I took a creative writing course in college that gave us a string of writing exercises to help inspire us. At the time, I didn’t understand how they were connected, but as I worked towards a bigger piece, I found myself pulling from those inspirations. Writing block sucks, any writer can tell you that. But there are writing exercises that challenge you to write differently than you normally do and allow you to think of pieces in different ways than you normally do.
One of the writing exercises we did was grab a handful of magazine phrases that had been clipped over time and incorporate them into a piece. The benefit of this activity is you can keep a collection of cut-out phrases in an envelope and pull them out when needed. I used phrases like “the scars of that place,” “could it have just been a dream?,” “one minute the children were sleeping and then” and “words always mean something else.” Those are just a few. Look in magazines and see what you can find!
2. Developing Characters
If you are working on developing characters, write about them on a new piece of paper. Use similes; it will help you capture their spirit. You may compare them to an animal, a household appliance, or maybe a social networking site. They may absorb their glory like a cat in the sun or never change like the photographs on the walls. Maybe they are those Facebook friends you added because you met them for a third of a millisecond. Write and see what you find, see what the character tells you.
3. Word Salad
A good writing exercise is to challenge yourself by having a list of random words and needing to include them in a ten-minute free-write. Needles. Blackberry. Clouds. Mother. Whir. Swallows. Can you use those words in a piece? It could be whimsical and one you’ll never use, but try it anyway. Grab a motley set of words like these and write. See what comes out.
4. Try a Different Style
I know I like to stick to writing to the same style over and over again. I write fictional prose. I write non-fictional prose. Occasionally, I try a poem. But if you try to write the same story in different styles you'll see what works best but also what’s important in the story. My last piece was a series of letters. But imagine writing that same story as a screen-play, where dialogue is key. You may chose to stick in the end with your normal way of writing but this activity opens your horizons to the bigger picture.
5. Grab a Book
Another creative way to beat writer’s block is to grab the closest book to you, open it to page 42 and write the first sentence down. If it’s too long a sentence, take a fragment of it. Then write a piece including that line in the context of the story. I grabbed Shakespeare’s “Othello” and found the line “The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue.” I might work that into my story about a truck driver by talking about finishing a delivery and waiting for a paycheck. Or I might take it metaphorically and talk about the two friends he stops to see and how that friendship deepens as a result. Whatever you chose to do, just write and be open to where the story takes you.
6. Set a Challenge
Set a challenge for your writing and see what you come up with. Write a story in six words. Evie Shockley wrote a poem that only has the vowel “a” in it. Write a poem that ends in slant rhyme. Setting little challenges like these can get your mind thinking about what’s the most powerful way to say things. It also highlights the words you choose to make the piece as successful as you can.
7. Write Daily
Regardless of whether or not you're writing a story, poem or what have you, make sure to write every day. It could be about random things such as your favorite color, what your clothing says about you, or if you were to die tomorrow, what you would do today. Getting in the habit of writing is great for anyone to break writer’s block, even if it’s about exploring the sensations of eating an ice cream sundae.
I hope these writing exercises help inspire you. Whether it’s for a new piece or to beat your writer’s block, these exercises challenge you in a very manageable way. What did you think of these exercises? How did they work for you?