25 Writing Prompts to Spark Your Inspiration

Regardless of how much you may love or hate writing, starting a new project is always the hardest part. Sometimes all you need is the perfect prompt to spark your inspiration. Creative writing, whether it be for a book or just a quick scene, is a great way to practice your skills, and these prompts are a great starting point for creating your next writing project.


Silly Prompts

Writing can be easiest when you don’t take it so seriously. Use one of these funny prompts to create a silly scene that makes you laugh.

  • Write the emails between a hero and a villain as they try to reschedule their battle due to a scheduling conflict.
  • Write a story about a great historical figure learning how to use the internet. What do they find online when they Google themselves?
  • Write about a woman who promised her firstborn child to several different witches. Now that a baby is on the way, she has to deal with a custody battle.
  • Write a slow-burn love story that is narrated by a very impatient narrator.
  • Recall your most embarrassing memory, and write a funny story about it.
  • Create an overly dramatic poem about a household item.

Dialogue Prompts

Focusing on a conversation as the centerpiece of your writing can be super fun and impactful. Try using one of these dialogue prompts to inspire your next written conversation between characters.

  • “I know what you did.”
  • “From the day we met, I knew you’d hurt me eventually.”
  • “I’ll come back for you, I promise.”
  • “I regret a lot of things. Having this conversation tops the list.”
  • “What’s going on?”
  • “How should I know?”
  • “Now, don’t be mad, but…”
  • “I know you don’t have any reason to trust me, but… you need to know something.”
  • “Tuesday is always the worst day to rob a bank.”
  • “A hero would sacrifice you to save the world. I’m not a hero.”

Fantasy Prompts

Fantasy writing gives you the opportunity to create new worlds and realities. Use one of these other-worldly prompts to create a compelling tale or fable that sends your readers to another world of your own creation.

  • Your family is chosen for a year-long stay at an outpost on a new Earth-like planet, but the people in charge don’t tell you how the atmosphere there will change you.
  • An ominous letter arrives — along with one offering magical guardianship for you and the shop you inherited. More worlds than one are at stake.
  • Your best friend at college is a highly intuitive rune-caster, and people seek her out. One querent pays her with a magical pendant that changes both your lives.
  • The trees surrounding your new home remind you of something — or rather someone. One touch of your hand on a trunk, and you’re face to face with him.
  • Thanks to your quick thinking during a crisis at the village market, you’ve been appointed as the bodyguard for the princess. The job proves more difficult than any mission you’ve ever had — but also more rewarding.

Sad Prompts

Creating a heart wrenching story is a great way to push yourself to the limits of your emotional writing potential. Try out one of these tragic prompts to create a tale that makes your readers feel something from your words.

  • You’re a ghost haunting your own funeral.
  • Soulmates exist in your universe, and you are meant to meet your one true love when you turn 18, but your birthday was a week ago and your soulmate is nowhere to be found.
  • The main character receives a devastating diagnosis and decides to track down and try to reconnect with their estranged daughter and son.
  • Write from the perspective of a dog being returned to the shelter by their family.
  • You have a wonderful life and a wonderful family. Then you wake up from your coma and learn to accept that none of it was real.

Sometimes it’s hard to get back into the habit of writing for fun, but it’s important to remember that inspiration is everywhere. Even if none of these prompts caught your interest, you can always find ideas in what you see, hear, and read every day. Just remember to keep your mind open for possible jumping off points for your next creation.

Natalie Edwards | 2023

Oversimplifying My Movie Experience: A Narrative Review

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2012) - IMDb

It seemed like I had the perfect date night planned. The local arts center was holding a Black American film festival, and the showing of “The Oversimplification of Her Beauty” was the only movie that fit my busy schedule.

As anyone does with a new movie, I googled it. What I found was not much at all. Although, the Wikipedia page said it had won some obscure award for independently produced films. Also, the film’s main dude – it’s producer, director, and primary actor – Terrance Nance, was just as obscure as his award. In fact, one could argue that the height of his career involves brief work as director of the flop Space Jam remake, where he was eventually replaced.

Still, I thought I found a hidden gem. The reviews used SAT words like quixotic and effervescent. Plus, it was reviewed in The New York Times. I was definitely under the impression that my choice to watch this film would make me seem smart, artistic, deep, and worldly.

