Think about an important conclusion or insight that you've had at some point in your life but that took time to fully realize. It could be anything—the need to end a relationship, the decision not to pursue a certain career, or the hard truth about a life challenge. Write an essay structured around the many moments that led you to your final conclusion or insight. Consider using headings for each section, such as The First Time I Realized X, The Second Time I Realized X, etc.
The Time Is Now
The Time Is Now offers a weekly writing prompt (we’ll post a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays) to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year. We also offer a selection of books on writing—both the newly published and the classics—that we recommend you check out for inspiration, plus advice and insight on the writing process from the authors profiled in Poets & Writers Magazine. And don’t miss Writers Recommend, which includes books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired other authors in their writing.
Choose two people who you know well and write a detailed character description of each one. Next, change their gender, name, and physical traits. Begin a story with both characters standing on the platform of a train station, waiting for a train.
Choose any word from the dictionary and read its definitions. Write a poem using only the language of these definitions. Try repeating them in different combinations and using line break to create unexpected phrases. Experiment with how far you can push the limits of the language you're working with. Use the word you've chosen as the title of the poem.
Think about a choice you made in your life that led to specific consequences or outcomes. Explore the alternative reality that could have been if you'd made a different choice in an essay that begins If I hadn't...
Choose one of your favorite classic books and make a brief outline of the plot. Write a story, set in the present, adapted from that classic story, using your outline and the classic book's main character to guide you. For example, write a version of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre set in Los Angeles in 2013. Who would a contemporary Jane be? Under what circumstances would she go to live and work in the home of a widower? If she fell in love with him, what would happen?
Look out your window or observe your surroundings and make a list of ten images. Choose the three that you find most compelling and freewrite about them, exploring any memories or associations they elicit. Put your freewriting exercise aside, and draft a poem that incorporates at least five of the images from your list.
Choose a topic with currency that you feel personally connected to and want to explore through writing. Research statistics, facts, and events related to it. Weave these with personal anecdotes that are also related. For example, if the topic is gun control, write an essay that combines statistics about how many people own guns in the United States, factual stories about incidents of gun violence, and personal anecdotes about how you learned to hunt growing up. Strive to explore the complexity of the topic.
We each have our own approach to writing stories—some writers compose quickly and broadly, leaving the sentence-level refinements for later, while others labor over each sentence until its worded just right before moving on. Identify which kind of writer you are. Then revise a story you’ve been working on, applying the approach you don’t normally take.
Think about something that you did or said to someone that you regret. Write a poem of apology, comprising five four-line stanzas, with the same number of stressed syllables in each line. Avoid sentimentality. Rely on images, rhythm, and structure to convey your regret.
Think about an aspect of your life story and rewrite it, telling the tale from another angle or perspective. For example, if your family always considered you to be a difficult teenager, write about other interpretations of your behavior. Or if you've always been considered successful, write about the fear of failure that lurks beneath the facade. Find a way to reconstruct an aspect of your personal narrative that explores the complexity of who you are.
Freewrite for ten minutes about the most significant events that happened in your life during the past year. Choose one of these events and use it as the basis for a story. Write about it from an imagined character's perspective and/or change how the event transpired.
Start the year off with one of Shakespeare’s favorite forms. Write a sonnet, a poem comprising fourteen lines that incorporates the following rhyme scheme: a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g. (For example, the words at the end of the first and third lines rhyme, etc.) Before you begin, flip through any book and select seven words at random. Use these words, or variations of them, in the poem.
Write an essay about a trip that you've taken during which you were in search of something. What were you in search of—family connection, relaxation, adventure? What did you find? Was it what you expected?
Write a story about the following scenario: One woman knocks on the door of another woman's house. She wants something. She lies to get what she wants. Who is she? Does she get what she wants? How does the woman who answers the door respond? Do they know each other?What happens next?
Write a poem that is a list of people, places, and/or things that you long for.
In the January/February 2013 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, memoirist Debra Gwartney offers guidance on how to write about traumatic experience. "When the action is hot, write cool," Gwartney says. "Stand back. Let your prose breathe. Don't try to convince the reader to feel a certain way—avoid yanking on the easy emotion. Instead, trust the language you've selected, the images you've constructed, the relevant detail, and give the reader plenty of room to reach the feeling independently." Write an essay about a traumatic experience from your life or the life of someone close to you, following Gwartney's advice.
Write a story using second-person narration. For an example of the use of second-person narration, read the opening lines of Jay McInerney's novel Bright Lights, Big City.
Today, write an elegy, a poem that is a lament for the dead. For more information about the poetic form, read the Academy of American Poets' description and examples of the elegy.
Choose a subject that has cultural currency: consumerism, American decline, Internet overload, trends in pop culture, celebrity fascination; take a position on it; and write an essay that explores that position. Read Christy Rampole's New York Times essay "How to Live Without Irony" as an example. For more examples, read Best American Essays Series editor Robert Atwan's "The Top 10 Essays Since 1950" in Publishers Weekly.
Write a work of flash fiction, a story that contains the classic elements—a main character who faces a conflict that is resolved—but one that is only three hundred to one thousand words in length. For guidance, read David Gaffney’s advice in the Guardian or visit the literary magazine Flash Fiction Online.
Make a list of ten words by flipping randomly through any book—a dictionary, a poetry collection, a novel, an encyclopedia–and choosing a word you see on the page. Incorporate these words into a poem made up of three stanzas composed of five lines each.
Write a scene about a very specific experience using only sensory imagery to describe what happened. For instance, if you're writing about being in a car accident, describe the sounds of the glass shattering and the crunching metal, the smell of smoke as the airbag deploys, the feeling of your body being thrown back and forth. Try to avoid referring to the event explicitly or including any narrative buildup ("I was driving a Dodge Neon when the accident happened"). Focus instead on the moment itself, and on what you see, smell, hear, and feel in order to build the scene.
Write a story that is a retelling of a classic myth set in contemporary times. How do the characters change? What is the effect of a contemporary setting? Does the story end the same way? For inspiration, read Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red.
Make a list of the ten to twenty words you rely on most often, those that make up your personal lexicon. Write a poem that incorporates these words but use them differently than you normally would or transform the words by replacing them with related ones or with their opposites. When you've finished the poem, freewrite about why you use these words so frequently. What is it about their meaning, their rhythm, and their sound that appeals to you?
Write about something that has been passed down through your family for generations. It can be anything from an appreciation for music to a healthy appetite, or even a political bias. Explore both the positive and negative implications, exploring how this inheritance has shaped you.