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Phrases to Use as Writing Prompts (from an Unlikely Source)


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If you’re looking for a writing prompt to spark some new output, here’s an exercise to try. Inspired by doing newspaper blackout poetry, which I wrote about here, it involves isolating words and phrases from a newspaper or magazine article. You can then use them to trigger some writing.

Recently, I was doing this with the sports section of our paper (there seem to be good phrases there). I circled “Not really, Kyle” because that’s my husband’s name, so it made me chuckle. The article was referring to Kyle Shanahan, the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, in case you were wondering.

Here are some of the sentence fragments I circled from a few issues. Any of these could be used as a writing spark:

Nagging questions                         This season

Unless, of course                           A good chance

What to expect                              Most striking aspect

At least one                                   Appeared

Played a key role                          Has morphed into

The possibility                              Probably too early

Right now                                     Last week

But there remain                           The right mentality

Anything could happen                Going to develop

A decent idea                                But it’s fair to wonder about           

Combined with                             One of them just happened to be

Always have                                 Still time

Find a way                                    Most of the concern is about                       

Best of today’s                              Surprised  

What appears to be a                    It’s not a sure thing that

An encouraging sign                    Sadness because

On a regular basis                        Always going to appreciate that

Not unlike                                    It’s shortcomings were spotlighted

Peek back a layer                         Reason for optimism


So what do you do with this list? You could pick one randomly, or one that seems to be calling out to you.

You could pick one but turn it into a full sentence of some sort, then use that as your prompt.

You could combine two of the fragments (or three) to make a prompt.

From there, you could do a timed freewrite, start an essay or a flash fiction piece, or create a poem. Maybe something will come of this effort, or maybe it will just be fun. You will get your creativity going, and that’s always a good thing.

-Marcia Peterson

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