From the title and Google images featuring black woman unapologetically rocking their natural hair, I made the assumption that the film was about American society’s objectification of colored women; thus, I was expecting this film to give my partner another taste of the black struggle. No, I did not read the synopsis, for I believed that would spoil the surprises within this quixotic masterpiece (did I use that word right?).

An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty Archives - Deadshirt
Terrance Nance (left) and the center of his obsession, Alisa Becher

When we arrived ten minutes late, as we time-conscious people do, we noticed we were the youngest patrons by at least 30 years. Hmmm… Still, we settled in excitedly to watch the movie.

The film began with a woe is me tale about a young guy in New York City who was dropped by a three-week situationship. As the man traveled from work, to school, to bed, and repeated, the situationship was painted as his solace from the stressors of his busy, low-income life. While I could not relate to the protagonists’ despair as it often came off histrionic, I was moved by the film’s narration. The narration was spoken like a poem, and the narrator would conclude would recurringly state “how would you feel.”

As the film progressed, it began to incorporate graphic art similar to the kaleidoscope style presented on adult-swim. Moreover, the added music, featuring artists like instrumental hip-hop artists like Flying Lotus, triggered my early 2010s nostalgia.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty 2012, directed by Terence Nance | Film  review

Now this was only 30 minutes in, and unfortunately, we had reached the height of this movie.

We were then pulled into the creator’s obsession with his romantic interests. We learned of the intimate details of each of his relationships, far more than we cared to. At first, what was an odd, yet mildly endearing obsession with a 3-week relationship transformed into an indulgent self-reflection that highlighted the protagonists’ narcissistic traits.

At 45 minutes, my sympathy for the protagonists was all used up, and I no longer cared to hear, over and over how sad it is for the protagonists to be unable to maintain the desire of his partners. It was also clear at this point that the situationship did not blow him away and initiate his obsessive behavior. Instead, the situation was just another item in his grocery list of obsessions. As each part was enumerated from part 1: A, to part 3: G (no this is not a hyperbole), I become more and more restless. Eventually, I had forgotten that I was on a voluntary date, and I was instead wondering when my timeout-like boredom torture would end.

Finally, the movie ended, and we both hurriedly rushed out of the theater before the discussion began. As we began to walk back home, my partner broke the ice and asked, “What did you think?” Her eyes showed a sense of carefulness, resembling a zookeeper approaching a crocodile. We are an interracial couple, so I am sure she was worried that she would offend me if she did anything but praise my date choice. Rightfully so, I am the man who made her watch 12 Years a Slave and soon plans to make Roots the subject of so many future movie-nights.

12 Years a Slave (2013) - IMDb
Scene from the film 12 Years a Slave- a story about a freedman being illegally enslaved for 12 years

However comma (yeah, I spelled it out) this movie was not about Blackness nor Afro-futurism, it was about Terrance Nance’s romance that just so happened to involve Black people, and like most romance, it is not worth a 90-minute feature film.

I answered my partner’s question with “I’m so glad it’s over.” She relaxed and we walked home hand-in-hand while ranting over the repetitive torture we experienced. No one else would take their girlfriend to see that film, and I do not recommend anyone do so in the future. For that reason, maybe it was worthwhile after all. We were now able to reminisce and bond over our own uniquely shared trauma.  

Written by Dylan Hughes – Writing Center Tutor – Class of 2023

Zodiac Sign Book Recommendations

While Thanksgiving just ended, winter break is coming up sooner than you would think. With that in mind, many may begin planning meet ups with friends and family, travel plans or plans with yourself to binge watch the twenty shows and movies you didn’t have time to watch during the semester because you were drowning in the amount of homework and exams you had… No matter how you decide to spend your break, if you are anything like me, the idea of spending some of your downtime reading a book for your own pleasure rather than for an assignment may sound appealing (and if it doesn’t, my inner English major is quaking).

