5 Remarkable Writing Prompt & Exercise Books

After working at Writer’s Digest for a decade-plus, I saw more than my fair share of writing exercise/prompt books—plus I also acquired and edited quite a few. Writing prompts have always been an ever-popular topic of discussion (and usefulness) for writers, regardless of stage of career.

Here I’d like to share what I found to be the most remarkable books—a mix of Writer’s Digest titles and other publishers’ titles.

Also: Over at the VQR blog, I’m looking for writers to share their favorite writing exercise or prompt. One random commenter will win a selection of Miro journals in a nifty canvas tote. Click here to go comment with your favorite prompt. (Don’t do it here or it won’t count toward the drawing.)

The Pocket Muse by Monica WoodThe Pocket Muse by Monica Wood

What makes this book so special is the small size, vivid images and playful design, and high-quality production. It’s now out of print, though you can get copies used–or opt for the sequel, The Pocket Muse 2.

Read more at Amazon.





The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley

3 A.M. Epiphany
& 4 A.M. Breakthrough by Brian Kiteley

I rarely find the time to use writing prompts, but if I did, these are the books I’d use. Very sophisticated and thought-provoking, I do put them to work in the classroom—for brainstorming nonfiction ideas to write about. Highly recommend to both writer and teacher. (I know both books are popular in MFA programs.)

Read more at Amazon.



What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
What If?
by Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter

This is one of the original exercise books for writers, published in 1991. It has since been updated (and has a textbook price to match), but you’re safe sticking with the original.

Read more at Amazon.





The Practice of Poetry
The Practice of Poetry
by Robin Behn

If you’re a poet, this is the one to grab. It’s another one that’s been around forever and doesn’t go out of style.

Read more at Amazon. 






The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron
The Writer’s Idea Book
by Jack Heffron

Last but not least, one of the best-selling titles of all time from Writer’s Digest was this exercise/prompt book, authored by one of its editors. It was just released this year in a 10th anniversary edition.

Read more at Amazon.




What are your favorite writing prompt books? Plus, don’t forget to share your favorite writing prompt over at the VQR blog.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Tracy Staedter

Great! Thanks.

Janice Leagra

I have two of the books on this list – What If? and The Pocket Muse. My favorite is What If? and I actually tweeted a recommendation for it a little while back. It’s nice to see someone else concurs on its usefulness. I was lucky enough to find it in a used bookstore for $4!

Jan Deelstra, Author

I really adore Fondling Your Muse. Realizing that doesn’t sound quite appropriate, let me clarify that one of my favorite books for getting me in the mood…no, that’s not quite it either…. Well, at any rate, John Warner’s Fondling Your Muse is a delicious inspiration to add to any writer’s shelf.


I really like: Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. The book is divided by focus (plot, dialogue, etc) and features a short essay and corresponding exercises/prompts from a different contributor. Steve Almond and Ann Packer are among the contributors.

Friend Grief

Although it’s not the book’s original intent, Al Katkowsky’s Question of the Day (also an app) is terrific. I met Al at Writers Digest Conference in 2011, and I gave his book to the leader of my writing group this year. She’s a retired creative writing professor from Northwestern, and said it’s one of the best she’s ever seen. We use it in our group all the time.

Jennifer Luitwieler

I love What If. These are good suggestions. I get some of my best prompts from reading good books. I wonder how they did that, and I play with it until I think I understand it.

Stephen S Power
Stephen S Power

May I shamelessly plug a book I edited a while back and which Amazon seems to be keeping in print, Lou Willet Stanek’s STORY STARTERS?

Judy Reeves

I have copies of all these books, plus several score more. I admit to being a writing book junkie. I love WHAT IF? and use it all the time for writing exercises (I teach writing). NAMING THE WORLD, NOW WRITE… oh I could go on and on, but I won’t. I did feel a little like the girl who didn’t get invited to the prom when my book, A WRITER’S BOOK OF DAYS, wasn’t included. (sorry if that plug feels obvious, which I guess it is.)


[…] in “craft,” Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) offers 5 Remarkable Writing Prompt & Exercise Books. I’m not a fan of prompts and exercises, but if you are, check out this […]


I just love the Pocket Muse! Can’t wait to get the next one.


[…] Ooooo book recommendations…  […]


I love “A Writer’s Book of Days”! Judy Reeves is the author. An inspiring read. And the prompts are just the beginning!


Thanks for the recommendations. I think these books are going to be really helpful for me. Just in case you want other recommendations, it’s not a book but it worth it: there is a great iPhone app I use that is called iDeas for Writing. You can find it in the site ideasforwriting.com. It has writing prompts and exercises too ^_^

And now I’m going to buy one of these books. The Writer’s Idea Book sounds good as a starting.

Thanks a lot!


[…] started as a blog about writing books I love, inspired by Jane Friedman’s recent post of her favorite writing prompts books. I started pulling my favorites from my bookshelves and the […]


I have the original What If and The Pocket Muse. I need to get my hands on 3 A.M. Epiphany & 4 A.M. Breakthrough by Brian Kiteley .


I don’t care about prizes, so entering one isn’t of interest. Every dream I have is a potential story starter–and the time between sleeping and awakening holds within it so many possibilities. Listening to talk radio, researching information on the internet–all of these are idea formers for me.

Now Novel
Now Novel

I didn’t even know that there were books full of writing prompts – I thought you just had to make up your own or trawl the internet for them. Very helpful to know which ones to choose now I know they exist, thanks!


[…] to be a writer, all I wrote were writing exercises. Many were from books, like the ones listed in this post about prompt books that Jane wrote earlier this year. At first, I would work my way through prompt books one at a […]


[…] sit down and do a prompt every day. Former Writer’s Digest editorial director Jane Friedman lined up a few of her favorites on her […]