Well, maybe less profit. These are just exercises, after all. If you want to buff up the results and submit them to literary magazines, I am the last person that will stop you. But I am getting ahead of myself.
January is a month of reflection and goal-setting. This post, right here, is not going to talk about how to schedule writing into your life or the importance of transforming your New Year’s Resolutions into SMART goals. (Get your writerly pep talk here!) Instead, I am assuming that one of your resolutions is to do some more writing throughout the year. Therefore, I am sharing some of my favorite creative writing exercises for you to adopt, adapt, and incorporate into your writing practice.
So if you find yourself between projects, if you find yourself bored with one project, if you need an injection of creativity in the form of writing something for the sake of writing something, or if you are in need of a guideline before you set out to write, here are some exercises to try out.
Write a Flash or Poem Based on a Prompt
There are a bunch of social media accounts that offer writing prompts for people to respond to or use for inspiration. I’ll link to a few on Tumblr that I found in this paragraph, but I encourage you to seek out others on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other places you hang out.
In case you need a refresher, when I say “flash” I mean a work of prose less than 1,500 words. The word count for flash fiction (or micro-fiction) varies depending on who is speaking, but everyone seems to agree that the stories are short and easily consumable in under five minutes by most readers.
Write a Tabloid News Story Based on a Headline
Head over to this archive of Weekly World News issues and pick a headline at random (you don’t have to purchase an issue; just page through the front pages). Write down the headline, then write a fictional news story based on it, no more than 400 words. Keep in mind this is meant to be a newspaper article, so stick to reporting the “facts.”
If you want to take this a step further, you can write a story based on the events of your article.
Writing About Place and Setting
In a notebook (or wherever you usually write), make two lists. For the first list, write a list of experiences that bring joy or would put you in a good mood. In the second list, write a list of experiences that would bring disappointment or put you in a bad mood.
Underneath, write down the following:
For Place, write down your favorite room in your current place of residence. In the other places, write the sensory experiences of that place. For example, my favorite room is the front porch, which isn’t really a room but it’s attached to my home so it counts. For some sensory experiences, I’ll list the salty flavor of a snack for taste, the sight of a giant oak tree in a tiny, tiny yard for sight, etc.
Finally, for the actual exercise, you’re writing two paragraphs describing your setting: one for being in a good mood, one for being in a mad mood. Pay attention to your word choice and try to convey the mood without outright stating what the mood is. Let it come out in the imagery and sensory details. For example, sunlight may be welcoming if you’re in a good mood and blinding if you’re in a bad mood.
This exercise is meant to make you think about your word choice in relation to setting and character mood. Repeat at will for other places and moods as you desire. You can also adapt this exercise for a longer work you are writing, replacing your story’s events for the experiences and a fictional setting for the room!
Opening Paragraph Mad Libs
Write a list of nouns, no more than 10. In case you need a refresher, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. (An example list of nouns: clock, nap, stocking, the bank, a teacher.)
Now pick a random story from either the internet or your bookshelf. If that’s too overwhelming, pick up the first book you reach for. Copy down the opening sentence (or paragraph if it’s short), then highlight and delete all the nouns in it.
Use the list of nouns you wrote down to replace the nouns you deleted from the opening paragraph. Change around a few more words so things make sense. You should have a new sentence/paragraph as a result.
If you so desire, continue the story based on this brand new opening paragraph.
Freewrite for 10 Minutes
Set a timer for 10 minutes. As soon as you start it, start writing. Don’t stop to think about what you’re going to write next. If you’re writing by hand, don’t pick up the tip of your writing instrument. If you’re typing, your fingers should not stop typing. Keep going at this pace for the full 10 minutes. It is very important that you do not stop typing/writing to think; let the words flow as they come to you. Only stop when the timer goes off.
This is meant to turn off your inner editor. You are not writing for quality, you are writing to get something down on the page, which is the whole point of a rough draft, or a draft zero. This is also a good exercise if you have very limited time and need to get a word count.
If you so desire, work your way up by 5 minute intervals so you can write continuously for 30 minutes without stopping!
The majority of these exercises are based off an online class I took through One Story. Check them out! Then share some of your favorite writing exercises in the comments.