Nonfiction Essay Writing Prompts

“Writing is an act of great courage, and writing creative non-fiction raises up the stakes even higher. It is not a genre for the fainthearted.”

–Ayelet Tsabari, Judge’s Essay, EVENT 45/3.


EVENT’s Non-Fiction Contest deadline is April 15. We’ve created 30 creative non-fiction prompts to warm up your writing brains. Click on each link for explanation and discussion of the prompt.


  1. Write about a moment that divided your life into before and after.
  1. Write about a “missed connection.”
  1. Recall a memorable (delightful, brilliant, cruel) teacher from your school days.
  1. “The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” – Ernest Hemingway
  1. Write about a book you loved as a child. Use this as a jumping off point to say something about who you are now.
  1. Do something you’ve never done before. Write about the experience.
  1. Find a piece of music that reminds you of a time and place from your past.
  1. Write about a déjà vu experience, where one incident reminded you of another one from your past.
  1. Write a scene of a personal experience that risks making you look bad.
  1. Make the familiar unfamiliar.
  1. Write about an experience where setting was your main antagonist.
  1. Write about a childhood incident, using the “Voice of Innocence.”
  1. Write about a twist of fate.
  1. Write about a time you were a fish out of water.
  1. Write about a time you or someone you know had a “status update.”
  1. Write your own “modern love” story.
  1. Write about a time your body rebelled.
  1. Imagine what the life of a person you know was like before you met them.
  1. Begin a creative non-fiction piece with a scene of movement, creating rhythm with your prose.
  1. Write a piece about two incidents from your life that occurred in the same setting, finding a thematic link between them.
  1. Write a creative non-fiction piece in the form of a list.
  1. Write a piece using the 2nd person point of view.
  1. Write a 6-word memoir.
  1. Write a piece centred on your hometown.
  1. Tell the other side of the story.

26-30. Revise, revise, revise.


Please share these prompts with your writer friends, colleagues, and students!

Once you’ve polished up your piece, send it to EVENT’s Non-Fiction Contest. We’re proud to say it’s the longest running contest of its kind in Canada, and more than a few talented writers have been discovered in our pages. Winners receive up to $1,500 in cash prizes, as well as publication.

For contest details, click here.




Tags: #30prompts, Creative Non-Fiction, event magazine, non-fiction contest, writing contest

Kick-start your creativity

Sometimes we all need a kick-start for our creativity.

It’s common practice amongst students of creative fiction, young and old, to use a prompt, or an exercise, to get started with a piece of writing, or to help generate ideas.

Nonfiction writers are much less likely to do this — and it’s at a cost to the speed and skill of their writing.

Rather than go straight into the piece you are working on, it’s tremendously valuable to take a side-step and spend the first few minutes of writing, practicing or free-writing, on something that is not your topic. Warm-up exercises for writers so to speak.

What we call ‘writing prompts’ in the business, are used to generate creativity in an unfamiliar situation. Fiction writers might use them for character development, or plot creation, or just to get into the flow, and nonfiction writers can use them to explore and practice tools and techniques that are relevant for them.

Boost your output

Gabriela Pereira creative director of DIY MFA, believes that writing prompts have more than one function:

  • They can increase your output and creativity by lowering the risk and the expectation you attach to a project.
  • They boost your confidence and your ability to write ‘on the fly’.
  • They shape your craft, allow you to practice new styles and new techniques without losing cohesiveness in your main project. This is especially important for newer writers still trying to ‘find their voice’.
  • And they can be an easy way to put down your thoughts onto paper, without the boundaries of structure and form in your regular writing.

And, while, there are thousands and thousands of pages of writing prompts for fiction writers, there are far fewer for the person writing about their experience or expertise. And while the line,

The clouds turned grey and the sun slowly veiled its face,

might set the pens of creative writers on fire, it won’t necessarily do much for you.

Practical and creative

We nonfiction writers, need something more practical, where we can write in the same style that we want to use in our formal writing (blogs or books), but on a different topic. Or, where we write on the same topic, but in a completely different style.