WINTER BREAK iS SO CLOSE Memegenerator Net Winter Break IS SO CLOSE -  Excitedmeme | Meme Generator | Meme on ME.ME
Winter break is so close meme

The daunting question then is “what should I read?” This question plagues us all at some point or another, but today I am going to share a fool proof answer, so that when winter break rolls around (or the next time you have some time to read) you will be prepared and won’t have to put any added thought into it. I must preface this by saying I am absolutely not an astrology expert, but I read a lot of books and I read my horoscope everyday so I am also not at a complete loss. The list below I have then created by taking the description of each zodiac sign and matching them to a book that I think correlates with the sign. This list contains books of many different genres to give some variety so if you end up not liking the recommendation assigned to your zodiac sign maybe try pretending you have a different birthday.

Aries (March 21-April 19)

Aries is represented by the symbol of the ram and the element of fire. Aries are considered to be innovative and stubborn. With this, they become very fearless in the face of challenges and controversies. They are able to keep an optimistic attitude in all that they do, as well as being very social and ambitious. As they are so ambitious they can also become short tempered, impatient, and selfish, making them aggressive at times.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a novel based in 2045 following the experience of Wade Watts, a teenager struggling through life. The OASIS is a virtual world where a majority of humanity spends their time in order to feel better rather miserable existence. Wade is no exception and when the creator of the OAASIS dies leaving behind a series of puzzles based on pop culture references of the past, he faces the challenge head on. The novel explores the lengths Watts will go to in order to inherit OASIS, its fortune, and avoid rival competitors who are willing to kill to win. Aries are willing to go to great lengths to get what they want just as Wade does in this novel. Aries can relate to the ambition turned aggressiveness that Wade experiences throughout the novel while also experiencing a deep social connection to the community that Wade builds over the course of his journey.

Ready Player One: A Novel: Cline, Ernest
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline novel cover

Taurus (April 20-May 20)

Taurus is represented by the symbol of the bull and the element of Earth. Taurus are known for being reliable but also very stubborn. They seek out the more pleasurable things in life and and try to take their time in everything that they do. They essentially stick to their own schedule and get set in their own behaviors which can make it hard for them to change. Taurus can be very relaxing to be around due to their patience and enjoyment of luxury but they can seem unfriendly and rather closed-minded due to their hard-headedness.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven focuses on high schoolers Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Both are struggling: Theodore with his obsession with death and Violet with her sister’s death. Violet hopes to avoid social interactions, graduate, and leave for college to escape her pain while Theodore focuses on the present as he ideates on death but seemingly always finds a reason to live. When they meet by chance on the ledge of their school’s bell tower they seem to save each other and quickly become dependent on one another but as Violet is learning to live again, Theodore is running out of reasons to keep living. While this book is focused on a rather difficult subject, it really hones in on the idea of the stubborn but reliable person in the form of Violet and how she works with and learns from someone who is her total opposite. Similarly, Theodore finds himself only becoming his true self when with Violet and Violet must work through how to help Theodore while also sorting through her own emotions. This is a book that many taurus will be able to relate to in terms of the emotional rollercoaster of emotions they experience.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven book cover

Gemini (May 21-June 20)

Gemini is represented by the symbol of the twins and the element of air. Gemini are typically outgoing, curious, quick on their feet, and very adaptable. They love to know information including data, research, and gossip which is why they thrive in conversations. While gemini are friendly, energetic, and fun, they can also be the exact opposite (i.e. the twin). They are known for being two-faced, superficial, and super flakey. While gemini may seem to have good intentions, they often struggle to follow through.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a book focusing on cranky old Ove, a man with strict principles who many associate with being bitter. When Ove gets new neighbors in the form of a young couple and their young children and they run over his mailbox, he is thrown into an unlikely friendship that in the end changes the understanding that all of his neighbors had of him. This heartwarming story pulls on the curiosity of gemini and really brings out the idea of the twin personality. Gemini are likely to be able to relate to Ove and the misunderstanding that most people have of him.

