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Creative Writing Exercises: Upgrade Your Writing

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Writer’s block is a common problem for writers of all levels. It can be frustrating when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or when you’re not making any progress. That’s why our Creative Writing summer courses teach our students various techniques so they won’t run out of ideas to write about. 

In this article, check out Creative Writing Exercises that’ll help get you in the groove. The more you do these exercises, the smoother the ideas flow from your brain through your hand!

What Are Creative Writing Exercises?

Just like with any task, you’ll get better at creative writing when you practice. Creative writing exercises are a great way to get into the habit of writing regularly. There are all sorts of different exercises that you can try, but here are some of our favourites:

1. Free Writing For 10 Minutes

Grab your pen and paper (or your laptop if you prefer typing.) Set your timer to 10 minutes. And let it rip! Write anything that comes to mind. Forget about the spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Throw all those out of the window for now. If you’ve nothing to say, write “…” until the next random thought pops up.

Never stop until the 10 minutes are over. 

What’s the point of this exercise? To help you get over your fear of starting because of perfection. Writers often experience a mental block episode when staring at a blank page because they’re afraid of committing mistakes.

With the Free Writing exercise, you’ll practise overcoming that fear by ignoring the rules and letting your thoughts and feelings flow through your pen (or keyboard.)

2. The Talk Show

What’s your favourite talk show? Suppose it’s “The Graham Norton show.” If your character were to go in as a guest for an interview, what questions would Graham ask them? How would they respond? What witticisms would they exchange?

Would they be charming? Awkward? Aloof? Prim and proper? Go all out and have fun with it!

3. Warm Up With Flash Fiction

Are you daydreaming of writing your novel or short story but don’t feel skilled enough to do so? Don’t worry! A great creative writing exercise for that is writing Flash Fiction. We wrote an article about creative writing examples where we discussed Flash Fiction. In a nutshell, it’s a story less than 1,000 words long. Unlike Free Writing, here, you’ll need to practice writing the plot, character/s, setting, and other elements of creative writing.

4. But…WHY?

You have a character in mind. But you feel they’re lacking in depth and colour. What do you do? Keep asking them why! Let’s say you have a character who suffers from loneliness:

  • Why are you lonely? Because I keep people at arm’s length. 
  • Why do you keep people at arm’s length? Because they might reject me when they know my flaws and weaknesses. 
  • But everybody has their flaws; why do you think they might reject you? I’m an orphan; if my parents abandoned me, who wouldn’t? 

Do you see where this is going? The further you go, the deeper and more complex your character gets. Showing more of the humanity factor that captivates readers. 

5. Make Use Of Creative Prompts

Not sure what you want your story to be about? Then it’s time to bring out the classic writing prompt card. Prompts are questions or suggestions that set your imagination’s wheels turning. Due to their stimulating nature, they’re also called “story starters.” We’ve prepared a long list of creative prompts for you to help you out in your creative pursuits!

6. It’s Your Turn For The Sorting Hat!

It’s your main character’s turn for the sorting hat. They approach after their name is called and put the hat over their head. What house will they belong to? Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff? List all the reasons explaining why your character belongs where.

7. Write Fanfiction

Fanfictions are a fantastic way of exercising your storytelling skills. What’s fanfiction? It’s a story about an existing fictional character written by its fans. This means you can take your favourite fictional character and write a story about them. 

Let’s say you’re a Lord of the Rings fan and love Sam. What do you imagine Sam’s life would be like after saying goodbye to Frodo? Maybe a new threat looms on the horizon, and Sam and the rest of the Hobbits will have to embark on another adventure. How would you write the story?

8. What Would The Story Look Like From Another POV?

If you’re not up to writing a full-blown plot, why not try switching up a story’s POV? A thrilling way to do is, is to imagine an intense confrontation from an antagonist’s point of view. Take the fight between Dumbledore and Voldemort. 

Imagine what a first-person POV would look like from Voldemort’s perspective! Try to keep your writing style and tone in line with how the author would’ve done it. This exercise expands your imagination and develops your writing skills!

9. BOOM, CRASH!

How would it sound if you were to hear a noise that would send chills down the marrow of your bones? Describe the sound in as much detail as you can. And make your characters listen to it.

What will your main characters feel when they hear it? Will they spring to action? Maybe the nonchalant remains as collected as ever and immediately tries to assess the situation. But, on the other hand, if a character has been through a rough childhood, perhaps they’ll freeze and struggle to breathe as they relive horrible memories.

