Summer-Inspired Writing Prompts

Arcimboldo, Giuseppe, c.1527-1593; Summer

We’re deep into summer. So how are you going to get any dang writing done when everything is so easy-breezy? That’s how it feels in Seattle, at least, when, after ten months of rain, we blink up at the sun, smile dumbly, and forget what we were doing. Who wants to hunch over a computer when it’s gorgeous outside?

Or maybe you’re not dizzy from sun poisoning. Maybe you’re coming back from a writing conference, still processing the stack of feedback you received on your work-in-progress. Maybe you want to start something new before tackling that revision. (I highly recommend starting something new before tackling that revision.)

Either way, instead of writing a long introduction on the merits of summer (I mean, really), I went gonzo on the prompts. So grab a lightweight notebook, find yourself a shady perch, and get writing. There’s at least 300 minutes of hot, hot writing here.

Five-minute prompts

  1. List all the scary things you associate with summer. (For example, I always hated watching amateur fireworks from my grandmother’s roof in Brooklyn for fear of said fireworks landing on said roof.)
  2. List all the things you associate with fireworks.
  3. List all the beautiful things you associate with summer.
  4. List all of your dream summer vacations.
  5. List all the people in your life you associate with summer.
  6. List all the textures you associate with summer. (Yes, you could do each of the other senses too. We’ve already done some prompts on sound, sight, and smell, so let’s start with touch.)
  7. In as much detail as possible, describe the physical sensation of sunburn.

Ten-minute prompts

  1. Write a scene using the words lobster, melon, and urine.
  2. Describe the worst summer you ever had. Describe the best.
  3. Write a scene involving a boat.
  4. Write a scene about heat. Write about the hottest place you’ve ever been.
  5. Describe the weirdest summer camp you can imagine.
  6. Write a scene involving chlorine.
  7. Write a scene using the words snorkel, flummox, kale, and dendochronology.
  8. What is your earliest memory of summer?
  9. Describe Arcimboldo’s “Summer” (pictured above). If he could speak, what would he say? How does he feel about that artichoke sprouting out of his chest?

Twenty+ minute prompts

  1. Write about a dream vacation that goes wrong in exactly the worst possible way. (Once I took a class with Heather McHugh and she told us, “When you’re stuck, think of whatever would be most unholy. Then write that.” This advice seems appropriate here.)
  2. Write a story around the ideas of ripening and rotting.
  3. Rewrite Jaws from the perspective of the shark.
  4. Write a story within a time-frame of one day. (Hint: July 20 is apparently Ugly Truck Day.)
  5. Write a story using the words blithesome, baseball, fruit salad, and schadenfreude.
  6. List all the books you associate with summer. Use the words from their titles to write a story.
  7. Do you like to write stories based on historical research? Here’s a photo of Edvard Munch on the beach. As mentioned in the comment on the photo, it was fashionable at the time to sunbathe in the nude; Munch had come to the beach at Warnemunde to recover from a complicated relationship and hoped the time spent there would “bring back his vitality”.
  8. Take this image from The Great Gatsby as a launch pad for a new story: “And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man was my summer reading assignment going into the eighth grade. In addition to the regular, run-of-the-mill essay in response, we got to write a story in the style of Bradbury, and I wrote about an expedition to the center of the sun. That’s how much I used to hate summers in New York; I felt as if I were boiling inside the sun. By contrast, summers in Seattle are tepid and cool. No matter what kind of summer you’re having, I hope you’re writing copiously.