Daniel H. Wilson is the author of the novels Robopocalypse, Robogenesis, and How to Survive a Robot Uprising.
I solve story problems by spacing out in the shower, fresh out of bed in the morning. It’s a terrible waste of water, but it really does pay off. Alternately, I will take a long walk while listening to music that has something to do with my scene. Finally, haranguing my wife over happy hour and having her challenge my assumptions and oversights can lead to breakthroughs.
First a confession: I had to look up what a writing prompt was. My answer is that I write the way I eat—by going after my favorite parts first. I try to start with a small nugget of awesomeness, whether it happens at the beginning, middle, or end of the story. It can be any kind of phrase or description that comes to mind, and then I build from there. Sometimes the phrase remains until the end, and other times it disappears in revision. Either way, it beats the hell out of staring at a blank page.
I have a science background, and never really studied writing or English. However, during college and graduate school I was constantly writing technical papers and grant applications and research articles. My advisor at Carnegie Mellon, Professor Chris Atkeson, used to revise my papers. On particularly hard ones, he would sometimes ask me to just describe out loud what the paper was about. No matter how complicated, I could always tell him the gist. Inevitably, he would grin at me through his beard and say, “Now write that down.”