One of the most valuable writing exercises I learned in college was freewriting.
When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.
At first, freewriting is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you will produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.
Freewriting is not like other writing exercises; it allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts. Read more
Today’s writing exercise comes from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which takes writers on an adventure through different forms and genres while offering tools, techniques, and inspiration for writers.
Each chapter focuses on a different form or writing concept: freewriting, journaling, memoirs, fiction, storytelling, form poetry, free verse, characters, dialogue, creativity, and article and blog writing are all covered.
Today, we’ll take a peek at “Chapter Seven: Form Poetry” with a poetry exercise called “Couplets and Quatrains.” Enjoy!
Couplets and Quatrains, a Poetry Writing Exercise
Poetry may not be the most widely read or published form of writing these days, but it’s probably the most widely written.
Despite the lack of enthusiasm for the form among readers and publishers, poetry still has a traditional place in our culture. You’ll hear poetry read at most significant events, such as weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies, and presidential inaugurations. Poetry is the foundation for most children’s books, and it’s so closely related to songwriting that in many cases, it’s hard to tell the difference between a poem and a song lyric. Read more
Today’s post features an exercise from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises, which is filled with exercises for various forms of writing, including fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. It will inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.
This exercise comes from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” The creative writing exercises in this chapter focus on free-form poetry writing.
I chose this exercise because it’s fun and inspiring. It asks you to use a song as a foundation for writing a poem. Many song lyrics are poems in their own right. This exercise focuses on rhyming, but it also shows you how to look at your writing’s musicality and encourages you to think about rhythm and meter in your work.
Give it a try, then come back and tell us what you learned. Feel free to share the poems or lyrics that you write from this exercise in the comments section. Read more
Today’s poetry writing exercise is an excerpt from 101 Creative Writing Exercises.
The exercises in 101 Creative Writing Exercises encourage you to experiment with different forms and genres while providing inspiration for publishable projects and imparting useful writing techniques that make your writing more robust.
This poetry writing exercise is from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Alliteration and Assonance.” This exercise covers two literary devices that make your writing more rhythmic and memorable. Enjoy! Read more
Today, I’m sharing an excerpt from my book, 101 Creative Writing Exercises. It’s packed with writing exercises to help you explore all forms of creative writing: fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The book is designed to inspire you while imparting useful writing techniques that are fun and practical.
This exercise comes from “Chapter Two: It’s Personal.” The writing exercises in this chapter focus on writing of a personal nature: memoir, journal writing, and personal essays.
I chose this exercise because it’s challenging and fun. It asks you to look at your own life from a fresh perspective and make yourself the subject of a news report.
Give it a try! Then come back and tell us what you learned and how this exercise worked for you. Read more
101 Creative Writing Exercises takes writers on an adventure through the world of creative writing.
The book is packed with writing exercises that are fun and practical. Not only will these exercises inspire you, they’ll impart helpful writing techniques and offer valuable writing practice.
Try your hand at fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, including freewriting, journaling, memoir, and article writing.
Today, I’d like to share an exercise from 101 Creative Writing Exercises. From “Chapter Ten: Article and Blog Writing,” this creative writing exercise is called “Titles and Headlines.” Read more
Poetry is the most artistic form of writing. A poem can be concrete or abstract. It can be expressive or pensive. It can cover just about any subject imaginable.
But the truth is that despite what poetry can be, it is most often used as a form of emotional self-expression, especially by young and new poets. When we’re feeling sad, angry, or elated, it’s easy to sit down and mold our emotions into words. It’s cathartic.
Poets also tend toward writing about nature. Tributes, politics, religion, family, and romance are some of the most common topics that poets tackle.
Why not try something different? Read more
101 Creative Writing Exercises is a book of writing exercises that takes writers on a journey through different forms and genres.
Each exercise teaches a specific concept, and each chapter focuses on a different subject or form: journaling, storytelling, fiction writing, poetry, article writing, and more. All of the exercises are designed to be practical. In other words, you can use these exercises to launch projects that are destined for publication.
Today, I’d like to present one of the exercises to give you a taste of what to expect from the book. From “Chapter Six: Storytelling,” this exercise is called “Oh No He Didn’t!” I hope you like it!
Oh No He Didn’t! (from 101 Creative Writing Exercises)
Plot twists, cliffhangers, and page-turners. Oh my! These are the sneaky techniques writers use to keep readers captivated. And we’ve all been there: It’s late, and I’m tired. After this chapter, the lights are going out. Then there’s a cliffhanger, a shocking development in the story. Forget sleep! I have to find out what happens next.
