One of the biggest reasons many of us don’t create, and in particular write, is because we don’t have time. We’re working and parenting and cooking and dish-washing. We’re commuting, and dropping off and picking up. And we think we need to carve out at least 20 minutes to sit down and reconnect to our imagination. And somehow those 20 minutes get eaten up by other activities before we even realize it.
However, all you really need to access your creativity is a minute. Yes, just 1 minute. Which means that you can write while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for the dentist to call your name. You can write while sitting on the subway or at the bus stop. You can write while the water boils, or your laundry is spinning. You can write while your lunch heats up, or you’re on hold.
As Leigh Medeiros notes in her playful, practical and inventive book The 1-Minute Writer: 396 Microprompts to Spark Creativity and Recharge Your Writing, “So often people carry the false belief that creative writing requires hours of uninterrupted time clacking away inside a bubble far from the distractions of the world. The reality is that writing for just 1 minute each day will strengthen your creative muscles more than writing for 20 minutes every two weeks—and minutes are a lot easier to come by than hours.”
So, yes, you can spare a single minute, but you might be wondering, what the heck do I write about? Where the heck do I start?
This is why having a list of prompts is helpful. Below, you’ll find 15 interesting, simple creativity-boosting writing prompts from Medeiros’s excellent The 1-Minute Writer (many of which I’ve paraphrased).
- “You’re on the phone with a far-flung friend who wants to hear about where you are right now. Check out your surroundings. Capture the essence of what you see around you in just a few sentences,” writes Medeiros, a visual artist, editor and creativity coach.
- You’re in charge of putting together an archaeological dig. Look around you, and find the best spot to excavate. Think about what you might find there— “whether it’s old gum stuck to the pavement or arrowheads along the river bank.”
- Find something in your surroundings that’s the color yellow. Pretend that a paint company has given you the assignment of naming this specific shade of yellow. Make a list of ideas, “the more outrageous, the better.”
- “Shhh, listen! There’s an everyday noise you can hear right now that’s part of a top-secret government experiment. What is the noise, and what experiment are they conducting?”
- Write a haiku about the sky. (A haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, which consists of three lines: the first has five syllables; the second has seven syllables; and the third has five syllables.) Medeiros includes this beautiful example: “Wide sky, blue expanse/Translucent clouds drift away/My skin, a cocoon.”
- Take note of your posture. Maybe you’re standing (and slouching). Maybe you’re sitting up straight with your shoulders pulled back. Either way, give your pose and posture to a main character in your novel. Use it to create the opening lines of your story.
- Think about two of your favorite books. Blend the plots so they become one book. Jot down a one-sentence plot summary for your new creation.
- “A court reporter is typing notes during a criminal case against a mafia kingpin. Create an excerpt from their transcripts.”
- Write several sentences using only words that start with these letters: N, U, I.
- Individuals of all ages are afraid of the dark. But what if the dark were scared of something, too? What is it?
- Think about your desires, and write them down. Start every sentence with “I want.”
- “A researcher digging through a dusty box of papers in the library’s archives finds a strange object inside. Describe the item and make mention of how old it might be.”
- A super small insect wants to share something with you. Jot down what the insect wants you to know.
- You have a container of takeout food. You open it, and discover an unexpected object. Write about what it is and how you react.
- “A random acquaintance from an online social network has gone missing. For some reason this person has chosen to send a cryptic three-line email to you. What does it say?”
Pick out your favorite prompts, and jot them down in a small notebook, which you designate as your personal, portable creative office. You can write one prompt per page, so it’s all ready for you when you have that daily minute to spare.
The other key ingredient is to always keep that notebook with you. Keep it inside your purse, backpack or pocket. Think of it as an extension of your imagination. Or think of it as you do your phone: You rarely leave the room without it.
Similarly, pull out your notebook any time you reach for your phone, which is another great way to find a minute or 2 or 10. Don’t wait until you have an uninterrupted stretch of time. Create in the chaos. Create in the hustle and bustle of normal everyday life.
And, lastly, don’t question your creativity or the existence of your imagination (even if it feels like it’s been centuries since you’ve actually used it).
As Medeiros reminds us, “your creative potential is vast, and it lies in wait like a field of dormant seeds. The only thing needed to stimulate that growth is a single spare minute.”
So savor that minute, and create away.