You need a starting point when you write. Whether it’s a dash to one hundred words to satisfy a prompt, a poem, or a song, a short story, or a series of novels – you need a starting point.

If it’s a prompt, it might only take a single word to get you moving. Here, I’ll throw one in now. Dandelion. Before you rush off to your favourite word processor or pleather-bound notebook, think about the object. You’re probably picturing a flower, but you might be picturing the seed-head too. It’s possible you’re thinking about the word instead, breaking it down – and if you’re like me, you might have even jumped onto wikipedia and somehow ended up reading about Shakespeare through an assortment of links – and have come back only to say “Oh right, the Dandelion thing.”

Unless they say it explicitly, I tend to treat all writing prompts as inspirers rather requirements. It’s a catalyst for finding an idea to write about, instead of something must appear in what is written. It’s not “Write 100 words about a Dandelion (singular)”, but Dandelions make me think of a spanish castle, or a growling volcano, or Simba in a plaid suit and riverboat hat. It’s a seed in three senses – it’ll a) grow into something, b) it’s a value to start your mental random idea generator with, and c) the literal seed-head thing.

Now, a dandelion does not a story make. Quiet, fans of The Witcher, you know what I meant. Even the ideas that it lead us to may not have an immediate story in them. To have a nugget of a story that you can work with, it’s necessary to grow the seed. Honestly, I hate these analogies, but this is not where I say you need to water it and add dirt. You need to develop the little spark within the seed, by exploring the possibilities it contains. The absolute end goal of this is obviously to write a story, but our short-term one is to produce a premise, and then an outline.

The Short Version:

You need a writing prompt or an idea. If you don’t have one, pick some random world, song, phrase or image to inspire you.

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