No matter how many books you have written, or how many Sunday Times Best-selling novels you produce, you will never stop learning how to write.
The writing process is also an ongoing learning process.
During my entire writing journey so far, the one piece of advice that has always stuck is; ‘Never ever stop learning your craft. Never think you know it all, be ready and willing to be surprised.’
But how do you continue to learn without going on constant courses or going back to education? What do you have to do to improve your writing skills and become a better writer?
In this article, I’m going to highlight just ONE of the skills I embrace regularly to help me learn and grow as a writer; I start every writing day with a creative writing exercise.
I will also explain why and how creative writing exercises can benefit your writing and even give a few examples of the fun writing activities that have helped me over the years.
So let’s get started.
What Are Creative Writing Exercises?
Essentially, creative writing exercises are short bursts of creative writing, generally improvisational, that get the creative juices flowing.
They can range from consciousness writing, to penning short stories or prose in poetry forms to practice writing. The medium, length, and content are not important, all that matters is unlocking your creativity, inspiring story ideas, and increasing confidence.
Why Are Writing Prompts And Exercises Helpful?
How often have you sat in front of a blank piece of paper, knowing you need to get the words down…but can’t? You can hear all the voices, you know all the plot, and you have even worked out the story beats, but the words won’t come.
Well, you’re not alone.
This happens to every writer at some point or other. Luckily, there’s no need to panic, because to get back into the flow again all you have to do is rummage around in your writer toolbox and find the right key to unlock the right door.
And that key is to have a go at some writing exercises and story prompts!
The creative writing exercises I’m about to suggest don’t ever need to be seen by a single soul, they never have to find their way into your final draft (but if they do, that’s a happy bonus), and they don’t even need to make sense or follow the same voice or genre of what you are writing.
The entire point of creative writing exercises is to spark ideas in your mind, leading to a flood of words on the page.
What Makes A Good Creative Writing Exercise?
Writing prompts and exercises shouldn’t take long. In fact, the beauty of them is that they quickly become part of your working day. They can be something you do first thing in the morning – like brushing your teeth or having a shower. Or how you spend your evenings once the daily chores are done.
Think of them as the warm-up before a run. A good warm-up will get your muscles moving and ready for the race, but you don’t spend three hours warming up before you run a one-hour race, do you?
The very best writing exercises should be:
- Easy to complete
If you find yourself spending hours on a writing exercise, ask yourself whether you are perhaps using it as an excuse to not work on the project that you need to get back to. And if you are, ask yourself whether perhaps you should be starting a new project that you actually enjoy doing.
So let’s get started. Let’s take a look at my top ten writing exercises and prompts that never fail to get me out of my writing rut!
Creative Writing Exercises To Try Today
It’s important to remember that you don’t only have to use creative writing exercises when you are ‘blocked’.
If you’re in-between projects and just want to keep those muscles active, then why not play around with brand new characters and entirely new ideas? You never know, some of these creative writing exercises may even inspire your next novel.
The best thing about writing exercises is that there are no rules, they are simply a chance to let your brain free fall and see what comes out the other side.
I spoke to many fellow authors about their own favourite tips and writing prompts before writing this article. I was inundated with responses, with many of them sharing tips on what they do when they feel stuck, how they get to know their main characters, and general good practise techniques to become a better writer.
I’ve sifted through the hundreds of examples I was given, and put together my own personal top ten writing exercises for you to try…
1: Interview Your Main Character
Helps with: Finding the hidden secrets of your protagonist
Have one of your smaller ‘bit-part’ characters interview your main character. Answer all questions from the point of view of your main character but.. and this is important… answer honestly! Don’t answer how you as the author want your character to respond, instead, put yourself in your main character’s position and answer how they would in that very moment.
If your cheating husband character is being interviewed by his mother-in-law, how would he speak to her? Would be he honest? Would he be evasive? What does this tell you about his character? What does it tell you about their relationship?
For those who write character sheets, take a look at the questions you asked yourself back in the planning stages and ask questions based on an answer you already know about their past. How would your character reply in the moment and what does that tell you about them?
Or, go one step further, and try the same thing but in a different genre or tense. Write it in the third person, as if you are a spectator telling a person’s story; again in the first person as if you are the interviewer meeting your main character for the first time; and then again from the protagonist’s point of view!
2: Show Don’t Tell
Helps with: Honing your craft
A great exercise that a fellow author highlighted was a classic ‘show don’t tell’ exercise used by many writing courses around the globe.
Write a scene about a very drunk person, without once mentioning that the character is drunk. Using all the senses, see how effectively you can work those ‘show don’t tell’ muscles. Think about setting, descriptive language, and what opening lines work best.
Or perhaps write about your dream house or dream holiday, but without mentioning where they are. See if the reader can guess by your description.
