Creative writing prompts | Chicago Institute of the Arts


Need help pouring the juice out of creative writing? Try to start with a little art and the prompts below. Who knows where your imagination will take you …

These activities are ideal for ages 7 and up, but can be enjoyed by learners of all ages. Younger children can benefit from the help of an adult.

For related educational resource kits, visit our Teacher Resource Finder.

Yashima Gakutei

Explore haiku

Although haiku poetry originated in Japan, today it is created by poets around the world. The basic form consists of seventeen syllables broken down into a pattern of 5, 7, 5 over three lines of verse. Haiku poets often write new poems daily to respond to the ever-changing world around them. To create your own haiku, start by creating a word bank with five words that describe what you notice in your world today. Use one or more of these words to inspire and structure your poem. Try to keep it simple by using the present tense and avoiding fancy comparisons, metaphors or adjectives. And, remember, it can be as silly or as serious as you want it to be!

Examples of Haiku

Five syllables here.
Seven more syllables here.
Are you happy now?

Haikus are easy.
But sometimes they just don’t make sense.

Robert frank

I wish I had a camera

Photographer Robert Frank was known to work in the “street” style, using his small camera to quickly capture fleeting moments in everyday life. Stylistically, his work was related to that of his friend, the poet Beat Jack Kerouac (American 1922-69), who often wrote using the flow of consciousness, a way of writing that captures the thoughts and reactions of a subject to an event in a continuous flow.

Visualize a moment in your life – a fleeting scene or a treasured memory – that you wish you had captured in a photo. Set a timer for five minutes (or less for young learners). Without stopping to edit, write a flow of descriptive words that evoke the sights, sounds, and feelings of that moment. Share this written memory with a friend.

Margo Hoff


The painting by Margo Hoff from 1945, Murder Mystery, depicts a reader wedged in bed late at night, his head buried in the pages of a book. Hoff’s stylized shapes, intricate patterns, and dark palette make the scene mysterious, reminding us how much the tone of a good story can affect our experience of the world.

Imagine writing a fictional novel that will someday become a bestseller. You think your story is interesting and compelling, but now you need a title. What title would you give to your book? What genre does it fall into: mystery, fantasy, science fiction or something else? What is the conflict that animates your story? How could this be resolved or dealt with? Write a summary of your story for the back cover, but don’t give up on the ending!

Noda Tetsuya

Every day is history

Every day, small moments come together to create history on a large and small scale and in personal and public forms. Japanese artist Noda Tetsuya captures this spectrum of experiences in her multi-layered prints, which feature intimate moments with her family as well as monumental world events. His Personal diary The series encourages us to reflect on the accumulation of memories that mark the passage of time and our own personal place in this story.

Document your own moment in history by creating a daily journal. Write down the major and minor events of the day, depending on the context of your life and your experiences. What is important today, for you or in the world? Experiment using your own voice to tell the story of the week. Cut out a photo or add a drawing to build on your written notes. At the end of the week, look back on the events of each day and think about new ideas you might have for the next week.

Joan mitchell

what Your Word?

Joan Mitchell’s various colors and paint strokes City landscape provide us with multiple points of entry and engagement. The impact of the image can indeed stay with us, jostle our thoughts and take root. With this and so many works of art, we often ask ourselves: How do I make personal connections? How can a work of art stay with me long after I’ve seen it?

Spend some free time writing your own thoughts on this painting. Pay attention to how you feel; what emotions arise; which memories are activated. Write your thoughts for free for two minutes; try to let your hand and pen connect. Reread what you have written and underline the two lines that suit you the most. From these lines, circle three of the words, then place a triangle over just two of the three words you chose, and finally draw a frame around just one. You should now have written your writing in a single word. Think about how and where you want to display your word; you can cut it out, draw it big or place it on your bathroom mirror! As you go through your day, keep coming back to that word and the personal connections you’ve made.

