Help patrons of all ages find their stories — not only as readers, but as writers.
Whether your library is starting a recurring writing group or you’re just programming for a one-and-done creative writing session, it’s helpful to think of ways that generative writing prompts can not only launch your patrons into their process, but also help them get to know each other, you, and your collections and services.
To that end, I’ve assembled here four writing prompts that also serve as familiarizing icebreakers.
Getting to know names
It’s important for your writing group’s rapport that you and your patrons learn one another’s name so that everyone can feel recognized and counted.
- The prompt: Write a half-page poem or scene in which your name is dramatically announced.
Memoirists might write about the embarrassing time that their gym teacher singled them out by name. Biographers might write about someone famous who shares their name. Fiction writers might write about the revelation that their name was what their mysterious protagonist called his childhood sled. The point is to associate faces with names, so have everyone (who elects to) share their exercise aloud.
Getting to know each other
Once you know each other’s names, get to know each other’s personalities.
- The prompt: Write a half-page poem or scene in which you, the autobiographical you, have a supernatural ability. What is the ability, and how does it relate to your personal character? What do you do with it? What’s its limit or liability?
Answering one or more of these questions through a fun writing demonstration will assist the group in getting to know who’s who. Have those who elect to do so share their exercises.
Getting to know the library
Scatter some recent obituaries from various newspapers that your library carries on the table. Have each patron choose an obituary of one person who was alive in 1988.
- The prompt: Write a one-page poem or scene that features the deceased person’s activities at precisely 3:42 p.m. on Sept. 28, 1988.
Obviously this exercise will likely be speculative, but this speculation will benefit from a foundation in research for which you can provide some reference. What resources does your library carry that might be helpful for the task? These might include documents or books about historical fashion, microfilmed newspapers from the time, period yearbooks, or an introduction to various databases and computer clusters. This prompt will introduce your penning patrons to you and your resources.
Bringing it all together
If you’re looking for a single prompt to introduce your writing group to you, each other, and the library all in a single go, then look no further.
- The prompt: Write a one-page letter that is addressed to you from someone in the year 1858. The letter-writer knows things about you such as your name and your primary occupation. What do they want from you? And what do they reveal about themselves and their time?
This prompt will lead patrons to reveal their names and various particulars about themselves at the same time that they’ll have to consult you for reference regarding the year 1858. After writing a single page in a single session, your group should be familiar enough with each other and with your holdings to ease into a group routine or more in-depth exercise.
Micah Bateman is the co-author of "Mapping the Imaginary: Supporting Creative Writers through Programming, Prompts, and Research" (ALA Editions, 2019).