Break out of the ‘block’

Whether you’re feeling stuck, or you just want to practice and  develop your craft, put down your work for a moment and give one of these nonfiction writing prompts a try:

1. Take a lesson

Think of one lesson you learned today, or in the last week, and explain it to someone in writing.

Outline the problem, the solution, and exactly how you came to that solution. Be as clear and concise as possible, as though this was going to print tomorrow.

2. 200 words on you

In no more than 200 words, explain who you are.

This is a challenging prompt, as it is the one topic you know everything about, and you have to be really selective to choose which 200 words of your life define you.

It will force you to make hard choices that you need to transfer to your real writing. Practice it a few times taking a different perspective each time.

3. 10 steps…

…on how not to be mistaken for a fire extinguisher when you’re out on a picnic.

Nonfiction writing prompts don’t have to be dull and boring, and can be as creative as those for fantasy fiction writers.

Taking an unusual setting such as this, and writing in standard formula will force you to come face to face with the words and phrases you depend on. Because in a nonsense topic like this, they will stand out like, well, a fire extinguisher at a picnic.

This is a great exercise to practice and then review afterwards.

4. Your wildest dream

For this one, write about what it is you want, more than anything in the world.

This prompt was taken from Joe Bunting’s The Write Practice, where he explains that all good stories are about desires.

So is yours. It’s the desire to do better, and to make other people do better. Put that desire into writing.

5. Your Big Adventure

Set out on an imaginary adventure, and write about it.

It doesn’t need to be big; it could be as simple as going down to the shops and grabbing a loaf of bread. The content isn’t important — it’s how you relay it.

Lots of wonderful books have been written about people with life experiences not much different from yours. It’s the way they were written that made them compelling.

Your book can be wonderful too, but you have to find the skill to write it well. Practice writing about a physical adventure, and you’ll improve on your intellectual one.

6. Teach a 10 year old

Take a topic from your book, or a task that you do every day, and explain it to a 10 year old in writing.

You’ll find that by explaining it to someone who has absolutely zero knowledge of what you do, you’ll begin to see which areas you’ve glossed over in your actual writing. And you can highlight these to go back and work on again. Sometimes it’s OK to do a bit of over-explaining for the uninitiated.

More Places to Find Prompts

If you’re looking for a place to find inspiration for your next blog post, article, or Facebook post, Hubpages 101 Nonfiction Writing Prompts is a fantastic resource.

It actually has 101 prompts, ranging from memoirs, to basically giving you the next title of your blog post – as well as a few ethical debates. It’s a great resource to help you put together a quick post if you’re not tapping into your usual motivation.

And, our favourite three minute writing exercises will help you practice your nonfiction writing skills, as well as giving you a bit of fun along the way.

No holds barred

If you’re looking for full-on creativity, and experience what a few minutes of no-holds-barred imaginative writing does for your confidence, there are an abundance of places to get prompts from. Have a look at Writers’ Digest or Creative Writing Solutions. Or, if you like the idea of getting fresh inspiration every day, sites such as One Minute Writer post one new prompt for you to use every day.

Alternatively, look through visual sights such as Flickr, Tumblr, or Instagram, or even try picking out lines in your favourite songs for inspiration.

Just write what you see, or hear.

What’s your goal?

When you use writing prompts, remember to identify your end goal.

  • Do you want to spend five minutes inspiring your creativity?
  • Do you want to tackle a task from a different angle?
  • Are you just going through a rough patch of writing and want to get back into the flow?

Also keep your goal in mind, and as soon as it’s achieved (or if it looks like it’s not going to happen), move on.

Writing to a prompt is the same as going to a training session and batting in the nets. It’s a way to practice your writing and try out new things techniques that you would never attempt in a live game.

Don’t spend too much time on your prompts; their purpose is to push you on to bigger and better things.

So take the push, write to the prompt, but remember to move on and write something you want to publish.

Cathy Presland

Have you tried these, or do you have other ones that work? Let us know on social media.

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