Inspiration on Demand: 21 Creative Writing Prompts for Every Milestone

Discover the transformative power of creative writing prompts for every stage of your writing journey. 

By Julie Tyler Ruiz

What is a writing prompt? 

A writing prompt is an exercise or set of instructions that a writer uses to gain a fresh perspective, develop writing skills, burst through writer's block, or complete a specific writing-related task. You can use creative writing prompts at any stage of your writing journey to bring originality, inspiration, and confidence to your work.

For example:

  • Let's say you're just starting out as a writer, and while you already have an idea for a novel, you don't know where to begin the writing process. You ask a generative AI tool like ChatGPT to prompt you with some ideas to get you over that initial hurdle. It gives you some options like, "Reflect on why writing a novel is important to you" and "What do you want readers to get out of reading your novel?" You start jotting ideas down on them both and actually experience a rush of ideas on how you'll structure the novel and fill it with characters. 
  • Imagine you've written about half of a novel draft and get the sense that your main character needs more dimension. You take a course on developing great characters and one of the videos prompts you to explore "the character's deepest desire." You start jotting down ideas about what the character wants. You not only discover more of the character's inner workings, but also get ideas about what the character will do in the second half of the story.   

If you search the internet for creative writing prompts, you'll find hundreds of options on just about any topic. Writing prompts come in many forms, from formal writing class assignments to what if questions that challenge you to explore new scenarios. Using a variety of prompts keeps you sharp and unlocks your innate creativity. Read on to discover creative writing prompts and other resources for writing your best.  

21 creative writing prompts

I've taken the unique approach of designing 21 prompts to help you experience breakthroughs at different milestones in your writing journey. For each milestone, I've included three types of prompts: 

  • Reflective exercises to get you thinking about your identity as a writer.
  • Exploratory exercises to open up new possibilities for your projects and long-term goals.  
  • Generative exercises to help you write pages you can actually use in your current project.

I've listed the prompts in a sequence that mirrors the natural progression of your writing journey, with each prompt building on the previous one.

NOTE: The following prompts are geared towards novelists, but you can adapt them to writing projects in any genre.  

Milestone 1: starting out as a writer

1. REFLECT: Compose a formal purpose statement for your new venture. Why do you want to write? What do you want to accomplish as a writer? Why are these goals important to you? What deep need will writing fulfill for you? 

2. EXPLORE: Make a list of writing projects you have in mind and include a short description of each one. In your description, identify the category (romance, mystery, women's fiction, etc.) for each project, intended audience, and a brief summary of what it's about. 

3. GENERATE: Identify the project you want to write first and review the description you wrote for the EXPLORE prompt. Next, describe your main character's (MC) personality, physical attributes, hobbies, typical day, goals, and values. What situations might these factors lead your character into? HINT: These situations could provide a useful starting point for writing actual scenes, once you begin your project. 

Milestone 2: Establishing a writing habit

4. REFLECT: Write a short contract you'll use to make an agreement with yourself to write regularly. Account for your existing commitments, schedule, and free time, as well as the resources you need to enjoy your writing sessions. Start with, "I agree to write X days a week at X times."

5. EXPLORE: Take a few deep breaths, quiet your mind, and write a request to your inner muse, intuition, or most authentic self to guide you through a short, unstructured writing session. Start your request with, "Dear Muse, please guide me in writing new pages ..." 

6. GENERATE: After enlisting the help of your muse, intuition, or authentic self, allow your pen to move over a page in your notebook or your fingers to move over the keys. Let go of any need to impose structure, an agenda, or quality standards on this piece of writing and simply fill the page with any words that come to you. 

Milestone 3: starting your first major writing project 

7. REFLECT: Write a few paragraphs about why you chose this project as your first. What about it called to you and said, "Pick me first"?

8. EXPLORE: Summarize your MC's predicament in the story. What is this character up against? What is this character's goal? What will this character do to get around the challenge and succeed? 

9. GENERATE: Using your summary of the MC's predicament, write (or plan) a scene in which the character is confronted with the predicament for the first time. What is the MC doing at the time and what problem, challenge, or opportunity presents itself? HINT: This is called the inciting incident.  

Milestone 4: building your project 

10. REFLECT: Describe yourself as a writer. What are passionate about when it comes to writing? What are some strengths you're developing at this juncture in your journey? What do you want readers to remember you for? 

