Found Prompts

Prompts are everywhere. We just have to be able to spot them and know how to use them. Take receipts, for instance.


Ever pick up a random receipt someone left in a shopping cart or tossed away and give it a close look? You should.

What did this stranger buy? What time of day or night was it? Did they pay cash or charge it?

For a writing group prompt, I collected receipts from all sorts of places — grocery and department stores, bookstores, gas stations…. then handed them out randomly to members of the writing group, set the timer for ten minutes and bam! Away we went, writing whateverthe receipts brought to mind. And the results were — as usual with this group — amazing.

You don’t need a writing group to do this — just gather receipts when you find them in good condition (ignore the ones in parking lots that have been trampled over… nobody wants cooties…!), stuff them in a pocket for writing time, then pull one out to get your creativity flowing.

Stuck in a current project? Wondering what move a character should make next? Use that receipt as a way to get your brain moving in another direction: What if the character goes someplace where they’d get this receipt?

*What did they purchase? Why?
*Is this part of a normal routine? If so, did they vary the routine? Why?
*Was it a good idea for them to do this? Why or why not?
*Did they make any other stops? What were they? why did they make those stops?
*Did they bump into anybody at this place or somewhere along the way? If so, did that person influence what they bought? In what way? Why?

Can you see how this can lead you in a lot of directions?

Well? What are you waiting for! Go find a receipt! Okay… here are a couple to get you started….

receipt1 receipt2 receipt3 receipt5

A Fortune in Writing Prompts

Fortune cookies, that is! Let me back up and start at the beginning. I recently started leading a weekly writing group after its founder passed away. She’d established a great group that meets weekly for two hours, doing ten minute free-writing activities. I was honored when asked to continue the group. I’d been taking different ideas for writing prompts to the group for awhile, and had been looking forward to sharing with Alice the ideas I’d come up with while away. Though I won’t get a chance to do that, I can bring those activities to the group anyway, knowing her spirit is cheering us all on.

One idea was to use those fortunes we get from cookies at Chinese restaurants:

I started collecting the fortunes and eventually had a dozen or so that I took to the group. I handed them out randomly, just as you’d get a random fortune in a restaurant. “Write something about this fortune,” I said, and set the timer for the usual 10 minutes.

Wow! What fun! Some wrote about a character getting that fortune and how it fit (or didn’t) into that character’s life. Others wrote about the fortune itself. Another wrote about the fractured English translation that rendered the fortune nearly unreadable. Still another chose to write about the lucky numbers on the back.

The only thing I’ll do differently next time I do this activity is take the cookies 🙂

Try this — and let us know how it goes.

Finding Time to Write

“I can’t wait until I’m done with high school so I can spend more time writing,” confessed several of the young writers I worked with some years ago in Ohio. They had been selected to participate in a week-long writing intensive at a state university. They were creative, avid writing nerds thrilled to have time with peers and adults alike who actually appreciated and encouraged their desire to write.

Every time I heard this, I immediately wondered whether I should break their bubble with the truth: they will never have time to write. That they probably have more control over their time to write in high school than just about any other time in their lives. That they will go on to college, where they’ll probably fill any non-academic time with work to pay tuition and much-needed social time. After that, more school or a job… or two jobs… juggling doing what it takes to pay the bills with staying connected with family and friends.

If they marry, they’ll have even more demands on their time… and having kids?!? Well… climbing Mount Everest might seem easier than finding time to write. (See Suzannah Windsor Freeman’s book “The Busy Mom’s Guide to Writing,” being released soon, for help on this front.)

Me? Thanks to my beloved husband, I was able to quit my job well before retirement age. We’re on the road as full-time RVers — living and traveling in our RV. As we planned what we’d pack and our first trip on the open highway, we looked forward to a future of fishing for him and writing for me.

What could keep us from that?!?

Well, life gets in the way. We might be on the road, but we still have to get the oil changed, make meals, do laundry, buy groceries. And since we’re in different cities and states all the time, that means it can take longer to run simple errands because we’re constantly figuring out which stores carry the brands we like.

Not that I’m complaining! Here’s my point: you’ll never be handed time to write. You will always have to carve out that sliver of the morning, afternoon or night to get that short story finished, that poem poured over, that novel nudged into the next chapter.

Even professional, bestselling authors have to block out time to focus on their work. They have all the business of writing they have to juggle.

So don’t keep waiting for the time to suddenly be right. It won’t be.

Sharpen your knife and carve out that slice of your day for you and your work. Hang a note on the doorknob or around your neck that says, “Please don’t disturb. Writer At Work.”

Otherwise you’ll never get to that short story. The novel will never get started. The poem will never find its internal song. You will never be the writer your dream of being if you don’t write.

It’s up to you.