These can be written as flash fiction, a short story or even just a short paragraph.
3: Brain Dump/Free Writing
Helps with: Banishing the mental load/using mental load to find inspiration
Set a timer for three minutes and simply write in a stream of consciousness – no rules, no story beats, no planning, and no post-it notes.
Maybe you’ll start by writing that shopping list that’s been bothering you and find it meanders its way into a diary entry by a frustrated maid.
Or you may start writing your own diary entry and find it merges into the mindset of your main character.
The purpose of free writing is to allow your brain to find the path that it is ready and willing to travel down. Sometimes, writing down whatever random words come to you and banishing all other noise helps you find the ideas that are ready to reveal themselves.
4: Pin The Tail On The Donkey
Helps with: Finding Inspiration
Ok, not literally, this isn’t a game for a children’s party. I am not telling you to draw and cut out a donkey’s tail and blindly roam around the room with a pin in hand!
Instead, close your eyes and pick a random book from your bookshelf. Don’t cheat and pick an easy one… truly let fate guide you here.
Close your eyes again and flick the pages, pick a random page and a random sentence and start from there. That’s your writing prompt for the day – now begin writing.
What does that sentence spark in you? What ideas does it give you? Can you write a story based on that sentence as an opening line?
5: Postcard Lottery (Part 1)
Helps with: Pushing Boundaries and stepping out of your comfort zone
While on a recent writing retreat, one of the exercises we did really sparked amazing new ideas for future stories.
The exercise is split into two parts.
The first part of this was the Postcard Lottery. Our host had a tall stack of postcards collected from all over; art galleries, museums, local cinemas; some of the most random images you can imagine. We all took a postcard without looking, set a time for 10 minutes, and used the image as inspiration.
(If you don’t have a stack of postcards, you can use online random image generators such as https://randomwordgenerator.com/picture.php.)
6: Postcard Lottery (Part 2)
Helps with: Pushing Boundaries and stepping out of your comfort zone
Following on from the task above, now it was time to take another postcard. But in addition to that new postcard, we were asked to rummage in the bowl filled with slips of paper on which different genres had been written.
This is great for getting any creative writer totally out of their comfort zone!
Suddenly, rom-com writers holding an image of a pretty wildflower were having to imagine that picture as the basis for a murderous thriller story. And horror writers, holding an image of a skull, were having to use it as inspiration for a middle-grade comedy.
If you embrace the randomness and push away all expectations of what you should be writing, it can be quite enlightening and a lot of fun!
7: Have A Break, Have A KitKat
Helps with: Developing those ‘senses’ on the page
One of the best creative exercises you can do is to sit down quietly and eat something. Seriously!
Grab yourself a snack from the kitchen, sit down at your desk, and eat your food mindfully. As you do, write about the snack you’re eating, making sure to use all your senses. The texture and the memories that it may evoke. The smells around you.
Can you make your readers’ mouths water? Or even better, make a reader cry and turn them off a food item for life?
8: Play Therapist
Helps with: Using personal blockers to push through writer’s block
This one is great for creative writers who are struggling with writer’s block due to personal issues.
Use your pain, your confusion, or your anger in real life to help you flex those writing muscles for good. Take the last argument you had with your partner or a falling out with a family member as a basis, then re-write the story.
Either talk to a therapist on the page about the fight and write responses from both sides (always illuminating, because they are not always going to take your side, forcing you to see events from another point of view) or have the argument with that person over again in a way you would have preferred to resolve it.
9: Flip The Narrative
Helps with: Pushing past writer’s block and developing deeper characterisation
This exercise is great if you are in the middle of a new draft, but don’t feel like you have a grip on your characters yet.
Take a scene you have already written and flip the narrative. Have the entire scene written from another person’s point of view. It often helps to stand in another person’s shoes to gather a new perspective.
How would they see the same scene played out through their eyes? What does that tell you about the scene that you didn’t know before? What does it highlight that you weren’t previously aware of?
This exercise is incredibly helpful if you’re struggling to get past a plot hole, or grappling with character motivation.
10: It’s All About The Words
Helps with: Understanding the importance of dialogue
There are two very different ways you can tackle this exercise, depending on the type of writer you are.
You can either:
- Write a scene entirely in dialogue, but only showing one side of the conversation. So, either have the other character on the other side of a phone call that the reader can’t ‘hear’, or have the other side of the conversation redacted, but in a way that the reader can still 100% understand the entire scene having only read one side of the story.
- Write an entire scene between two characters communicating entirely wordlessly, through nothing but gestures.
Again, you can write this is in the third person or from the point of view of one of the characters. See how long they can ‘speak’ without speaking. Have the characters understood each other by the end of the scene? Or has a terrible miscommunication occurred?
