Think of a person from your past, someone you wish you'd gotten to know better and have always remembered. Think about why you wish you'd gotten to know this person better—did he or she do something that intrigued you, did he or she have a particular way about them, did you share an important moment together? Write a poem to this person, exploring what it was about him or her that has remained with you, even though the person hasn't.
Writing Prompts & Exercises
The Time Is Now
The Time Is Now offers three new and original writing prompts each week to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year. We also curate a list of essential books on writing—both the newly published and the classics—that we recommend for guidance and inspiration. Whether you’re struggling with writer’s block, looking for a fresh topic, or just starting to write, our archive of writing prompts has what you need. Need a starter pack? Check out our Writing Prompts for Beginners.
Tuesdays: Poetry prompts
Wednesdays: Fiction prompts
Thursdays: Creative nonfiction prompts
Get immediate access to more than 1,800 writing prompts with the tool below:
Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight.
Use Google translator (translate.google.com) to experiment with the text of an existing poem (yours or someone else's). Translate the text from English into another language, such as Finnish, Urdu, or Korean, and then translate the foreign-language text back to English again. Observe the metamorphosis of syntax and diction as the poem travels through the filter of another language. Then look for a particularly striking phrase, an odd construction or image, and use it to begin a new poem.
Pick a poetry book off of your shelf and open it to any page. Read the poem you've opened to, then write one of your own, using the same number of lines and stanzas. Choose a fragment from the poem you've read to title your own.
Record the text from as many advertisements as you see or hear throughout the day—on your way to work, while listening to the radio, grocery shopping, or doing anything else during your daily routine. Use one of these ads or parts of several of them as an entry point to a poem.
Happy Halloween! In honor of this ghoulish holiday, the Poetry Foundation has put together a sampler of Halloween poems. Read and listen to them, then write one of your own.
Choose a draft of a poem that you've been working on or a poem that you aren't satisfied with. Print it out double-spaced. Write a new line between each line, then revise the poem as a whole, working to first expand it, then distill it to its most powerful form.
Compose a poem of five stanzas with four lines each. Use five of the following words: promenade, mettle, flap, azimuth, arbor, heap, mast, foxgrape. Write the final line of the poem using words whose vowel sounds contain a, e, i, o, u, in that order (for example, "The stay between window and room").
Transform a poem that you've written or write a new poem without using the first person.
Find a poem that is different in style and approach than the kind of poem you usually write. Read it repeatedly until it opens for you, scan it to better understand its musical qualities, and finally memorize it. Write your own poem inspired by the poem you've studied.
Transform one of your poems into an artisanal object of some kind using found or recycled materials. Send a photograph of it to email@example.com for possible inclusion in a slideshow. Include Artisanal Object in the subject line.
Ruminate on the following lines by Greek poet Aeschylus: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget / falls drop by drop upon the heart, / until, in our own despair, / against our will, / comes wisdom / through the awful grace of God."
Use these lines as the epigraph to a poem. Once you've finished the poem, delete the epigraph.
Write an ars poetica, a poem that conveys your perspective on the art of poetry, how it works and its value. Visit the Academy of American Poets website to read more about ars poetica, and for examples by other poets.
Choose a page from a book, a magazine, or a newspaper and make a list of the nouns mentioned. Using free association, jot down a new noun for each noun in your first list. Using the second list of nouns, write a poem.
Read Teresa Cader's "History of Hurricanes." Write a poem that is a response to it, either by using and reworking one of the lines, by crafting similar line breaks, or by adapting the poem's theme.
In Peter Schjeldahl's article, "Roots: Hopper's House," which appeared in the July 11 & 18, 2011, issue of the New Yorker, he describes the history of the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York, mentioning that performance artist Karen Finley conducted writing classes there this summer, during which she assigned her students to "imagine and describe their personal summer interiors." Now that the season is coming to a close, imagine your summer interior and write a poem that describes it.