Some writers are criticized for overusing these devices or for planting twists that are contrived or forced. But a good plot twist or cliffhanger is natural to the story and doesn’t feel like the writer strategically worked it in.
Some stories feature major twists in the middle of chapters. It’s placing such a twist at the end of a chapter that turns it into a cliffhanger. Soap operas and television dramas are known, loved, and loathed for their application of these devices. It’s how they hook viewers, and it’s a way you can hook readers.
Each writer has to decide whether to use these techniques in storytelling. You might think they’re too formulaic or rob your story of its artfulness. Or maybe you like the exciting edge that a good twist or cliffhanger brings to a story.
Write an outline for a chapter that ends on a cliffhanger. You can also use a TV episode as your model or a serialized short story. Approach the cliffhanger by building tension to the moment:
Bad guys are chasing the good guys. The bad guys are gaining on them. They’re getting closer! One of bad guys draws his gun, lifts it, cocks it, and aims right at our hero. He pulls the trigger. See you next week!
You can also plant a cliffhanger that comes out of nowhere. The chapter is winding down, everything is moving along as expected and suddenly a character walks into a room and tells her ex-lover that she’s pregnant and he’s the father. Uh oh!
Both types of cliffhangers work equally well.
Tips: The best cliffhangers leave huge questions hanging in the air. Who did it? What just happened? Will they survive? How is that possible? What will happen next?
Variations: You can expand on this exercise by writing out a scene that ends on a cliffhanger. To expand further, write the follow-up scene and satisfy readers’ curiosity by answering the big questions raised by your cliffhanger.
Applications: If you want to be a commercially successful author, you will probably find that mastering the cliffhanger is a huge asset to your writing skills. The cliffhanger is almost mandatory in horror and mystery genres, so if that’s what you want to write, you’ll need to be able to execute a good clincher.
Ah, the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. How do they relate to poetry writing?
We delight in the pleasures of the senses, but infusing poetry with sensory stimulation is not an easy task. It takes a deft and creative writer to forge images–using text–that trigger a reader’s senses.
So why bother?
When you engage your readers’ senses, your poetry becomes more compelling and more memorable.
Some scientists say smell is the strongest of the senses in terms of memorability. If you get your readers to physically experience scent (or any other sensation), you’ll have them hooked. Surely you’ve read a passage that described the delicious smells of home-cooked food and found your mouth watering?
Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write with more sense. Below, you’ll find a series of short poetry writing exercises that culminate with making a poem that is peppered with sensory stimuli.
Step 1: Prepare
- Start with a sheet of paper divided into five columns. If you prefer to do writing exercises on your computer, you can use a spreadsheet or word-processing program.
- Label the columns: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
- Spend a few minutes populating the columns with words and phrases that reflect the correlating senses. For example, in the smell column, you might write chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, a blooming rose, or the cat’s litter box. Be as descriptive as possible and avoid using only stimuli that please or entice; add a few that are unpleasant for balance.
Step 2: Review
- Review your list carefully, testing each item on your list to see how it affects you. When you read something like throbbing bass coming from the car in the next lane, can you feel the boom?
- As you go through your list, cross out anything that doesn’t engage your senses.
- Highlight those items that really affect you–when you can feel the soft slick of silk or hear the sound of a quiet breeze rustling dried leaves, you’re affected.
Step 3: Poetry Writing Exercises
- Write one sentence for each of the five senses. Make sure it’s a complete sentence, and try to generate a sentence that evokes a scene. In other words “The roses smell nice,” won’t cut it. Try for something like: “I bent down, beckoned by the rose’s sweet perfume and dazzling red hue.” Note that this sentence affects two senses: smell (sweet perfume) and sight (red hue).
- Next, try to do what I did in the sample sentence above. Combine two or more senses into a single, complete sentence. When you read it back, does your nose tingle? Do you see bright colors in your mind?
- Look for sentences that you can link together, words and phrases that can be joined together under a common theme. For example, if a lot of your words, phrases, and sentences could be set outside, then they can be grouped together.
- Finally, using the material you’ve generated, write a poem that stimulates each of the five senses. As a bonus, you can work in the sixth sense as well.
- You can also work backwards. Start with a theme, then populate your lists with things that will trigger the senses and that correlate with the theme you’ve chosen.
