This year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.
In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about writing prompts and what gets the creative juices flowing.
Linda Boyden, author of The Blue Roses, New Voices Winner 2000
Prompts are all around us. When I do school visits, I refer to the place where our imaginations live as the “Cosmic Goo,” and urge them to wander outside looking and listening to the wonders that spark our imaginations to awake. Nature is a never-ending source of writing inspirations. Because I am a voracious reader, I glean phrases from the books I devour. Since the end of 2011, I have written a poem a day as the means to jump-start my prose writing. I use many of the phrases I’ve underlined in the books I own for my daily poetry prompt.
Paula Yoo, author of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, New Voices Winner 2003
My favorite writing prompt is to write from the point of view of an animal. It’s a writing exercise I teach in my writing classes as well. I love this writing exercise not only because I’m an animal lover and Crazy Cat Lady (ha) but because it forces you to think from the point of view of someone who is definitely NOT YOU. You have to know and embody the nature and physicality of the animal character, and it forces you to look at story and emotion with a new perspective. It’s a great exercise for point of view writing, and it helps me when I do write another children’s book because I am very conscious of writing from a child’s perspective, which is so different from mine as an adult.
Glenda Armand, author of Love Twelve Miles Long, New Voices Winner 2006
I don’t need much to prompt me to write. Usually I have the opposite problem. I need to a compelling reason to stop writing:
It’s past midnight and I have to substitute teach in the morning.
Clothes are mildewing in the washer.
The fridge would be empty if not for egg whites and ketchup.
On the other hand, a writing prompt for me would be an early morning after a good night’s sleep: My mind is clear.
My thoughts are flowing.
My coffee is steaming.
My computer is calling.
I answer the call.
Pamela Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Winner 2007
I don’t really write from prompts, but what I try to use as a guideline for all my writing is the use of sensory details: Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Smelling and Tasting. It’s not always relevant to include all of these details, but it’s good to include at least 3 within a scene. If I feel that I can’t move forward in a story, I’ll “step inside” my character and try to figure out what “I” am seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting at that point. If my character is neutral, then it’s time to rewrite the scene.
Jennifer Torres, author of Finding the Music, New Voices Winner 2011
I enjoy finding and thinking about interesting writing prompts, but I don’t have a favorite. I have to confess, when it comes to writing prompts, I usually don’t get past the “thinking about it” stage. However, I used to work for a daily newspaper, and I learned from that experience how valuable it can be to cultivate a habit of writing – in a structured way – every day. And I turn to newspapers, sometimes, when I’m stuck or need a place to start. Headlines can make for some pretty great prompts. Direct quotes are even better – like an overheard piece of conversation. Here’s one that helped me pull FINDING THE MUSIC into focus: “He wanted to rest in peace, but with music.”