Writing to a Prompt Is Necessary for Everyone to Know How to Do

The WP Prompt: Take a complicated subject you know more about than most people, and explain it to a friend who knows nothing about it at all.

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

Ernest Hemingway

writing with students


Writing an Essay to a Prompt

Writing to a prompt is a complicated task even for adults. As I think about my professional life, I probably spent more time writing than almost any other single activity either writing essays myself or grading students’ and teachers’ essays for over 20 years. Writing professionals have boiled essay writing down to a few steps which can be easily explained to someone who doesn’t write. While most people THINK they know how to write if they can put words down on paper, it has been a shock to me to realize how many people, including me, struggle to write even a simple five paragraph essay to answer a prompt.

Steps to Writing an Essay

Essays usually convey information and not to tell a story, although they may use facts to persuade or convince readers to take action as well. New writers need to know that an essay consists of only three parts:

  1. an opening paragraph,
  2. the body,
  3. and the conclusion.

Simply outlined, the opening paragraph restates the prompt stating three or more examples or facts. The next three paragraphs expand on the three or four facts stated in the opening paragraph. The concluding paragraph points back to the opening paragraph and summarizes how the paragraph addressed the stated prompt.

Tips to Start Writing to a Prompt

These steps sound simple enough. However, often a prompt asks the responder to write about a topic about which the writer has to search the depth of his memories to create a coherent response. Usually, there is no time or material with which to research a topic. Other times the writer must research the topic to write an intelligent essay. Notice that the first thing that I did to prepare for THIS essay was analyze the prompt or break it into pieces. I didn’t just start writing. I asked myself questions such as, “Of all the complicated things I CAN do, what ONE thing can I do WELL? Of those possibilities, what can I write about in a few paragraphs?” Next the prompt asks me to explain it to a friend, so I asked myself, “Who is my audience?” Before I write anything I take a few minutes to ask myself questions about the prompt. I usually jot down some notes in an informal list or outline.

Now Get Started

Writing to a prompt is complicated for many reasons. An author who does not know much about the topic may cut corners and merely copy the prompt word for word, and preface it with the words, “Today I am going to write about…” This might be acceptable in first grade, but beyond that, writers need to display more sophistication in their writing. It would be better to start with a quote or a definition instead.

On the other hand, if the author has too much information about a topic, writing becomes complicated. In this case, writing can take many turns and twists because, according to the brain laboratory at UCLA, people have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. One short essay can’t utilize all these thoughts, so the next step is deciding which thoughts are keepers. When writers struggle with this, the result is that their writing is unclear. That is the reason if I am writing under pressure on a topic I begin with brainstorming, then move to an outline. I may do this in my head, but it is more effective if I write it out.

Finish Work – Clean It Up

Finally writing to a prompt is a formal process. Vocabulary and style become issues. My blogging style is rather informal, uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and is often funny. My formal writing style as I would use in a writing prompt differs from that in several ways. I use a more academic lexicon or vocabulary, and vary my sentence structure, and I am usually more serious. Each sentence starts with different words. For example, after I have written this essay, I will go back over it and circle all the initial words. If I have more than two of the same beginning word, they need to change. Examining how many of the same words I use within the sentence helps as well. Word processing programs, as well as the internet, have dictionaries and a thesaurus at the writer’s fingertips, so there is no excuse for repeating the same word multiple times.


Once I have thought out my topic, analyzed the prompt, brainstormed facts, organized the facts into similar paragraphs I started the actual writing process. Next, I wrote a clear and concise opening paragraph. Following in next three or four paragraphs I developed the topic. Finally, I closed the essay with a summarization. After writing, I checked to make sure that I didn’t repeat myself or use all the same type of sentences. I proofread my piece one last time before considering it complete. If you do these simple steps, you will have a passable essay for any exam or job application. Although a writer may not be a best-selling author, he or she can follow some simple steps to become an expert in writing to a prompt.

More writing tips

If you have other tips please share in the comment section or link to one of your own posts.

Find this helpful? Please share! 🙂


An Exercise in Writing Description

First a Technology Tip:

Before we start writing, let me save you from my posting disaster. Write your posts somewhere else – Word, Dropbox, Google Docs. OR Save posts often. OR both!  Will I never learn? I deleted a picture from my blog post, and SOMEHOW the entire post disappeared.

writing, fiction, Visalia, Sarah's house, Beverly Glen1

My husband Vince sells real estate. Yesterday I rode to Visalia with him to take pictures of places to describe in my book, Girls on Fire. I am not good at writing riveting descriptions. I get lost on the cracks or shadows in the road, and miss the important details. Or my mind focuses on an imaginary conversation between me and a real person, two imaginary people, or me and someone imaginary, who might be real, but would never say the things he or she says in my mind. This takes so much of my attention that I probably should never drive. Vince asks me if I remember going places. Sometimes I wasn’t with him, so I have a good excuse for not remembering, but just as likely, I sat right next to him having an internal conversation.

blogging, books, Visalia, Tulare County
blogging, books, Visalia, Tulare County

Since I struggle with descriptions I rely on others to help me. George Pilling wrote a great book, A Walk Around Visalia. He’s told me what trees grow where, which neighborhoods my characters would choose, and what’s around them. He had a gorgeous picture of the house I pictured for Sarah, a character in my story, Girls on Fire. Yesterday Vince and I found it.