Amazon.com: A Man Called Ove: A Novel: 9781476738024: Backman, Fredrik:  Books
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman book cover

Cancer (June 21-July 22)

Cancer is represented by the symbol of the crab and the element of water. Cancers lead with their emotions and can be rather sensitive. Their mood changes very often which can lead to them being closed off and a little passive aggressive. Cancers are very hot and cold making it hard to know when they will be loving and protective or needy and defensive.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a thrilling murder mystery focusing on husband and wife Nick and Amy Dunne. After their fifth wedding anniversary “perfect” Amy completely disappears. An investigation begins and the should be worried husband Nick begins to act inappropriately and overall just does not know how to handle himself. Through Amy’s diary though, the reader is shown that “cool girl” Amy has a darker side to her. As the investigation heightens, Nick’s lies and odd behavior grow. Nick is a little odd and rather bitter but the questions remains if he could have really killed Amy. Cancers will be able to relate to the ever changing emotions presented by both Nick and Amy. They will also be drawn in by the many twists and turns that Amy takes the reader on and the ever growing passive aggressiveness that comes out of it.

Amazon.com: Gone Girl: A Novel eBook : Flynn, Gillian: Books
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn book cover

Leo (July 23-August 22)

Leo is represented by the symbol of the lion and the element of fire. Leos are rather dramatic and theatrical and very passionate about what they do. They LOVE to be in the spotlight and enjoy being in charge. They are known for their consistency and loyalty even among the drama that surrounds them. Their ego and jealousy become their downfall though. At times if they feel threatened that their light is being taken from them or if someone encroaches on their relationships then they begin to threaten their own happiness and those around them.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng considers secrets and lies and the weight they have on families and communities as well as the dangers of always abiding by the rules. This book takes place in the “perfect” suburb of Cleveland, Shaker Heights. In this town everyone is rule abiding and Elena Richardson embodies this. When fun and artistic single mother Mia Warren moves to town and rents a house from Elena, Elena’s black and white world becomes a bit more colorful. Mia and Elena’s children soon become friends and the town becomes divided through an ongoing custody battle that has drawn the town’s attention. Realizing they are on opposing sides of the battle, Elena becomes even more suspicious of Mia and attempts to uncover Mia’s secrets which might just blow up in Elena’s face. This novel threatens Leo’s need for consistency and loyalty and presses on all of the right buttons for these drama lovers.

Amazon.com: Little Fires Everywhere: 9780525505556: Books
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng book cover

Virgo (August 23-September 22)

Virgo is represented by the maiden symbol and the element of earth. Virgos are incredibly logic based and love to approach issues and life in general in a practical and systematic way. They are typically kind and helpful and make great supportive friends. These things make virgos hyperaware and strive for goals that are unattainable. They must learn to accept their flaws and to stop looking for perfection.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas focuses on 16 year old Starr who must balance living in a poor neighborhood and going to school at a rich prep school. When she witnesses her unarmed childhood best friend get shot by a police officer the balance breaks. The world is divided as some are calling him a drug dealer, some are going to the streets protesting in his name, and the local drug lord is threatening Starr’s family, but only Starr knows the truth and she must decide whether to step up or stay silent. Virgos will be able to relate to Starr as a character and her struggle to be the perfect ideal daughter, friend, and student while trying to stay true to her values. They will also be able to appreciate the bond between Starr and her friends and the challenges they face.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas book cover

Libra (September 23- October 22)

Libra is represented by the scales of justice symbol and the element of air. Libras love to have symmetry and balance in their lives and love to be surrounded by beauty and money. Relationships are incredibly important to them and look for people that compliment their looks and who they consider fashionable. Libras find their downfall in trying to keep everyone around them happy, focusing too much on material things, and struggling with major indecision.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde focuses on a handsome young man named Dorian who has his portrait painted and falls in love with his own beauty. He becomes obsessed with the idea that the man in his portrait will stay forever youthful while he will age and become undesirable. He vows to give up his soul if the painting aged and he stayed his youthful self forever. Dorian, upon realizing this has come true, begins living a life of corruption and immorality as only the portrait seems to suffer the consequences. Libras will be able to learn from Dorian’s obsession with material values and specifically his own looks. They will be further drug in by Dorian’s constant moral indecision and the want to fix Dorian’s lack of awareness for those around him.