10. Breathing Exercise

Sometimes, it’s hard to start writing because tension knots around your body weigh your breathing down. The day’s worries fill your mind, and it’s challenging to get into that writing flow where inspiration goes through you with relative ease.

That’s when breathing exercises come in handy. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Forget the world around you, and breathe in, breathe out. When you feel more relaxed, do some neck stretches and shoulder rolls. Then shake your hands as if to throw off whatever is weighing you down. 

After doing this exercise, you’ll feel more in-tuned with your creative mind when you look back at your writing page.

11. Write A Poem About A Random Object

Look around and notice the various objects strewn about. Pick one that catches your eye. And proceed to write a poem about it. But here’s the catch, don’t tell what it is! The goal is to sharpen your ability to describe through words and imagery. 

Talk about its shape, colour, size, texture, state of matter, you name it. Use metaphors to spice things up. You’ll have a blast reading what you come up with after! 

12. Convert the Genre!

Get hold of your favourite chapter or short story. And change the genre! Is your chosen story sci-fi? Try turning it into romance. Maybe you chose a comedic piece of literature. What happens if you add a sinister turn to make it horrific and bone-chilling?

13. In Your Room!

Go inside the mind of a character. It could be your own, or an existing fictional character you admire. If they were to step into your room, what would they notice first? What would they say? Will there be a particular object that’ll catch their eye? Maybe a characteristic about your room they dislike?

When writing down their reactions, remember to capture their personalities. Maybe there’s a word they often use. Or a gesture they make when assessing their surroundings.

14. Ditch the Adverbs and Adjectives…For Now

So you can work on powering up your noun and verb usage skills. Since adverbs and adjectives are modifiers, you may have the temptation to rely on them too much. Weakening the impact of your writing. What if you can use nouns and verbs with such precision that you rarely need to depend on modifiers?

Bring the adverb/adjective card when it’s time to double down to give the readers the increased heart palpitations they’re asking for. 

15. Edit Another Person’s Writing

Editing another person’s writing forces you to slow down and digest each word. It kickstarts your brain as you ask yourself, “Is this the perfect word?” “What if the sentence structure could use a little makeover?”

As you go through the piece, you’ll sharpen your critical thinking, problem-solving, and reading comprehension skills. And you may even pop up a light bulb or two as you extract new ideas!

16. Image Associate

When you think of your theme, what images come to mind? List them down. If your theme is about betrayal, maybe you imagine knives, masks, scratched-out words on a secret note, dirty mirrors, broken magnifying lenses, and muddy waters.

If you repeat the process with each of your major characters, what images come to mind? These will come in handy when you need a mood lift. Or when making your sentences more exciting and engaging using metaphors.

17. If You Can Talk To Your Younger Self, What Will You Say? 

You’ve come a long way from where you were years ago. If you were to think back, what was a tough situation you had to go through? And if you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say? What will be the tips, encouragements, and warnings you’d give?

Write the letter as if you were a different person. Your younger self could use the lift!

18. You’re In The Newspaper! 

What would your character have done to make themselves appear on a newspaper headline? Or what would have happened to them?

If your character works at a watch-repair store, maybe they came across an antic that used to belong to a late war hero. If the journalist were to interview them, how would they respond?

What if your antagonist is a psychopath, and they were caught red-handed by the police as they attempted murder? Feel free to write a newspaper article!  

Then, say your characters happened to come across the newspaper article written about them, how would they react? 

19. X On The Map

Grab a map (Google Maps will work too!) Then go eeny, meeny, miny, moe and whatever location your finger lands on, that’s it! Repeat if it happens to be your hometown or some other place you already know. Because it has to be an unfamiliar place for this exercise to work.

Once you have your “X” on the map, do your research about the place. Indulge in its history, culture, and people. What do the people wear? Is the population primarily young or old? Is the climate temperate or tropical? Note down as much information as you can.

And then, write a scene or story with this place as the setting.

20. Same Picture, Different Mood

Scroll down travel blogs and look at the various pictures of places. Pick one that attracts your attention. Suppose it’s a long stretch of road, surrounded by tall trees on either side, with the city skyscrapers looming on the horizon. 