Julio De Diego

History of the round robin

Work with your family to tell the story that unfolds in this piece of art. Have someone start the story and write the first sentence. Pass the paper to the next person to write the next sentence. Repeat this process until everyone has had a chance to contribute at least once. Collect your sentences and read your compelling story for everyone to enjoy.

Archibald John Motley Jr.

Design your movie pitch

In this colorful painting, Archibald Motley Jr. depicts the vibrancy of a crowded cabaret in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood, Bronzeville.

Imagine this painting being the opening scene of a movie that begins with this line: “I knew then that my life would never be the same again. Using clues from the image, decide who will be the main character in your film, then build your story. What happened in the days leading up to what we see here? What’s going on now? What happens after this moment and what changes are happening in the life of the main character? Write these moments as if you are building the plot of a movie and preparing to sell it to a big producer. Share your movie story with your friends and family to see if they’d like to watch it on opening night.

Katharina Fritsch

A poem in five lines

A five-line poem is also called a fifty. Some forms of fifty poetry follow specific rules regarding the number of syllables or elements in each line. Take a close look at this sculpture by German artist Katharina Fritsch and answer the following prompts to write your own fifty.

Line 1: Choose a name to identify the subject of the artwork.
Line 2: Choose two adjectives that describe the subject of the artwork.
Line 3: Write three verbs ending in –ing that detail the action in the artwork.
Line 4: Select four individual words or a four-word phrase to describe the emotions associated with the work of art.
Line 5: End with a name synonymous with the subject of the artwork.

Have a friend or family member write a fiftieth on this sculpture as well and share your poems with each other!

Dawoud Bey

Conversation in the city

At Dawoud Bey Harlem, United States series, he explored the identities of the people and places of New York’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1970s. Take a close look at this scene from the series. Think about the personalities of people and the events happening around them based on the details you find in the picture. Select two people and imagine the conversation they might have. How would their discussion go and what would they say to each other? What could they tell you if you were in this scene? Write the conversation down, expressing each character’s personality and the story that might take place in that scene.

Joseph cornell

Dream a little dream

Like the works of his Surrealist contemporaries, Cornell’s art is often linked to the world of dreams. Based on what you can see in that Cornell box, write a short story that begins with this line: Last night I had the strangest dream …

Philippe guston

A tale about things

Philip Guston painted everyday objects like clocks and shoes as if they were figures in a story rather than inanimate objects in a still life. Think of two or three everyday objects that you would like to use to create a scene. What sort of personalities do they have? A book, for example, can be smart but shy. Write a short story about these characters.

Marc Chagall

A story seen through the window

Identify an object, figure or animal from the windows – this will be the subject of a story. Look carefully at its details. Pay attention to the surrounding shapes, colors, objects and characters in the same panel. Write your story from the subject’s perspective, describing what it is like to be part of the window environment.

Tip: To get a closer look at the details of this artwork, click on the image and zoom in.

Tosa Mitsuoki

Travel mission

Imagine that you are a writer for a travel magazine. The editor asks you to go to Japan and write a report based on your experiences at the cherry blossom viewing festival. Enter the screen and write down what you see, feel, smell and hear. Where would you like to go ? What would you like to see?


The story of the storyteller

This ceramic figure was created in the Ameca Valley in Mexico. The character appears to be telling a story, and in many ancient societies storytellers have told heroic legends and myths that have helped people understand their history and place in the natural world.

Although seated, his pose is energetic and his gestures expressive. Note that the storyteller’s figurine’s mouth is partially open. Does the character speak? If so, what does he say? Write the story that Storyteller Figure could tell.

Gertrude Abercrombie

What’s in a Title?

Write your own titles for the artwork – they can be funny, serious, descriptive, or completely made up. Browse the museum’s collection to find your favorites or write new titles for works never named by artists.

If you’re in a group, share your titles with each other to see what creative ideas you’ve all come up with. You can also visit your selected artwork’s webpage to see if there is a featured title. Look at the artwork again. Why do you think the artist chose this title?


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