Transcribe five sentences that you find interesting from a book or a magazine or newspaper article. Send the first half of each to a friend via e-mail and ask him or her to finish the sentence and send it back to you. Use the responses, or portions of them, as the beginnings of poem.
Find a map—of the Earth, the United States, or your home state or city—or visit Google Maps, pick a town at random, and write a poem about daybreak in that specific location, inventing any pertinent details.
The late English poet Philip Larkin was born eighty-nine years ago this month. Begin a poem using the first lines of Larkin's oft-studied poem "Church Going," from The Less Deceived (Marvell Press, 1955): "Once I am sure there's nothing going on / I step inside, letting the door thud shut."
Approach a poem (or revise an existing poem) as if you were writing a fable. Keep a third-person point of view. Address the anthropomorphic qualities of the objects you introduce. Invite an animal or creature into the poem. Allow an invisible force to alter time and space. Instead of ending with a lesson or moral, try closing the poem with a question.
Focus this week on collecting images, drawing on as wide a range of sources as possible. Cull family albums for interesting photos, visit online archives of images, cut out images from magazines or newspapers, take photos of buildings, billboards, birds—anything that strikes you as you make your way through each day. At the end of the week, assemble these on a table or tape them to a wall in your work space. Write a poem inspired by this collage.
Make a list of the names of your family members and friends. Use all of them to create a poem. Try writing a tiny letter to each name, using free association to link each name with another word, or describing each briefly as if it were a character or object.
Experiment with form, creating an upcycled poetic object, by writing a poem using found materials.
Over the weekend, the American Museum of Natural History opened a yearlong exhibition of scientific photographs made using state-of-the-art technologies. If you're not in New York City to take in the show in person, check out some of the images online (Wired has a collection of favorites) and write a poem examining the life of the elegant forms and miniature worlds captured in exquisite detail.
Choose a poem—one of your favorites or one chosen randomly from a book. Scan its meter, marking the stressed and unstressed syllables of each word. (Read a definition of scansion from the Poetry Foundation). Write a poem, using the same meter and number of lines.
Set a timer for five minutes and freewrite, putting pen to paper and transcribing everything that comes to mind without stopping until the timer goes off. Review what you’ve written and circle any phrases, images, words that appeal to you. Using those fragments, freewrite again for five minutes. Again, circle anything that appeals to you, and use those fragments as the starting point of a poem.
Write a letter to a landscape or scene you pass through today. For example, “Dear Williamsburg Bridge,…”
Write a villanelle, a poem of five stanzas made up of three lines each, with a concluding quatrain (a four-line stanza). Lines one and three of the first stanza are refrains throughout the poem. The first line of the first stanza is the third line of the second and fourth stanzas; similarly, the third line of the first stanza is the third line of the third and fifth stanzas. Also, the first and third lines of the first stanza are the last two lines of the concluding quatrain. Every line should be the same metrical length. For examples, read Dylan Thomas’s "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" and Elizabeth Bishop’s "One Art."
Browse through a collection of photographs in a book or online (such as the New York Times or the Library of Congress) and choose an image that you find arresting. Use the title of the photograph (if it has none, write one for it first) as the title and the starting point for a poem.
Compose a poem collaboratively with a friend. Write one line and send it to your friend via e-mail, or by passing a notebook back and forth, and invite your friend to write the next line, building on what you wrote. Continue composing the poem together, line by line, until you have at least twenty lines. Then each of you consider the draft and revise it independently. Compare your final versions.
Choose a sentence from a newspaper whose meaning gets larger and stranger when taken out of context. Use it as the first line of a poem. If you get stuck partway into the poem, try repeating just part of the line and vary how you complete the rest of the sentence, changing the meaning and music of the line each time. When you have a draft you like, try moving the full sentence to the end of the poem, or somewhere to the middle, or maybe take it out entirely. Stir, and see what happens.
This week's poetry prompt comes from Idra Novey whose debut collection The Next Country received the Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books and was included in Virginia Quarterly Review's list of Best Poetry Books of 2008. She teaches in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.
