food)  they also held what they called After Tea Sessions, where people volunteered to give a talk (unpaid, of course) on a subject of their choice.

I was just beginning to sell my short stories at that time (thanks to a brilliant short story course I’d attended the previous year given by the lovely Lynne Hackles) so I thought I’d have a go at an After Tea talk. It was the first time I’d ever done any public speaking and thankfully quite a few people turned up, so I wasn’t talking to an empty room.  The subject of my talk was: Where do short story writers get their ideas from?

To prepare for it I contacted every short story writer I knew (and some I didn’t know) and asked them that same question.  I got such a good response that I ended up with enough material to give a whole week of talks!

When I got home, my copy of Writers’ Forum was waiting for me.  As I read it, I realised I could use all the material from my Caerleon talk and make it into an article.  Which I duly did.

Only, as I wrote, I realised I had enough material for more than one article.  So I wrote the first article and with the covering letter suggested I could maybe do a series  on the subject.

The editor, Carl Styants, thought my Idea Store sounded a good idea and that he’d see how it went.  And ten years later, it’s still going. Only now, I don’t just ask short story writers the dreaded question, but novelists, feature writers, poets.  Published or unpublished.  Everyone has a story to tell.  And most are happy to share it.

My little 40 minute unpaid talk paid off with a job that’s lasted over ten years – and still counting.  And whilst it hasn’t earned me a fortune, it’s a steady income and I’ve met some lovely people along the way.

Where did I get the idea for the title from?

I’ve now written over 400 short stories, serials and articles and having to think up titles for them all has been challenging at times. Sometimes I come up with one I’m really happy with, only to find the editor’s changed it.  I still smart at the memory of the short story with the title Here Comes Batman! that was changed to Oi! Boy Wonder! Other titles appear as if by magic.  My first published story was entitled Angels on Oil Drums, still one of my favourite titles.

But I have best selling author Neil Gaiman to thank for my Idea Store title.  Because when asked the dreaded “Where do you get your ideas from?” question, one of his replies was “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis.”

And that was it. Wouldn’t it be great, I asked myself, if there really was an  Idea Store – the writers’ one stop shop?  And if you think that sounds vaguely like a certain well known furniture store, that is purely coincidental.

The format of the column has changed slightly over the years and I now include a Fiction Square which is very popular.  (More about that in a future blog post).  But mostly, it’s about me asking every writer I meet that most irritating of questions:

Where do you get your ideas from?

And if you ever feel like answering it, regarding your own work and would like to be featured in a future Idea Store, please get in touch.  I’d love to hear from you.  Either leave a comment below or contact me at ideastore@writers-forum.com


My new author blog, thanks to The Author Blog

That this blog is up and running at all – although perhaps stumbling would be more a more appropriate metaphor at the moment – is thanks to “The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors” by Anne R. Allen.  It really is one of those books that does exactly what it says on the tin, or rather, what it says on the cover.

I read the book all the way through to start with and really took on board the message that an author blog is different from other blogs in that an author is seeking to engage with out readers rather than selling a product (although, of course, we all hope the end result will, in fact, be the sale of our books) .

As I created this blog, I felt like Anne was holding my hand at every stage.  The book is written in a clear, easy to follow style.  She is even honest and open enough to share with the reader some of the mistakes she made in the early stages of blogging.  I just hope mine are safely hidden.

So, many thanks, Anne, for a really instructive and helpful read.  And if you’re reading this, it must mean it worked!  Cheers!


Anne’s blog is here Anne’s blog   And the book can be found at Amazon. (Sorry, Anne, I haven’t got my head around those long Amazon links yet! )

I wasn’t sure if I could post a picture of the cover of the book without Anne’s permission (I said I was still stumbling around, didn’t I?) but I remembered that she said pictures make blog posts more interesting so here’s another picture of my handsome boy, Duke.

My first post

This is Duke, our beautiful seven and a half year old rescue Dalmatian from British Dalmatian Welfare.    He has only been with us a couple of months but has already wound himself completely around our hearts.

OK, so this post isn’t very writerly.  But he will probably appear in many of my future  stories and a recent dog walk with him gave me the inspiration for my current work in progress, a murder mystery entitled The Primrose Path.