I very rarely use writing prompts. This is usually because I don’t have much trouble initiating a writing project. I can almost always think of something to write. It’s converting it to meaningful output that’s the challenge. My method is to start writing, regardless of how it sounds, then once I have something on the page, I have somewhere to go.
Frequently, I’ll develop ideas, such as lines of dialogue or brief descriptions, that have no given context, but which I can use in a future writing project, if needed. I try to keep a running file of such instances, or, I’ll post them to Twitter or Facebook, often to gauge reactions. If I collect enough on a given subject, or note a similarity of theme, I can sometimes build an essay or story with them.
On a birthday excursion to the High Museum one year, I read a quote from the notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Fire will attract more attention than any other cry for help.” This inspired an idea for a play that’s still a work in progress, but I have a solid enough foundation to give me an idea of where I want to go with it. A line from music that I’ve always found intriguing is “Everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon,” from the end of Dark Side of the Moon. To me, it denotes a situation that’s working fine according to the system; it’s the system that’s broken.
One of the more influential works I’ve read is the prologue to The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. In it, Wilde lays out his manifesto for artists and ever since I first read it, there has rarely been a day I didn’t refer to it in some context. I was even inspired to write my own Writers’ Manifesto, which serves as the prologue to Words Words Words.
I once attended a class that was designed to help writers develop story ideas and we went through several steps of creating a list of images, then associating them with particular professions, and so on. I was able to develop a set of characters and a bit of a storyline using this method, so there’s definitely something to be said for using prompts. I’ve always considered myself more of an editor than strictly a writer, though, so as long as there’s something on paper, I’m usually good to go.