Think back to yourself ten years ago—where you lived, what your preoccupations were, who your relationships were with, who you were. Write a letter in the form of a poem to yourself then from yourself now.
Write a prose poem, a poem that doesn't use line breaks to convey its meaning. Read [the siren's story] by Barbara Jane Reyes for an example.
Write a poem that explores how you were named and the meaning of your name. Include at least one bold lie.
Snip apart a draft of one of your poems, line by line or in chunks. Rearrange the elements and rerecord the original work.
Take a cue from Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, which tells a single narrative in ninety-nine ways, and write a poem based on what happened just after you got up this morning. Then use one or more of these filters to revise the poem: onomatopoeia (integrating the sounds of your morning into the language of its telling), litotes (a supremely understated start to the day), overstatement (embellishing every detail), olfactory (emphasizing the morning's smells), tactile (emphasizing the morning's physical feel), gustatory (emphasizing the morning's particular taste).
Spend a few moments examining an old photograph—a found image, a photo from childhood, an iconic shot from history—and give it a title. Then put the photo aside and write a poem using this title.
Write a poem on a page of today's newspaper, allowing your eye to wander slightly and take in the language on the page, and for your text to overlay the text on the page. If you fix your eye on a specific word or phrase, incorporate it into the composition.
Choose a poem that you are in the process of revising. Draw a map of that poem, paying attention to the details of its landscape, its realities and abstractions, its landmarks, the spacial relationships among its features. Use the map to guide a revision of the initial work.
Choose a clichéd phrase ("fit as a fiddle," "think out of the box," "running on empty," etc.) and turn it around. Use the new meaning created by this reversal to fuel a poetic meditation.
Flip through the dictionary and randomly choose ten words. Write a poem with each word in every other line.
Write a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem made up, typically, of three stanzas of four lines, and a fourth of two lines, or a couplet. Use the following rhyme scheme: In each of the first three stanzas, rhyme the first and third lines and the second and fourth lines (a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, e, f, e, f); and rhyme the lines of the couplet (g, g). For a traditional example, see Shakespeare's "From you have I been absent in the spring...." For a contemporary example, see Denis Johnson's "Heat."
For one week, collect words and phrases you encounter throughout the day from signs, advertisements, menus, overheard conversations, radio programs, headlines, television, etc. At the end of the week, write a found poem, using these snippets.
Choose a poem that you’ve written and rewrite it in its reverse, making the last line the first, etc. Revise this version, creating a new poem.
Set a timer for five minutes and freewrite—writing anything that comes to mind without stopping until the timer goes off. Then circle every third word or phrase of what you’ve written. Use these circled words as the starting point for a poem.
Make a list of objects. One thing should be from your desk, one from your closet, one a body part, one a thing you covet that belongs to someone else, one enormous, one slippery, and at least one that makes an odd or evocative sound. Now, describe each using a simile. Do this twice for each one. Using as many of the similes as you can, write a poem with a title such as “Checklist to Survive a Nuclear Winter” or “Things That Have Nothing To Do With Grief.”
What is something you are afraid to write about in your own poems, either because it is too personal, or because you feel it is cliché? Create a character—a swarthy bum, a baker, a dog—and write a narrative poem in which your character addresses this topic. Let the fact that the poem isn’t really about you be freeing.
Write an erasure poem: Rip out one or two pages from a magazine or newspaper. Read through them, underlining words and phrases that appeal to you and that relate to each other. Using a marker or Wite-Out, begin to delete the words around those you underlined, leaving words and phrases that you might want to use. Keep deleting the extra language, working to construct poetic lines with the words you’ve chosen to keep.
Choose a favorite poem written by somebody else, type a copy of it, delete every other line from the poem, and write your own lines to replace those you’ve deleted. Next, delete the remaining lines from the old poem so that only your lines remain. Read what you have, and revise it, adding new lines to fill in the gaps.