Writing in Your Major

Tips From Tutors

Fire Starters

When it comes to creative writing, sometimes the most difficult part can be discovering what you want to write about. Due to the virtually limitless possibilities, it can seem daunting to choose a topic. Like rubbing two sticks together to start a fire, thinking about a subject fort your piece can be a laborious and frustrating process. But once you get that spark, the fire catches and takes on a life of its own. In order to get those creative sparks flying and help you figure out what kinds of things you would like to write about, here are a few firestarters to help kindle those memories, emotions, experiences, and observations that will fuel your creative fire.

The following are in no particular order by the genre to which they might apply—use the questions and prompts to help get your ideas flowing and then apply the ideas to your genre as you see fit and appropriate (along with simply reading and thinking about them, you might consider taking each of these “mini-prompts” and doing a short free-write on one or two to give yourself a start).

  • Think of a unique person you knew/know. How has that person impacted your life? Or, draw a character sketch of that person (if you are thinking of writing a fictional piece, use that character sketch to help you create one of you literary characters).
  • Write an imagined history of someone you know but whom you do not know very much about. Where is this person coming from? What experiences might this person have gone through to become who he/she is today? Is there something about this person that you always wondered about but were never sure about? Here is your chance to blend the real and the fictitious to satisfy your desire for an answer.
  • Has something happened to you recently that you feel has affected you in some way? Write about it.
  • Have you ever seen or experienced something that fundamentally changed you as a person?
  • Describe in as much detail as possible a particular emotion (this lends itself well to poetry!).
  • You have eight sentences to recount a childhood memory and use it to get some kind of “point” across. Choose your words carefully!
  • Use your favorite song as inspiration—what is this song talking about? Can you see any connections to your life? Better yet, just let the song play and close your eyes. What are you thinking about? Write about it.
  • Use a photograph or piece of art as inspiration. Why does that image resonate with you? What story does it tell? What sensations does it make you think of? Describe them.
  • Write from the point of view of a fictional character or historical figure who interests you. Why do they do what they do? If they've done bad things, how would they defend themselves?
  • Pick a line from your favorite poem or novel. Use it as a jumping off point for your own writing. Make sure to quote your source properly, though!
  • Make a list of characteristics your writing typically has. Then write a piece that has as many of these characteristics as possible-- the most "you" piece of writing possible. Then make a list of what your writing is not. Try to write about the same topic in the most "anti-you" way possible. What do you learn about your writing? Do you like one piece more than the other?
  • Set a timer for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes. Start writing and don't stop until the timer goes off, even if this means writing what seems like nonsense.
  • Write a letter—but here's the catch—it's not to a person, but instead to an object, idea, or place.
  • This link has a variety of journaling ideas that can spark your creativity! These are especially good for poetry or freewriting. Mayer-Bernadette Experiments from University of Pennsylvania
  • This link has tons of little “idea sparkers” (some of them more formal and serious, others goofy and for fun). Check them out and see if one leads you in a direction (or at least gets you thinking about something, even if it is completely unrelated) you might want to pursue! www.creativewritingprompts.com
  • Also check out the resources on the National Novel Writing Month website. They have lots of character building and scene building advice for creative writers.

Ideas for a topic or subject are literally all around you…start actively looking, listening, and thinking about your surroundings and I’m sure you’ll come up with something (and if you are still stuck, be sure to check out the “How Do I Get Started” section of the “General Tips” page for more advice)!