11 Writing Prompts Inspired by Famous Authors

by Zoraida Córdova

There are a thousand and one pieces of writing advice out there. Every writer has their own method and their own process. Some writers need to have exactly nothing on their desk except their laptop. Some need to light juju-stimulating candles and put on noise-cancelling headphones before they get to work. Some freestyle and write about whatever pops in their mind on a noise subway car. James Joyce wrote Finnegan's Wake with crayons and Zora Neale Hurston hired a man to plug her ears while she typed. You know, typical #AuthorLife stuff.

Habits also change when writing for pleasure and when writing for publication. This is not to say writing "for yourself" isn't without pressures, but there is more freedom when a deadline isn't looming. I give myself one month every year to work on something that is just for me. Something I won't post online or let anyone read. Usually, that's when my mind goes blank and I cry "writer's block!"

Whether or not your believe in "writer's block," you have to admit that there is always a moment when the words just stop. Writing prompts are one method of breaking the dry spell, or simply write for fun. Sometimes I look to see what other writers are doing and how they're doing it. T.S. Eliot once said, “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal." So, let's steal some ideas.


There's Something About Conan

Conan The Barbarian Soundtrack, $6, Amazon

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz said, "I wrote my first book listening to the soundtrack to the movie Conan the Barbarian on a loop. That’s how I ride." Earlier this week, New York Times Bestselling author Jay Kristoff also had the soundtrack on loop while writing.

Might have to give this a listen.


The Truth Hurts. Write It.


In June 2016, the late great Carrie Fisher started an advice column for The Guardian. In her introduction column, Fisher said, "If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true and that’s unacceptable."


The Forgiveness Method

Battle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older, $8, Amazon

It's OK if you don't write everyday. Sometimes the thing that holds us back is the fear of failing. As Daniel José Older said during 2016's NaNoWriMo: " Writing begins with forgiveness. Let go of the shame about how long it’s been since you last wrote, the clenching fear that you’re not a good enough writer, the doubts over whether or not you can get it done." So let go, and keep writing.


Take a Page From History

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It took Lin-Manuel Miranda six years to write the record-breaking, award-winning Broadway hit Hamilton. While we can't all be Lin-Manuel, we can be inspired by the way he reinvented history. Find a forgotten time period or figure from the past. Who tells their story?


Poetry Intermission

Sherman Alexie is one of the greatest contemporary writers out there. But before he decided to be a writer, he was pre-law. He took a poetry class (to meet girls) and then everything changed. In this interview Alexie attributes the line from poet Adrian C. Lewis, "Oh, Uncle Adrian, I'm in the reservation of my mind' saying, "You could argue I've been re-writing that same line ever since."


Face Backwards

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In a 2009 interview celebrating the 25th anniversary of The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros said, "Writers always live their lives facing backwards, [considering] things we said or could have said, or things we wish we could take back. The work we do is precisely about trying to clean up the mess we made, the kind of emotional footprints we leave behind, or the mess we inherit."

Find a moment or event you would change in your life. How would it be different?


We Should All Be Paying Attention

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During a speech at Penn State, Americanah author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said inspiration strikes her everywhere, from the color of someone’s lipstick to conversations she overhears. Paying attention to your surroundings is also a nicer way of thinking of writers as serial eaves-droppers.


Change Genres For A Day

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Before she was outed as Robert Galbraith, critics remarked that J.K. Rowling could make a crime writer.

Take an element of your writing and bring it to the forefront. For instance: do you write fantasy with romantic elements? Try writing a scene that is straight contemporary romance. Embrace something new, even if it's just to try it.


Read. Seriously. Read.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, $11.74, Amazon

No amount of "butt in chair" will actually get the words on the page. But reading helps. This prompt might seem redundant, but I've been in writing classes and workshops when an aspiring author proudly proclaims "I don't read." Take it from Pulitzer winner Jhumpa Lahiri who said, "I believe that all writing is born from reading, from the love of it."




On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, $10.72, Amazon

Stephen King's memoir and writing guide On Writing is full of fantastic advice. One in particular is "Dig. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.” When it comes to your characters and world building, keep digging until you find your answers.


Writing is Rewriting


NW by Zadie Smith, $14.03, Amazon

One of Zadie Smith's writing rules is, "Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it." If it works for Zadie Smith, it works for me. Maybe something you edit out will spawn a life of its own.