It was a dark and stormy night… nah, just kidding. We’re in the 21st century, and it’s time Tumblr got the writing prompts it deserves. We’ve got twelve writing prompts Tumblr writers simply must check out. Ranging from poetry writing prompts to fiction writing prompts, this truly is a list of writing prompts Tumblr writers should try.
The writing prompts Tumblr has these days often overlap, thematically if not pedagogically. Let’s move beyond the “usual suspect” writing prompts Tumblr typically has to offer. Let’s create some new magic.
Author’s Note: Many of these prompts will reference pieces published in previous issues of The Adroit Journal, a quarterly literary publication of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and art that I founded as a high school sophomore way back in 2010. To learn more about The Adroit Journal, you can click here!
(Please also feel encouraged to learn more about our free, online summer mentorship opportunity. In addition, our poetry and fiction prizes for high school and college writers might merit exploration.)
Poetry Writing Prompts Tumblr Writers Can’t Resist
Transcend Your Family History
On the surface of Cathy Linh Che’s beautiful, beautiful “Los Angeles, Manila, Đà Nẵng”, she tells not her story, but her parents’ story. Within that story, however, she nearly immediately finds herself. In doing so, she allows this story to also become hers.
Oftentimes, writing prompts Tumblr writers share and follow seem to focus on the self, rather than on the world and those they know in it. Let’s invert that trend: write a poem in which you begin with your parents’ story (or another story or event to which you feel personally connected). Lead, as Cathy does, into showing the world yourself.
Put the “Real” in Magical Realist
Give Lily Zhou’s work from Issue Twenty-Two of The Adroit Journal a read.
Let’s write a poem that takes a real relationship to a time, place, or person, and brings it into a magical realist environment. Take on couplets or tercets if you feel like. Don’t be afraid to experiment with indentations or asterisks.
Take a poem you’ve recently written (perhaps from writing prompts Tumblr has to offer) and cut it into strips, one line per strip. Then, ask a friend (writer or otherwise) to organize the poem. The goal here is to observe unconventional pairings of images and phrases.
See what freshness this brings, and perhaps incorporate—or don’t—some proposed edits. (Note: making every first letter of every line lowercase allows this to be the most effective.)
We have a tendency when we draft to work in convention. This exercise can help us as writers sever (temporarily) our connection to convention. Either way, as long as you save an existing version of the poem, there’s no downside to giving this exercise a try. In fact, this is a great exercise to work into your typical writing revision process!
Deborah Landau’s “Solitaire”, Nabila Lovelace’s “Sons of Achilles”, and Anna Meister’s “Trigger” all use repetition to distance from linguistic (and narrative) convention. Corey Van Landingham’s “Elegy” and Tarfia Faizullah’s “100 Bells” (TW: sexual assault) use it to deal with grief and trauma. I’ve never seen any of these poems included in writing prompts Tumblr writers have shared on Tumblr, and I definitely think that should change!
Write a poem in which either the poem distances from such conventional syntax through repetition (ex: Landau) or the poem (through repetition) begins and carries through it only unconventional syntax (ex: Meister). Be careful to not lose cohesion! You should still aim to follow the progression of the speakers and their actions.
Explore Your Relationship with the World
Chelsea Dingman’s “Morning Benedictions with Dead Baby Syndrome”. Richard Siken’s “Dirty Valentine”. Mary Szybist’s “Knocking or Nothing”. All three poems reveal the speaker’s relationship with the world. You’ve probably encountered Siken through existing writing prompts Tumblr already has, but hopefully never like this:
Write a poem in which you explore and reveal your relationship with the world. Be sure to cultivate specific imagery. Push yourself. Go there. You should feel like you’ve shown (not explained) yourself by the end of the poem.
The Family Politic
Aria Aber’s “Family Portrait” and Christina Im’s “Meanwhile in America” are two examples of poems that marry the personal and the political in compelling ways. This marriage of the personal and the political is what many might argue gives these poems their wings, what magnifies the stakes behind each.
