Writing Prompts Created by the 2008 Poetry Workshop

Young Writers Workshop, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

These prompts were created with poetry in mind, but they could also be used to create fiction or non-fiction work.

Write a poem about getting something or someone your poem’s speaker doesn’t deserve. It could be something tangible—money, jewelry, automobiles—or it could be some aspect of feeling, like love or respect. How does the poem’s speaker obtain what he or she shouldn’t?

Write about a look that someone gave you that stuck with you. It can be a look of admiration or a look of startling surprise or hate. Use details to describe how the way that look made you feel inside, why it is so prominent in your memory.

Write about anything that has inspired you to be something you never thought of (i.e. a friend who inspired you to be an environmentalist, or join an organization that helps the needy, or just meet new people).

Describe a physical feeling so that your reader is able to feel the goosebumps of your arctic cold.

Write a poem about an object you usually take for granted until you find yours is missing or not functioning.

Describe an event or party, celebration or ceremony where you felt pride for the celebrated. Even if it happened a long time ago, try to describe the elements that evoked this feeling.

Write a poem about being attracted to the same sex if you are straight or vice-versa. How does society look at you? How do you feel about yourself? Try to truly imagine yourself as someone you are not. If you feel uncomfortable, aroused or confused, you’ve written the poem correctly.

Write a poem in which a famous person (feel free to interpret the word famous loosely) gives you advice about a difficult personal problem.

Write about something that means a lot to you (i.e. a friend, hobby, object, animal) and describe it with details that also help explain why it means so much to you.

You go skydiving, and one hundred feet into your drop, you realize you forgot your parachute. However, you do have your camera. Write a poem about your last pictures.

Write a poem saying something to someone you wish you had spoken to, but never had the chance—someone in your life, or someone you were previously close to. If could be something secretive, something you had always thought about them but never mentioned, or something you thought nobody else did and always wondered if anyone else thought it as well.

Write a poem about being in George W. Bush’s head.

Write a poem about a romantic encounter in your past with anticlimactic conclusion.

Pick a random page in the dictionary and close your eyes. Place your finger on a random word. Write a poem using this word.

Imagine you have cancer, but instead of losing your hair during chemotherapy, you lose your common sense. What is life like for you as you lose your common sense? Consider how not having common sense would affect the way you write your poem.

Clear your mind of any distracting thoughts. With a pen, pencil or marker in hand, stare into any source of light and write down everything that comes to mind for two minutes. Then formulate those thoughts into a poem, but don’t edit your thoughts.

When you are 41 years old, you will write history’s most famous poem and make five billion dollars off of it. That poem is written in a notebook that is sitting in front of you right now. Do you open the notebook? Do you read the poem? Why or why not?

Write a poem about being a color. Do you want to be a different color? Are you bright or dull? What is your favorite item of this color?

Write a poem about a person who is being autopsied. Explain the autopsy procedure through a doctor’s or coroner’s speaking voice. Describe the organs and surgical tools. Do not forget to describe the “patient.” Note: reasons for autopsies are usually “patient” died from unnatural/unusual causes, murder, rape, other forensic case.

Think of your favorite musical group. Imagine one of the members is kicked out and the rest of the group wants you to join. How would you feel, and what would be your role in the group?

Find a pantoum that you consider annoying and redundant. Rephrase each repeating line so that they are not so literally similar.

Imagine the worst place ever. Imagine you are there with a pack of cheerleaders. You are forced to talk to them! What will you say? Will you be attacked?

If you had a life-threatening illiness but somehow got to choose which one, what would you give yourself and why? Would you go about your life and “do everything you’ve always wanted?”

Write about a situation in which you are secretly naked in public or private, preferably in a non-sexual way. How do you hide the necessary parts? How does it make you feel? It it at work? How long have you been doing this?

Write a poem in the voice of someone who hates the weather where they live—describe both the weather he or she despises and the weather they’d rather be living in. How does the bad weather relate to the speaker’s current life circumstances?

Compare and contrast something you dread doing on a regular basis with a way you could get out of doing it. Be creative.