Limber up before letting loose: the importance of warm-up writing

writing practice

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times. And just to prepare you: you’re about to hear it once again. In order to improve and grow as a writer, you kinda need to write. And like anything worth doing well, it takes practice to get better. Responding to a writing prompt is a great warm-up tool to utilize before writing something specific (a submission to a literary magazine, for example), counterintuitive though it may seem (writing before you begin writing). It’s a great way to get those creative juices flowing without the pressure or stress of knowing the writing is for a particular purpose, or will most probably be read by a more experienced writer than yourself.

I have found that it is nearly impossible to generate my own prompts; I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that are veritable fonts of fantastic promptery–actually, I know there are, because you are the folks I rely on to provide said prompts. But rather than a single word–which is more often than not the accepted method of writing prompts–I will provide here a series of prompts with a good deal more direction, in order to ease you into this practice.

Back when I first began the trek down the winding and often arduous path of becoming a writer, my saintly sister agreed to structure a personal on-line creative writing class for me to take (she runs a college writing center, and has taught myriad creative writing courses) at my leisure. I believe she structured the course using the take-home materials from a conference session featuring author Catherine Reid (website here)–and possibly the list of prompts, as well…so there is my disclaimer: Most of the prompts I will share with you over the next few weeks were probably hers, or at least loosely based upon her suggestions.

Now, we’re not talking marathon writing sessions, here. Just take a minute to read the prompt; give it a few minutes’ thought–but don’t overthink it! The object here is more of a structured free-write (is that an oxymoron?). Now set a timer for 15-20 minutes…and just write.


Describe a memorable “first”–first day at college, first crush, first big disappointment, first airplane ride, first day after the death of a loved one–you get the idea. Be as descriptive and detailed as possible–and be sure to involve all five senses; this is how you adhere to that ever-repeated writer’s mantra: Show, don’t tell.

So…what are you waiting for? Let’s go write something.

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