In honor of Women’s History Month, get inspired by our favorite literary ladies with these writing prompts!
For Women’s History Month we’re doing something a bit different with our writing prompts: seeking inspiration in famous women writers who’ve helped shape storytelling as we know it. We hope their stories get your creative juices flowing!
Attention all romance writers and readers: you can thank Emily Brontë for your passion for passion. She was a poet and writer in England during the 1800s. You probably heard about her famous novel in English lit class: Wuthering Heights.
When people are still talking about your book two hundred years later—you’ve arrived. The bummer for Emily is that her book was panned by the critics during her lifetime. They thought it was too dark. Sadly, she died before the world saw it for the complex, psychological, gothic love story that it was. Lesson? Trust yourself, not the reviewers!
Wuthering Heights, for those who don’t know, is the story of forbidden love. An orphan named Heathcliff is brought into the country home of a wealthy man. Heathcliff and the man’s daughter Catherine become very close as children, and they fall in love when they’re older. Unfortunately, social class constraints being what they were back in the day, Catherine is forced to marry the neighbor, even though she still loves Heathcliff.
Heathcliff thinks she’s over him, so he runs away. Later, he visits Catherine on her deathbed, and they realize they were always right for each other. Things get weird when he digs up her grave and makes her ghost promise to haunt him for eternity. Intense, I know.
Here are a few Brontë-themed prompts to get you going:
- Start with the idea that a couple can’t be together because society says so. What’s keeping them apart? How do they overcome the prejudice and get together anyway?
- Get spiritual. Heathcliff is so in love he’d rather Catherine haunt his dreams than be away from her. How can you place your couple’s obstacles both in this life…or in another? Can you add in a ghostly or spiritual element? How can someone be in love with a ghost or essence? Make it work!
- Brontë was inspired by the world around her. Wuthering Heights is an English country manor, set in her homeland of the moors. How can you use the place you’re from to inspire your plot? Pull in what you know about the place and people you’re around.
Erotica fans? You can thank Anaïs Nin, a Cuban-French-American writer from the early- to mid-1900s, for some scintillating, eye-popping work. Anaïs was a bon vivant and bohemian living in Paris in the 1920s. She wrote essays, novels, and other works, but she was probably best known for publishing her detailed journals, which she kept through most of her life.
The journals explore her wild sexual adventures in Paris and beyond. She had affairs with many famous men and wrote of her sexual liaisons in these works. She was an out and proud writer of erotica, a woman who pushed boundaries, and yet also was lauded for her abilities with the written word.
Feel inspired by Anaïs? Try these prompts:
- Be like Anaïs: use real life as your muse. Think of a love or sexual affair you had. Tell us all about it. What made it steamy? How did you fall for each other? How did it end?
- Anaïs was known for her explicit sex scenes but also for her emotional honesty. Can you write a story that relies as heavily on emotion as on the juicy bits?
- Anaïs had these famous affairs while she was married. She slept with her psychiatrists, other married men, and infamously, even her dad (she didn’t grow up with him, but…still). In other words, she’s not always the most sympathetic protagonist. Can you craft a main character who’s also not afraid to be herself, even if it’s socially unpopular?
Toni Morrison is an American Nobel prize-winning novelist and poet. She wrote The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, among many others. Her work captures the hard truth of racism in the United States, as well as centers Black women in stories.
It was uncommon at the time of her publications (beginning in 1970) to have popular novels feature all-Black protagonists. The works show stark, brutal realities. In addition to pushing the envelope as a writer, she also made a difference as the first Black senior editor of fiction at Random House, where she used her position to publish stories by people of color. Her contributions to literature and society are innumerable.
Here are writing prompts inspired by Toni:
- While teaching writing at Princeton, she encouraged her students to go beyond their own experiences and create new, fictionalized worlds. Try it yourself. Imagine someone completely different than you—maybe they come from a different time, place, or gender. Tell their story.
- In Beloved, the main character kills her own child, so she won’t have to grow up a slave. What is the greatest sacrifice your character can possibly make? Is it the right one or wrong one? Show the consequences.
- Toni wrote a retelling of Shakespeare’s play Othello called Desdemona. It’s about Othello’s wife and her relationship to her African nursemaid. We’ve been talking a lot about getting inspired by famous works and turning them into your own. What novel, play, or movie could you retell?
- Imagine that you, like Toni, are a publisher. What works do you want to see on your shelves? What would you love to read about, but it hasn’t been done yet? Write it!
Whether you’re inspired by these Women’s History Month writing prompts or others, be sure to keep filling up that computer screen. You’re probably writing the book someone else can’t wait to read!