Considerations of the Uses and Attitudes of Writing Prompts
This is your prompt. Prompts are the topic provided, and the call to action for a writing task. They are the question or challenge for which we, the doers, are posed. You find this assignment interesting by nature. You decide to look into the prompt, that it is likely that such a thing cannot be dated to any specific event or time. But you wonder when the prompt as a literary device became popular? Your online search yields results like: “SAT Writing Prompts for Practice,” “A Goldmine of Journal Prompts,” “Getting Real: Authenticity in Writing Prompts.” These seem like a mix of exercises for students advancing to college, adults who enjoy writing, and professional and aspiring writers. However, you can recall being prompted in grade school. You once wrote a reinterpretation of a play, a nature journal, and of course, “What did you do over summer break?”
You think, it happened before that; when you were a small child? We prompt our children before they learn to read or write? “What other things start with the letter ‘D’? Can you tell me a story about the things you see on the way to school?” We do this to reinforce education out of the classroom, to encourage a fondness for long-term learning.
America’s college freshman composition classroom of the 1960s and 70s allowed free, expressive writing, new journalism and discussions of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement. With the 80s came the culture war and the “all-prompt,” career-driven curriculum. The 90s brought out the debate between the “personal” and the “academic” writing to be taught and the urge to identify political inequalities and empower students to take action through their writing. The 00s brought new questions between genre lines and the decline of the printed newspaper and the emergence of blogs. Now we explore new media writing and multimodal works; a realm where graphic memoirs and screen prose are being pushed. All this, through prompts from our teachers and peers or society.
There are perceptions surrounding prompts. Some writers find simple joy in them; approach them as brainstorming teasers or challenges.