Begin a poem with an outline of a relationship of significance to you. Then, using concrete and unusual imagery, write a poem that moves beyond this relationship and locates it in your world, in your reality.
Reinvent the Emotional
Many poems—for instance, Ari Banias’ “Cactus” and Brian Tierney’s “Waking in the Year of the Boar” (also, my poem “Crepuscule“)—take emotions like shame or grief and apply them to specific and concrete memories. By the end of these poems, the poets have done more than share memories, however. They have offered distinct views of these emotions in personal terms. Through these poems, the writers aspire to show us without telling us.
Try to do the same with a poem. First, make a list of every word that initially pops into your mind when you think of a specific emotion. Then, write a poem with that emotion at its core without those words. (Hint: the key is in the specificity and in the connection back to you, the writer. Show us why you care about the emotion.)
Reinvent the Abstract
Poems like Matthew Dickman’s “Gas Station” as well as Larry Levis’ “Winter Stars” and Tracy K. Smith’s “The Universe is a House Party” take what could be vague, abstract concepts (Dickman’s moon/night/soul, Levis’ stars, and Smith’s universe) and bring them into the specific, the tangible, and the familiar. Specifically, these poets use these abstract concepts as springboards into memories and opinions; these concepts are just the beginning.
Pick a similar concept (such as thunder, lightning, memory, shame, identity, etc.). Then, bring that concept into the specific, the tangible, and the familiar.
The Place Poem
Natalie Rose Richardson’s “Luxuries” and Ocean Vuong’s “Aubade with Burning City” possess a narrator who speaks through observations and surroundings. These are narrators who never once mention themselves. Yet, we emerge from the poem learning not only about Santo Domingo and South Vietnam, but also about the speakers (and poets) themselves.
Write a poem about a place you know well and think carefully about which details you include. Ultimately, you should aim to speak through what you include—and what you omit.
Try a Persona Poem
This next prompt is admittedly not a typical writing prompt Tumblr would house.
A persona poem is a poem that assumes the voice of another (speaker or person) in the world, and brings it into the world of your poem. Writing persona poems can be an excellent way to take risks and push oneself to further invest in the life and world (the breath, if you will) behind a work. Pick a historical figure or ancestor & write a persona poem from his/her/their perspective. It shouldn’t read like a history textbook or an autobiography.
What’s critical when it comes to persona poems is ensuring that the story is within your realm of expression and feeling. What do I mean by this? It’s important to focus on personae to which you can personally relate. If it couldn’t happen to you in the world, it may be a better idea to lift up the voices of those who are authentically approaching a subject or societal issue today, and to then engage or fight for the cause in a different way.
For example, if you’re straight or white, it can be tricky (read: impossible) to authentically embody a speaker who, for example, is at the Pulse shooting or who is a slave in the Civil War Era. In fact, approaching such topics like these using personae across lines of identity can lead to speaking over, not speaking up—which is unfortunately counterproductive to helping the causes.
If you’re stuck, check out “Letter Home” by Natasha Trethewey and “Self-Portrait as Frida Kahlo” by Shelley Wong. Aim for their concreteness, their specificity and supreme handling of detail and moment. Ultimately, the trick to poems like this is to move beyond description and dive into action.
Give the Ghazal a Try
Try writing a ghazal. Originating in Arabic poetry, the ghazal is a poetic form that ranges from five to fifteen couplets that are fully independent of each other. From the Academy of American Poets’ excellent introduction to ghazals—
Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.
For inspiration, check out Zeina Hashem Beck’s ghazal from our twenty-seventh issue. If you enjoy Zeina’s poem, you can also check out The Poetry Foundation’s fantastic ghazal archive.
Hopefully you enjoyed this list of writing prompts Tumblr writers must check out. Sign up for updates from The Adroit Journal, and you’ll receive all of our forthcoming writing guides and issues!
Again, you may also wish to check out the free, online Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program if you’re a high school writer. Additionally, you may wish to check out the Adroit Prizes for Poetry & Prose if you’re in high school or college.
Also, if you want a similar list of writing prompts Tumblr writers can’t live without for fiction, comment below, and I’ll make it!