Amazon.com: Picture of Dorian Gray, The (Leatherbound Classic Collection)  by Oscar Wilde (2011) Leather Bound: 9781435129757: Wilde, Oscar: Books
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde book cover

Scorpio (October 23-November 21)

Scorpio is represented by the symbol of the scorpion and the element of water. They know what they want and are not afraid to do what it takes to get it. They are often seen as being seductive and crave physical and emotional intimacy with others even if it just means hugging someone. While they can come off as ambitious this can sometimes turn into controlling and egotistic.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a classic anti-war book that focuses on the firebombing of Dresden during WWII. Vonnegut uses his own first hand experience of the bombing and the war to tell Billy Pilgrim’s story of being a draftee, prisoner of war, optometrist, husband, father, time traveler, and alien abductee. Scorpios will appreciate Vonnegut’s dedication to the book and writing Billy’s story while also finding unrest in Billy’s ability to live many different versions of his own life but seemingly not have control of any of them.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by  Kurt Vonnegut, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut book cover

Sagittarius (November 22- December 21)

Sagittarius is represented by the symbol of the archer and the element of fire. Sagittarius are extremely curious, passionate, and adaptable. They are open to almost any adventure and their yearning for knowledge knows no end. They thrive off of change and being able to show their adaptability in different situations. They search for both freedom both creatively and spiritually. With all of this self expression and exploring though comes very brutal honesty and bluntness that some are not able to appreciate which causes hard feelings.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle focuses on siblings Meg and Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin. Meg and Charles Wallace’s father was experimenting with fifth dimension time travel when he strangely goes missing. Years later when the opportunity presents itself for the trio to try and save the sibling’s father they pursue it, but they are faced with evil forces in space that are much more powerful than they were expecting. This novel will have the adventure focused sagittarius hooked from the start. Sagittarius will be able to relate to Meg’s adaptability and the freedom she experiences through this journey.

Amazon.com: A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet): 9780312367541: Madeleine  L'Engle, Madeleine L'Engle: Books
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle book cover

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)

Capricorn is represented by the symbol of the sea goat and the element of earth. Capricorn are known for being hard working, dedicated, and focused on obtaining perfection. They will not let anything get in their way of being successful and often experience hardships in their youth making them seem mature beyond their years. As they get older they start to open up more but often come off as cold and unemotional. While they may seem like workaholics, deep down they love to have fun and party.

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien focuses on a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. He lives a very comfortable life in which he does not seem to really have any goals and just enjoys life in his home. One day though wizard Gandalf and a group of dwarves arrive at his home prepared to take him with them to raid the treasure that is guarded by the dragon Smaug. As Bilbo reluctantly joins them he finds himself confronting magic, strange creatures, soldiers, and many other dangers. While capricorns won’t necessarily appreciate Bilbo’s lack of drive, they will appreciate his organized lifestyle and Bilbo’s developed sense to prove himself. Bilbo will show capricorns the joys of the balance of work and fun.

Amazon.com: The Hobbit: 9780547928227: J. R. R. Tolkien: Books
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein book cover

Aquarius (January 20-February 18)

Aquarius is represented by the symbol of the water bearer and the element of air. Aquarius are free spirited, eccentric, and refuse to conform to society. They support social progress and tend to despise authority. They typically are big thinkers who often get lost in their own minds and become so focused on trying to make big changes that they often forget about their own relationships and the smaller steps that need to be taken before completing their larger goal. They love their freedom and often need space to do their work but thrive in a community setting with like minded people.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne focuses on Professor Lidenbrock, his nephew, and their hired guide. After finding instructions left by a medieval alchemist claiming to have discovered a passage to the center of the earth, they decide to go looking for it. They travel deep into an Icelandic volcano and face dangers unlike anything imaginable all in the search for the great unknown. This novel is sure to please the eccentric and free spirited nature of an Aquarius. They will be able to live out all of their dream like adventure fantasies through this novel and will relate to Professor Lidenbrock’s enduring drive to explore the unknown.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Dover Children's Evergreen Classics):  Verne, Jules: 9780486822495: Amazon.com: Books
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne book cover

Pisces (February 19-March 20)

Pisces is represented by the symbol of the fish and the element water. They are divided by the ideas of fantasy and reality as their immense sensitivity allows them to be pulled into their own thoughts and imagination while often needing to be pulled back into reality. They often view life through “rose tint glasses” and especially so when faced by a problem. With this, they are known as being incredibly flaky and seeming delusional. While they have trouble accepting reality they are often incredibly kind and creative.