Describe the feeling through your character’s eyes. Maybe they feel relaxed as they drive through, windows down, and the wind brushes against their faces. And perhaps excitement too, as they’re about to explore a new place. 

Now write another scene. Preferably with another character, and turn the mood 360. From a casual onlooker, the place looks beautiful and tranquil. But maybe from this character’s point of view, the place evokes emotions of fear and anxiety. Perhaps they’ve been to this place before. And they had a life-threatening experience at one of the skyscrapers that are fast coming into view.

Give special attention to the sensory details! From the way the trees sway in the breeze to the sound of the engine roaring. Maybe the glare of the sun as it shines in a nearly cloudless sky. Connect these details with the characters’ memories, feelings, and musings. The goal is to make your readers feel what your character feels!

21.  A Line From A Song

If you were to pick a line from your favourite song, what would it be? Say it’s “Dandelion into the wind you go, won’t you let my darling know?” from Dandelions by Ruth B. What’s the primary emotion? It could be longing, love, sadness, or hope. Come up with a character who is feeling the key emotion. And then they happened to hear the song.

Why is your character feeling this way? How did they respond to the song? Maybe they broke down crying. Or they grab their phones, their thumb flying across their phone screens. Then pauses and hovers over the call icon as they resist the temptation to communicate with their loved one.  

Describe the song in such a heartfelt way, that your readers feel an emotional bond with it even when they never heard it!

22. La la land? 

Your character is in a musical. What situation would make them break into a song? How would the lyrics go? Describe the melody and use metaphors. Insert proper nouns of persons, times, places, and objects.

23. The Phone Call

The phone rings. Your main character answers. A whole dialogue happens, and your character is animatedly talking on the phone. But the reader can’t hear what’s being said by the other speaker. They can only observe your character’s words, emotions, and gestures.

Can your reader guess what the person is saying on the other line? If they can, you’ve succeeded in this exercise!

24. Ugly Or Beautiful? 

Find an object you find ugly. Then make one of your characters see it as something beautiful. How will they describe the thing so that your readers start to believe, “Hey, it is beautiful after all.”

25. Face Your Fears

What are your greatest fears? Abandonment? The dark, mysterious ocean? Snakes? Roaches? Make a list. Then write a scenario where your character is forced to face one of them. The more your readers feel the skin-crawling sensation, the better!

26. The Dark Cave

Say your character enters a dark cave for a science trip. And as part of the journey, the tour guide commands everybody to stand still and turn their flashlights off to demonstrate what a cave is like in its natural state. For 1 minute, there’s complete and utter darkness.

How would you describe the scene?

27. Dream House

What if your character were to enter your dream house? What will be the sights, sounds, and smells? Describe it in such detail that your readers feel like they’re walking through the house themselves.

28. The Taster

Your character is travelling in a country they’ve never been to before. And they’re presented with an unfamiliar dish. How would you describe its tantalising aroma and flavourful taste to make it mouthwatering to your readers? 

29. The Passerby

A pivotal scene in your story determines the fate of your main characters. But instead of writing it from their perspective, have a casual passerby describe the scene instead. This stranger has no role in the story whatsoever. They just happened to be at the place, perhaps at the wrong time. Who knows?

30. Spring Cleaning

It’s time for spring cleaning, and your character checks old drawers and basement boxes for long-overdue-for-the-trash items. Then they stumble upon an object they hadn’t seen in a year or two. It means so much to them that it stops them in their tracks, frozen in pain.

What happened? Make your readers cry with heartache as you share the background story.

31. The Unlikely Action

Your character follows a specific set of principles. Maybe Kate is a caring wife. What MASSIVE event made her rageful so as to threaten her husband’s life? Jackson’s self-interest is sky-high. He doesn’t give two cents about what happens to others as long as he’s comfortable. But why is it that on one Sunday morning, he throws himself into freezing water to save a toddler from drowning?

32. Internal Turmoil

Your character receives major news. And it sends them down a spiral of internal turmoil. Maybe a man discovers his wife is pregnant. Why does he feel elated and tormented at the same time? Perhaps a mother finds out her child died. And she feels both grief-stricken and relieved.

Why? Write about the conflicting emotions to make your readers feel they’re conflicted too.

33. Wordless Communication

You have two characters engaged in wordless communication. They communicate solely through the use of their facial expressions and head movements. What situation are they in that prevents them from speaking to each other? Then end it with a mutual nod and firm resolve in their eyes. As if they understood each other perfectly, and they know exactly what they have to do.