11. EXPLORE: Now that you have some of the basic elements of your project established (an idea, a description, an inciting incident), think ahead to the very end of the story. Considering the inciting incident, how do you want the story to end? In other words, what type of ending would complement the story's beginning and add meaning to it? Summarize three or four possible endings and identify what they'll offer to the story at large.

12. GENERATE: Write a plan to guide your process of drafting the project, page by page, chapter by chapter. Your plan should list specific tasks you need to complete in the order that will serve you best. For example, your tasks might include outlining the story, researching your topic, drafting new pages, and requesting feedback.   

Read Mastering the Writing Process: From Idea to Finished Product in 9 Steps for insights into how to order your writing tasks. 

Milestone 5: revising your project

13. REFLECT: What thoughts and feelings surface, now that you have a full draft of your project? Write down all the triumphs, hopes, desires, fears, and frustrations around your project and the thoughts these feelings trigger. Once you have these thoughts and feelings in front of you, write a few sentences on how you will celebrate your triumphs, nurture your hopes and desires, and address your fears and frustrations as you revise the project. 

14. EXPLORE: With the majority of your project's volume built, read through the full draft and make a list of areas in need of significant improvement and what those improvements are. Then, write down specifically how your project will benefit from these improvements. For example, by further developing your secondary characters, their actions will have more bearing on your MC's experiences, thus adding dimension and intrigue to your plot.

15. GENERATE: Identify a scene or chapter that lacks emotional depth and rewrite it to make more of an impact. Refine sensory details, clarify the character's goal and roadblock within the section, amplify tensions among characters, raise the stakes, and make sure this one scene affects the story's final outcome. After revising, compare to the original version and take note of the differences.   

Milestone 6: publishing your project 

16. REFLECT: Now that your project is ready for readers, reflect on your readiness for this milestone. Write down specifically what you're looking forward to about the experience of publishing and seeing your work in print, as well as any concerns you have about having your work publicly available?

17. EXPLORE: Investigate your publishing options, including finding a traditional publishing house, self-publishing your project, or hybrid approaches. What are the tasks involved in each option? Which set of tasks do you feel most suited for and why? 

18. GENERATE: Identify the value of your finished writing project. How will it inform, entertain, or enlighten your audience? What message does it convey? How will you market it, in terms of its category and filling a gap in what's currently available? Use your answers to these questions to build confidence and draft a query letter or promo blurb. 

Milestone 7: developing your writing career 

19. REFLECT: As you complete one writing project and plan your next one, now is a good time to compose a writing career development plan. What do you want to write? How do you want to generate an income as a writer? What are the major steps you need to take to develop your career? These might include taking classes to build skills, attending conferences to network in the publishing industry, or diversifying your writing experience?

20. EXPLORE: Investigate ways to monetize your writing and build an audience of enthusiastic readers. These many include starting a blog, taking on freelance copywriting gigs, or finding employment with an organization that needs a skilled writer. Identify the monetization and audience-building methods that most align with your unique talents and career goals. 

21: GENERATE: Decide on your very next step. This could be to apply for a writing job, start a new book project, or build an author website. Write a short action plan that details the specific tasks you'll need to complete this step, the deadlines you'll meet, and the resources you'll gather. Breaking up your endeavors into smaller chunks makes them more manageable and less daunting.

Tips to get more out of creative writing prompts

  • Use prompts regularly to maximize their power. Bringing them into your writing practice every day or a few times a week can speed up the flow of your ideas and keep writer's block at bay.
  • Focus on generating authentic and unique answers to prompts, rather than trying to construct polished sentences. The point of creative writing prompts is to put you in touch with fresh ideas and possibilities, so give yourself permission to write down the words that come to mind, even if they come out raw and ragged. You can always polish later, once you've captured the ideas themselves.
  • Search for prompts that fulfill a particular purpose, such as reflective prompts, journal prompts, prompts for solving problems, prompts for trying out new writing techniques, and prompts for exploring an unfamiliar genre. This approach streamlines your writing efforts and, over time, diversifies your experience and skills.  
  • Invest in prompts that come in physical form, such as card decks and reflective journals. While digital resources abound, physical resources that you can hold in your hands give you the chance to explore your creativity without having to gaze at a screen. Technology breaks, writing by hand, and engaging with tactile materials can boost your mood and enhance your creative flow.

Check out The SoulTruth Journal, a physical creative writing workbook with over 30 in-depth writing prompts (and examples of answers from real writers), to find inspiration and confidence within.  

Ready to write and finish your book? Let's connect!

I can help you write your best work and prepare to publish it! Subscribe to my email list to get event announcements, first dibs on new courses, and my latest articles!

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