However, sometimes descriptions are not exact. Here are some descriptions that I borrowed and reworded from a children’s book I just read by Polly Horvath. I like how she uses descriptions of one thing to describe something entirely different. I just used a few of her words to write these descriptions.

Troublesome thoughts seemed to ease away when I walked up to the door and knocked. There was nothing remarkable about the home, but it was plain in a way that is beautiful. The way Shaker furniture is beautiful.

“We’re finally home,” Mom sighed as she picked up my sleepy brother and carried him inside, his chocolate mouth resting against her clean white blouse.

The old shake house, perched on the edge of cliff overlooking the beach seemed to look down on us with its large glassed-in eyes beckoning us up for a glass of lemonade and some salt-water taffy.

I remember as a child walking by Mr. Colvert’s house feeling a bit of a chill as I passed it. It was a grim, old narrow, gray thing,  parched, slit-eyed, and as suspicious of us as we were of him.

I spent about 20 minutes writing a detailed description of this picture. I ignored the cracks in the road – this time.

How would you describe this house picture, or would you ignore it and describe something else that made you feel the same way the house makes you feel? Do you use metaphors? Does it remind you of a home you knew well in your childhood. Would you write about the interactions that did or didn’t take place on the front lawn?

writing description.

Either copy the picture and create your own post, or just write in the comment section. Tell us what techniques you like to use when you write descriptions.



Daily Life of a Writer

None of this post is a lie, I swear. Well, at least no more than an exaggeration, I promise. I read on the Internet, where everything rings true, that “NASA is currently tracking 1,400 ‘potentially hazardous asteroids’ and predicting their future approaches and impact probabilities.” Predicted by non-experts not from NASA, something big was supposed to hit last September. That would have wreaked havoc on our scheduled lives, wouldn’t it?

Peggy and Marsha

If I only have a short time time left to live before a giant asteroid flops down in my yard, I wonder if I should bother to plan anything. (I’ve been doing this all my life – wondering if I should waste time planning and preparing for  – well anything actually)  Eventually I usually decide that maybe planning one little day won’t hurt. I’m not convinced yet that aliens will come to earth and do my work for me. Isn’t that what happened at Stonehenge?  Given the choice in life what do you do most often, plan or chill?

In October I attended a new health clinic grand opening in town representing the Chamber of Commerce because I’m retired and everyone else works, so, of course I have time. I went up and introduced myself to the doctor’s wife who was so bored that she had begun reading my book, Images of America: Woodlake, which I gave the Clinic as a gift. As we talked, she asked me what a typical day looked like for me as an author, and wondered if I had time do lunch.

There’s nothing I like better than having lunch with an interesting person, especially one who liked my book, but that was in October, and it’s already nearly February. I should have sent her a link to this post.

Should I plan for tomorrow or check my insurance policies?