The Giver by Lois Lowry focuses on 12 year old Jonas who lives in a world free of all the bad things in life and where color does not exist. Everything in their lives is assigned to them and they are given no real choices but everyone seems to live in happiness. At the age of 12 everyone is assigned their job that they will do for the rest of their lives. Jonas is assigned a job that very few are given: “Memory Keeper.” Their society has been kept away from the negative things in life but the Memory Keeper must keep all of the bad and good memories of society’s past within them. When this job becomes more than what Jonas expects, his entire world changes and he is forced to make decisions no child should be faced with. Pisces will enjoy the convergence of reality and fantasy in this novel and will be able to relate to Jonas’s struggle through understanding this divide.

Amazon.com: The Giver: 9780385732550: Lowry, Lois: Books
The Giver by Lois Lowry book cover

Micaela | 2022

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A Poet From Our Generation

Poet Amanda Gorman reads at Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January 2021 in Washington, DC

Amanda Gorman came to life on my TV screen on January 20th, 2021. It is now well over a year later and I still cannot get out of my head the powerful image of her standing in front of the Capitol Building wearing her bright yellow coat and thick red headband. She recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” and captivated the nation. Her articulation and cadence were mesmerizing as well as her hand movements and gestures. Amanda Gorman used the power of poetry to bring light to what it meant to be an American. Something I cannot personally relate to as an international student at McDaniel, but I was still amazed by her.  

Amanda Gorman was born in Los Angles in 1998 (Zelazko). She published her poetry collection at the age of 16 which caught the attention of many important people . This led to her being invited to perform for the Obama administration, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, and others. She graduated from Harvard in 2020 with a B.A. in Sociology. Amanda was the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate in the United States and since then has had achieved what only some could dream of (Zelazko).

Since the inauguration Amanda became the first poet to perform at the Super Bowl (her poem, “Chorus of the Captains,” honours an educator, a nurse, and a veteran) (Zelazko). She also signed a modeling contract and published a special edition of her inaugural poem. Later in 2021 Gorman cohosted the Met Gala, the annual benefit for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, with actor Timothée Chalamet, singer Billie Eilish, and tennis player Naomi Osaka. In addition, she debuted a children’s book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem, and published a collection of poetry, Call Us What We Carry (formerly titled The Hill We Climb, and Other Poems) (Zelazko).

Poetry can seem very boring and distant for college age people. Most of the poets that we learn about are old and/or died years ago. Amanda Gorman is a poet from our generation, she is writing about what it is like to be 20 year-olds in this day and age, and she looks like us. Poetry is beautiful and can be very relatable, you just need to find a poet that speaks to you. For me that poet was Amanda Gorman and hopefully she can be the same to others. If you have not watched her inauguration speech go do so. If you have watched it then give her other work a read, you might be surprised.

Works Cited

 Zelazko, Alicja. “Amanda Gorman”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 3 Mar. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Amanda-Gorman. Accessed 21 March 2022. 

Gratitude Journaling: The Suitable Solution for Stressed Scholars

College is a stressful time! Young adults are thrown into a new environment, often many miles from their home and are required to become functionally independent. With the pressures of academic success, the milieu of social challenges, and the financial burden of college life, college is often the time when people first experience mental health distress.

Depression is a major issue among U.S. college students. A survey by the World Health Organization in 2018 found that major depression had a lifetime prevalence of 28.7 % among first-year American college students (Auerbach 2018).

There are numerous potential options for mental health treatment, including counseling, therapy, and psychiatric prescriptions; however, these options are often inaccessible to students due to affordability. Further, many students do not consider themselves to be distressed, but simply want to remove the excess baggage gained from college life so they can become more productive and happier individuals.

Luckily there is an option that is affordable, independent, and science-backed — journaling!

The term journal refers to a form of personal writing that expresses perceptions, experiences, dreams, and creativity from the perspective of the self. The word comes from the French root word “jour,” meaning day, and it is often used to depict a form of habitual daily writing and reflection (Haertl 2008).

