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