Ask any seasoned writer, and they’ll tell you that they often use writing exercises to sharpen their skills.
Looking to follow in their footsteps? Here are some tried and true creative writing exercises to help you improve.
1. Use Spontaneous Writing Prompts
The best stories sometimes begin with a single line or thought that is completely unrelated to the rest of the plot but nevertheless captures your reader’s full attention.
Instead of gazing at a blank sheet of paper, try briefly focusing your attention on something entirely unrelated. Your writing prompt might be a word, a picture, or a physical object – anything that gets your creative juices flowing.
In some cases, you may produce only scribbled notes, while in others, you may come up with an entire scene or even a full story.
Just start writing without thinking about how you’re going to do it. Create a story-like stream of thought.
The practice of writing for a given prompt helps you get into the habit of writing and forces you to put pen to paper on a consistent basis.
Still unsure what you should write about? Here’s an array of prompts to choose from.
2. Practice Writing with a ‘Voice’
Whether you are reading Tolkien or Nabakov, you can see that every author has a unique narrative voice.
As a creative experiment, try temporarily adopting the voice of a great author and writing with that voice.
The best way to start is with a small piece of writing from your favorite author. Pay attention to the way they structure their sentences and the words they use. You’ll soon get a feel for their writing style.
After that, select a prompt and start writing. Your style will become more like theirs as you continue this exercise.
Don’t fear that you’ll lose your own voice, though. This exercise will show you both the good and bad parts of other writing styles, and you’ll retain only what works best for you as you develop your writing style.
For good practice, don’t restrict yourself to just one author. Writing in multiple voices will reduce the chances of being unduly influenced by anyone in particular.
Consciously adopting another writer’s voice can ultimately inspire you to play around with your own use of language without the pressure and remove the stress of writing something that others will see or think of as “yours.”
3. Read or Write FanFiction
Writing fanfiction for TV series and movies allows people to infinitely expand on an original plot arc in their own unique manner.
Fans write fanfiction when they want to read or see something that didn’t happen, like a romance between characters or a newer, happier ending.
Even if you’re already intimately familiar with a fictional universe, now you may see it evolve in unexpected ways.
After all, it doesn’t matter what you read – a novel, a poem, or a piece of fanfiction – it’s still reading (or writing). When you read or write fanfiction, you still get to experience the development of a plot, a character, or a metaphor, even if it wasn’t originally yours.
Fanfiction is not for everyone, but the fanfiction community has a lot to teach and a lot of feedback to offer, and it will undoubtedly help you become a better writer.
4. Observe Social Patterns
If you want to write about the world, you have to be in it. Simply seeing what other people do in their daily lives may teach you a lot about writing realistic characters.
The goal of this exercise is to help you develop characters that are both interesting and relatable.
Sit somewhere in public and watch real people. Observe how they are in the world. Practice eavesdropping without feeling bad about it. It’s all for the sake of character development, right?
Listen to people’s anecdotes about their lives and then relate those experiences to something in your own life, including your stories.
If you’re at a party or another public gathering, don’t throw away the chance to interact with strangers. Ask questions, particularly about them and their lives. Remember: If you ask more interesting questions, you’ll receive more interesting responses.
Take mental notes and write them down. Experiment.
Prompt others to tell you more about themselves by asking them open-ended questions. You can move on to questions that’ll receive a more interesting response than “yes,” “no,” or “fine” even if you start with something basic and harmless like “How are you?”
Refrain from passing judgment. Imagine being an alien studying humanity or a zoologist making observations in the savanna. Reserve judgments for later.
Now, get to work. Write an essay (short or long) about a person you saw or met.
Think of the main points of the character you want to convey. What do you want to say about them?
Make the story more dynamic by writing in the present tense or first person.
Start slow. At first, you may not notice a lot of details and may end up with only a sentence or two. That’s all right. Trust the process and keep on writing.
You’ll see that as you practice more, your observations will improve. The more you tune in to your surroundings, the more you’ll notice moments that may become part of your stories.
Meanwhile, keep a journal. Many writers are prolific journalers as well since it is a good resource for recording observations. You never know what might inspire an engaging and realistic character or serve as the basis for an exciting plot.
5. Try Freewriting
Freewriting is the process of putting whatever is on your mind down on paper, with one basic guideline: “Thou shalt not stop.”
The goal is to keep writing.
Despite the often incoherent results, freewriting is a powerful tool for overcoming writer’s block. It can be a good, albeit occasionally scary, way to start writing, regardless of the subject matter.
You do not begin a session with a predetermined topic or prompt in mind. Instead, freewriting is all about the stream of consciousness. It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing makes sense – just jot it down.
Do not impose any kind of self-censorship. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are not concerns.
Freewriting might be challenging at first since you are not accustomed to writing in this manner. Just as with any exercise, it’s best to start slowly. Maintain a goal that is not daunting or unmanageable, even on a stressful day. The goal is consistency.
Begin with 15 minutes or two, 2,500 words or a hundred. It’s all up to you. Just write!
Freewriting, like brainstorming, generates a number of ideas that you may not have otherwise considered, which you can subsequently reorganize and refine.
6. Write from Unusual POVs
Choose a character in a story who isn’t very important or who is radically different from the protagonist and re-write the story (or just a scene) from their point of view.
Imagine creating a Malfoy-centric Harry Potter story or rewriting Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s point of view (never mind – that one’s already been done).
Writing the same plot from the perspective of a different character might give you insight into the motivations and viewpoints of those characters. A narrative may take on a whole different meaning depending on who is telling it.
You can use this writing exercise with any novel, short story, movie, or show. It will help you to express your creativity while also evoking empathy, which is a must-have for building sympathetic characters and compelling narratives.
Abhimanyu Chavan is a freelance writer with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He writes about technology, film, travel, food, and the craft of writing. He believes writers have a responsibility to the truth and to give readers a unique perspective. Abhimanyu writes short stories and is an avid reader of classics, sci-fi, magical realism, mystery, historical fiction, and nonfiction. He also enjoys hiking with his friends every week.