34. Argument

Every story has technical information that’ll help the readers understand it better. But often, telling the information as it is makes the scene dull and lifeless. To keep it interesting, share the information by having your characters argue about it.

35. Self-Encouragement

What do you feel guilty about your writing? Maybe you neglected your daily 20-minute writing goal. Or you didn’t write that poem you promised yourself you would. List it all down. Then beside it, write a resolution or achievement to counter it. 

So you didn’t achieve your daily 20-minute goal? But at least you tried and wrote more this month than in the past 3. You failed to write the poem? Don’t worry! You’ll write one right now. 

This exercise should help you dust yourself off whenever you stumble down your knees. Onward through your writing journey!

What Are The Rules Of Creative Writing?

Following rules makes creative writing easier and more organised. Here are some standard rules of creative writing to up your game.

  1. Focus on one task. Multitasking sounds cool, but it often kills your performance. A Psychonomic Bulletin & Review study shows that 97.5% of 200 participants experienced decreased performance when multitasking. 
  2. Read, read, and read! What’s the most effective way to spur your imagination and creativity to maximum capacity? Reading! Observe how vehicles need fuel to run? So too, does your mind need fresh inspiration from reading for it to produce something worthwhile. 
  3. Find a quiet place to write. A research article from Applied Cognitive Psychology reports that listening to music (with or without lyrics) impairs creativity while you’re writing compared to working in quiet backgrounds. Perhaps many of us feel inspired or get an idea when listening to music during our mind-wandering moments. But when it’s time to write, working in silence works best!
  4. Remove distractions. A quiet place is effective. But suppose you keep getting vibrations from your phone about a Facebook or Twitter notification. In that case, you’ll lose focus all the same. So put away your gadgets when you write. Protect and respect writing time as sacred.
  5. Show don’t tell. Of course, in writing a story, you will have to tell information, especially when you have to speed up some less important parts. But when you want your readers to feel like they’re in the character’s shoes, you’ll have to “show, don’t tell.” What does it mean? Let’s say you want to inform the readers that Sally hates chocolates. Instead of stating it as it is, “Sally hates chocolates.” Why not show it? “Her new acquaintance offered her a chocolate bar he bought from the store. Sally looked down on it with contempt, wrinkling her nose. Her hand twitched on her side. Then she forced a smile, took the candy in her hand, and uttered a polite ‘thanks.’” Showing gives readers a more immersive experience than telling.
  6. Read what you write out loud. When you finish a draft, read it out loud. You’ll realise that not everything you write sounds as smooth as you imagined. If the words don’t roll off your tongue, revise until it does. 
  7. Define why your reader should root for your character. Remember watching a movie, and the character goes on fighting villains and risking their lives, but you have no idea why? You squint harder as the film progresses, becoming more frustrated because you don’t get the motive. And so, how are you supposed to relate? Why should you care? If you want your readers to invest their hearts in the characters, define motivations as soon as possible!
  8. Each sentence should have a purpose. Each sentence should have a purpose. Your readers could be doing a million other things. Yet they choose to read your story. So give them your best by making each sentence useful. It has to advance the story or reveal something essential about the characters. If it doesn’t? Delete!
  9. Don’t get tired of rewriting. You can upgrade a simple sentence just by changing its verb. Or changing the structure from passive to active. Don’t be afraid to rewrite a sentence, paragraph, or chapter as often as necessary until you arrive at the finest version. 
  10. Please one reader, and that’s enough. If you do your best to please one reader, you’ll satisfy many. But if you try to please everybody, you’ll attract none. Why is that? Because when you have a specific reader in mind, you’re not afraid to bring out the details that make a story pop. But when you want to cater to everyone, you’ll pull the brakes and say, “Oh, wait. What if not everyone will understand?” And your story ends up dull and generic.
  11. Go back to the basics. The hallmark of an advanced and experienced writer is how masterful they are in keeping the basics. Punctuation, spelling, and grammar make a piece clear and delightful to read.

You now have a handful of writing exercises and rules to practice. Have you tried doing any of the exercises? Which ones are your favourites so far? 

Suppose you’re passionate about improving your writing skills and want to learn from talented Oxford, Cambridge, and Ivy League tutors. In that case, you may want to check out our Creative Writing summer courses.

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