Typical Day in the Life of This Writer

  1. Exercise with my trainer (daughter of a friend who is amazing) Melissa for an hour or until I complain effectively enough that she takes pity on me and tells me I can go home early.
  2. Write my blog for the day.  Wait!  Who’s commenting to me now?  I’d better check my WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and email notifications.  It might be important. No, I’m not ADHD, I saved my draft first before I checked my comment box.
  3. I would like to finish the two books I’m reading this morning.  What?  It’s 10:15 already!  How did that happen?  I’ll finish Blue Willow first because it’s shorter, and I have to read it for the Reader’s Student Event at Tulare County Office of Education.  Then after I write a review of that one, I’ll head back to April in Paris Rendezvous with my Mother by Chuck House, and write a review of that.  I don’t think I can get both of them finished.  hmmm  OK, put Chuck’s book and the other fourteen children’s books on my week’s goal.
  4. Finish unfinished projects:  different organization’s assignments, knitting, photography, new posts  Ops, too ambitious…
  5. Go visit my blog friends – the ones I didn’t get to already this morning.  Write lots of comments, steal ideas get inspired.  That’s doable because I started at 5:15 this morning.
  6. Take a lunch break.  I’m hungry already.  I forgot to take my vitamins.  Maybe I’d better stop now and start fixing lunch! I wonder if V wants lunch yet?  It’s almost 11:00. a.m.   OK 10:15, but that’s close.
  7. Spend some spiritual time with God.  Maybe He will consider removing the asteroid threat.  I’ll ask anyway.
  8. Plan my next trip before the world blows up.  I’ll do that this evening.
  9. Keep up with household chores.  V said he would vacuum this morning. I don’t hear it. OK, he’s going to do that, so I can cross that one off.
  10. √Get dressed for the day.  I’ll bathe later.  If Ralph only needs 3 baths a year I guess skipping a day or two won’t make any difference, huh?  Better find out if V has started your shower yet. He likes to go first so I can clean the shower when we are both done.  Yep, he’s in there now. OK, I have to wait till he’s done anyway, so I’ll skip that one.  No, I’ll go ahead and leave it on the list.  I probably SHOULD get dressed.  Let’s see my clothes I wore yesterday are right here on the laundry basket.  sniff, sniff  Yeah, they’re clean enough.  I’m going for a walk later, and I’ll get all sweaty. There.  I can check that off.
  11. I’m back.  I decided to take a bath after all. I’m going to need to take a nap this afternoon so I can stay up and blog all night when I get free gigabytes.
  12. Take Puppy Girl for a walk.  That should be number one. I thought  V took her out this morning.  She should be good until after lunch.
  13. V ate quite a bit of cake yesterday.  I don’t think he will want dinner.  I can cross off making dinner.  Good.  Back to my book.
  14. Oops, I forgot I need to write a book for third graders about Woodlake by the time the new Museum opens on February 27. I need to get that started. A few pages each day, and I’ll be done. Sally said she would help. I’ll text her now and see when we can get started.
  15. I need to make reservations for a hotel in Hawaii for the raffle tickets we are going to offer through the Woodlake Chamber of Commerce. Something is not working on the website. There are no options available. I’ll call them this afternoon to find out what’s going on.
  16. I need to go to the store to make soup for tomorrow night’s Kiwanis meeting, and type up the minutes for last week’s Chamber of Commerce meeting. If I forget those, the world will come to an end.
  17. I want to start pulling out and organizing my blog posts to create a book to self publish. That should only take a few weeks. The stuffs all written. I don’t think it will take much editing. The last one only took me two hours. I do not get that. I thought it would be easier if I just cut and pasted.
  18. Darn, I just remembered that I promised to start editing my NaNoWriMo book I wrote in November. I should at least look at it. Or not.How do you spend your days as a writer? Do distractions bother you, too?

NaNoWriMo Progress

Sometimes I wonder what in the world convinced me that I could or even wanted to write. Yet, here I am at 4:43 in the morning drawn to my computer like a drippy nose to a Kleenex.

This is Allicks, my first husband’s and my first dog who inspired this story.

I originally wrote the book I’m working on now over 25 years ago during summer vacation when I taught fourth grade. The heroine is a ten-year old girl (5th grader) who is basically myself with good qualities added. She finds an abandoned puppy on her way home from school. Her dad hates dogs, and has previously forbidden her from having any pets. You see where this is going, obviously. She takes the puppy home and tries to convince her dad that the dog is worth keeping. What she is really trying to accomplish is to convince her dad, or maybe herself, that she, as well as the dog, is worth keeping. Meanwhile she has someone (or animal) she feels loves her, or more importantly maybe to whom she can outpour the love she has inside of her.

The problem with the original book basically is that although it has some great stories, it’s boring. That may be the problem with most of my writing actually, other than a few minor typos and grammatical errors. I read last night that the basic ingredient that is missing from most novelists’ first drafts is conflict.

Since the book gets its meat from my life there is plenty of conflict to draw from, but I find that I am totally a chicken. I always want the heroine, who is almost always a better rendition of myself to be seen in a good light. That’s not bad. I’ve learned that readers want their characters to be better than life, (I know I do.) so I guess that I’m good there. Where I am a chicken is I hate doing bad things to good characters. Not only that, if something awful does happen to a good character, I’m not sure how to solve the problem. Moreover they have to change, and I’m not sure how to make them do that!

In one scene of the book the heroine gets her first job – to watch her younger brother, who has an emotional or possibly mental problem, we don’t know exactly what yet, while her mom goes to the store. That sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But Jake runs off ahead of her and a friend who dropped by the house. I hope you feel the sense of doom approaching here.

He heads down to the creek. Jenny (bossy older sister-me) tells him to stay away from the water. Of course, you know what he is going to do, and he gets in over his ankles in fast running water. I’ve rewritten this chapter at least twice. The most horrible thing I could do to this little boy is to have him be swept away by the creek. Or the heroine could end up in the drink, or her friend could die in the rescue process. Would you do something that drastic? I can’t. I was exhausted just getting him out in one piece, and of course the dog has to help because he’s worthless in the father’s eyes, and what can a dog who is terrified of water do anyway?

This chapter wasn’t even in my first book, and just so you know, it never happened in my life, which is why it probably wasn’t in my first book. Just so you know, I’m a little behind in my word count, and my plot just spun out of control, and we only have 18 days left.

As I write, I’m reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I’m on Chapter Six – Plot. I have another blog, a couple actually, and I started a brief review of the book. I probably should finish it before I do my next review. I don’t know, maybe you don’t mind if I work with it step by step.

If you’d like to write to me or correct my grammar I’m at tchistorygal@gmail.com. If you just want to spy on me you can follow me on FB, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn. (I actually check those.) If you want to ignore me, I’ll probably never know about it, but go ahead and do it. Otherwise press like on this page, leave me a comment, and make me smile.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? If so how are you doing? I hope well.