Positive affect journaling (PAJ), also known as gratitude journaling, is one of the most common forms of journaling used within clinical settings. With this form of journaling, one must regularly identify positive aspects of their life that can be attributed to an external source or actions outside of their control (Weiner 1985). With short 15 minutes sessions, only 3 times a week, PAJ was “associated with decreased mental distress and increased well-being relative to baseline” in general medical patients after 12 weeks (Smyth 2018).

Similar benefits have been displayed within college students. A study on first-year undergraduate students found students “who engaged in 3 weeks of daily reflective gratitude journaling showed significant gains in gratitude, adjustment to college life, satisfaction with life and positive affect” (Isik 2017).

So how do you get Started?

First, you must choose whether to type or handwrite your journals. Typing is faster, and thus allows journalists’ thoughts to almost flow onto the page. Writing by hand is slower, and thus forces journalists to slow down their thoughts. By hand is often considered the better option, and an informal study indicated that handwritten journals are more insightful and further explores thoughts and attitudes. Besides, it can be fun to pick out what will package your positive prose.

Prompts for gratitude journaling can be found throughout the internet: examples include “What are you thankful for; What did someone else do for you?” (Smyth 2018). While the specific prompts do not matter, according to the American Psychological Association, “the most effective entries will include specific details about the person(s), event(s), or thing(s) for which you are grateful.” Additionally, one must make sure that they are journaling consistently with a set period for journaling sessions.

It is important to note that gratitude journaling is not a fix-all for mental health issues. If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency. Additional mental health information and resources can be found here.

Written by Dylan Hughes – Writing Center Tutor – Class of 2023


Auerbach, R. P., Mortier, P., Bruffaerts, R., Alonso, J., Benjet, C., Cuijpers, P., Demyttenaere, K., Ebert, D. D., Green, J. G., Hasking, P., Murray, E., Nock, M. K., Pinder-Amaker, S., Sampson, N. A., Stein, D. J., Vilagut, G., Zaslavsky, A. M., Kessler, R. C., & WHO WMH-ICS Collaborators. (2018). WHO World Mental Health Surveys International College Student Project: Prevalence and distribution of mental disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(7), 623–638. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000362

Haertl, Kristine. Haertl, K. H. (2008). Journaling as an Assessment Tool in Mental Health Occupational Therapy. 2008.

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How To Start Reading Again

Do you tend to fill your shelves up with books that you never actually read? Do you wonder how you read so much more as a kid than you do now? Does the idea of cracking open a huge novel seem incredibly daunting?

Don’t worry! Lots of people feel this way. Adult life is incredibly busy and stressful, and many of us feel like we just don’t have the time or energy to keep up with our favorite hobbies, especially reading. Maybe watching Netflix just seems easier, or maybe you’ve always struggled with reading. Whatever the reason is, we’ve got some great tips that will hopefully give you the motivation you need to open up a book!

Start listening to podcasts and audiobooks

Thanks to TikTok and other social media, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. This can make sitting down and focusing on books for long spans of time very difficult. Get back into the habit of focusing on longer narratives by listening to some podcasts or audiobooks while driving or working out. Spotify is a great place to find podcasts of all lengths and topics, and Audible has over 200,000 audiobooks to listen to.

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Try reading some graphic novels

If you find yourself struggling to focus on written words on a page, graphic novels are a great alternative to classic novels. These books showcase complex stories told through stunning art and are often much easier and quicker to read than regular books. Maus, Heartstopper, and Nimona are great first choices to read.


Go with genres you love

Not all reading has to feel academic! If you seem to get bored by most books you read, try choosing books based on your favorite movie genres. If you love horror movies, try some thrilling books by Stephen King or Gillian Flynn. If you love romantic comedies, try some novels by Rainbow Rowell or Casey McQuiston.

Different Types or Genres of Books With Examples | Genre of books, Book  genre labels, Book genres

Make reading feel like a treat

Reading should be fun and shouldn’t feel like a chore! Curl up in your favorite comfy spot with a pet, a snack, and a hot drink, or go out and have a reading adventure somewhere new. You can use reading as an excuse to get out of the house by reading at a coffee shop or at your favorite park. Try using reading as a reward at the end of stressful days, and try to stay consistent when working reading time into your schedule. The more you read, the more you will miss your reading time when you neglect it.

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Natalie Edwards | 2022

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/.