Dialogue can be a sticky area for many writers.
Either you really love dialogue and struggle to write description, or it’s the opposite and you love your characters talking to one another but struggle with descriptive writing or moving the plot along.
Either way, pushing past the norm and learning how to use that weakness as a strength can bring about lots of new ideas and plot twists.
Other Forms Of Writing
Although the above exercises are great for getting your creative juices flowing, they are not the only way you can get your writer brain cells working. Sometimes, you need to take a break from what you are used to writing and try something different.
Try stepping away from creative writing and trying your hand at different forms of writing, such as non-fiction.
Write A Blog Post
If you have a blog, write a blog post about something entirely unrelated to your current project. Or, better yet, approach a magazine or someone with a blog and offer to write an article for them. You can choose any subject you like, you can even write about bettering your writing skills, as I am doing right now.
Write A Book Review
There’s nothing writers love more than reading a good book. And there’s nothing authors appreciate more than receiving a great review about their book. So why not get on Goodreads, Netgalley, Amazon, or even your own social media channels, and write a book review.
Having to think about story structure, plot, characterisation and the language other writers have used may even help you with the writing of your own novel!
Write A Poem
Reacquaint yourself with your inner teenager and write an emotional poem about heartbreak, anger, or how unfair the world is. Reflect on your childhood, or process something you’re currently experiencing. Make it as cheesy, vulnerable, or as dark as you want; after all, no one ever needs to read it. The fun is knowing you can write it!
Write something based on facts. Something you know about. Perhaps a ‘step by step’ guide, or a document all about something you know inside out. Embrace your inner ‘Mastermind’ and be an expert about something for a while on paper.
Or grab a random object, whatever is closest to your left hand side right now, and write about it in great detail.
It doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that writing all those words will get your happy writing gears turning. Plus you never know what inspiration it may spark.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Purpose Of Creative Writing Exercises?
Creative writing exercises have many purposes, it simply depends on where you are on your writing journey.
- Creative writing exercises can be used to help you explore your craft and try a new way of writing.
- They can help you overcome writer’s block.
- Ten minutes of writing prompts can help inspire writers with new ideas, or even new genres.
- Fun writing exercises can help you find the love and passion for your writing project again.
- Creative writing prompts can help you with character development, enabling you to push deeper with your characters and really explore motivation, themes, and plot.
Writing exercises – whether contemplating the first word of your novel or attempting to write a short scene – can be whatever you need them to be. No matter whether this is the first time you have ever tried to write a story, or if you are already the author of a bestselling book.
Can Writing Exercises And Writing Prompts Make Me A Better Writer?
Fiction writing exercises can and do help hone your craft and teach you new skills to add to your author toolbox.
Daily writing exercises help to keep your brain cells supple and creative and can get you over the fear of the blank page. After all, if you have done free writing for twenty minutes, there will already be words on the page – then all you have to do is slip back into the world you are creating and take it from there.
So, the question should really be, what do you need from your writing exercise to make your own work stand out?
How Can I Improve My Writing Skills?
There is no simple answer to this. The only answer I have ever found helpful is… keep writing!
How many times have you heard the quote “it takes 10,000 hours to become a expert in something” – that means you need to write. A lot. For many, many hours. But choosing or working with writing exercises that push you out of your comfort zone will help shape your writing and give it more depth. Use free and easy writing exercises to start your daily dose of writing and you will find your creativity blossom much quicker.
What Are The Main Examples Of Creative Writing?
Creative writing isn’t just about writing a fiction novel; there are many ways in which you can express yourself creatively. Even if all you do is keep a daily journal, you are still practising the art of descriptive writing.
And, therefore, writing exercises don’t just benefit fiction writers either. No matter what genre you write, or style of writing you prefer, there will always be a writing exercise to suit your needs, you just need to find those that work for you.
Be brave and try as many ways of writing as possible.
- If you are a fiction writer, try writing some poetry.
- If you generally write long fiction, challenge yourself with a short story.
- Do you write film or TV scripts? Maybe you could try your hand at songwriting.
There are so many different examples of creative writing, but each have one thing in common… they are creative… so be creative with how you learn your craft, and you will find so much inspiration lurking around the corner.
Time To Get Writing
I hope this article has inspired you to polish your creative writing skills and think outside the box a little. When it comes to storytelling, and getting those words down on paper, the best thing you can do is keep writing.
The doesn’t mean churning out a chapter or two of your novel every day, it doesn’t even mean working on your book every day; it simply means taking ten minutes a day to speed write, or try some writing prompts, fill in your daily journal, or work on a particular scene.
And the beauty of writing like this is that even if what you have written is never read by anyone else, and it never appears in your work, you have taken another step towards becoming a better writer than you were yesterday.
And that is what being a great writer is all about!
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