- Need some ideas? Start by choosing a setting, such as an event, where it’s likely all fives senses would be stimulated. For example, at a wedding, there will be the scent of fresh flowers, the taste of a wedding cake, and the sound of “Here Comes the Bride.” Other likely events include concerts, parties, meetings, vacations, and–try this one–cleaning day.
- If you get stuck, refer to your brainstorming lists or practice sentences and use that material for inspiration.
- Try not to make it too obvious that your goal for the poem was to stimulate the reader’s senses. Be sure it flows naturally.
You should have fun with poetry writing exercises but they should also challenge you. If you try these sensory-stimulating poetry writing exercises, feel free to post excerpts from what you’ve written in the comments. Also, If you have any favorite poetry writing exercises of your own, feel free to share them as well.
And keep writing sensibly!
Looking for more poetry writing exercises? 101 Creative Writing Exercises features two full chapters on poetry writing:
Today’s poetry writing exercise is from 101 Creative Writing Exercises. The exercises in this book encourage you to experiment with different forms and genres while providing inspiration for publishable projects and imparting useful writing techniques that make your writing more robust.
This exercise is from “Chapter Eight: Free Verse.” It’s titled “Cut-and-Paste Poetry.” Enjoy!
Most poetry writing exercises are designed to help you focus on one particular area of poetry writing, such as rhyme, alliteration, or imagery. This one works on several levels.
First, this exercise provides a nice, Zen-like break from your daily routine because it involves more than writing. You’ll get to search through clippings and do a little cutting and pasting (the old-fashioned cutting and pasting with scissors and glue, not the computer-based cut-and-paste).
Second, this exercise provides an excellent alternative to recycling those growing stacks of old magazines, newspapers, and brochures that are sitting around collecting dust.
You can come back to this exercise again and again for future poetry writing sessions.
You’ll need some supplies and some time. Try to set aside an hour or two (and note that you can break this exercise up over several days or even longer).
What You’ll Need (Supplies)
- Old printed material: magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, ads, photocopies, junk mail, etc.
- A small box, basket, jar, or other container
- A pair of scissors
- A glue stick or a roll of clear tape
- A piece of blank paper (construction paper works well; you can also use a piece of cardboard or a page in your notebook)
- Highlighter (optional)
Step One: Go through old magazines, pamphlets, printouts, and photocopies. Any printed material will do. Scan through the text to find words and phrases that are interesting and capture your attention and imagination. You can highlight the text you like or move ahead to step two.
Step Two: Cut out the phrases you’ve chosen and place them in your container.
Step Three: When you have a nice pile of clippings, pull some out and spread them across a flat work surface. Sift through the words, pairing different clippings together to see how the phrasing sounds. Place the ones you like best on a piece of paper, arrange them into a poem, and use glue or tape to adhere them.
Tips, Variations, and Applications
Tips: Look for words and images that pop. When you’re all done, save the leftover clippings so you can repeat this exercise again later.
Variations: If you find it difficult to cobble together an entire poem from your clippings, then use a pen or pencil to add words and phrases to complete your poem. You can also clip images and incorporate them to create a multimedia poetry collage that is also a piece of art.
Applications: This exercise reminds you to focus on word choice and language. It encourages you to go outside yourself for inspiration by piecing elements from different sources together to make something new.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.
I recently shared a writing exercise that encouraged you to get into a character’s head. Today’s exercise asks you to go a step further and explore characters and ideas that are your polar opposites.
One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of being a writer is creating characters. It is an opportunity to step outside of your own reality and take on a completely different persona.
Unless you’re an actor, an undercover agent, or just plain crazy, you don’t get many chances in life to do that.
Writing also lets us explore ideas and share our thoughts, opinions, and feelings on a wide range of topics. To Kill a Mockingbird addressed racism, The Da Vinci Code critically explored religious doctrine, and The Hunger Games examined troublesome aspects of our society, particularly glam culture, class systems, war, and violence among teenagers.
As a fiction writer, there will be times when you need to get into the head of a character who is your polar opposite. You’ll need to have a deep comprehension of ideologies that are not aligned with your own. If you can’t do that, then your story will lack believability.
Today’s fiction writing exercises give you practice in stepping out of your shoes so you can walk in someone else’s.
For characters to truly resonate with readers, they must be vibrant and stir the audience’s emotions. Readers have to become attached to the characters, feel sympathy, compassion, even love (or hate) for them. It’s not easy to fabricate people (or other beings) that don’t really exist, have never existed, yet make them seem real. But it can be done.
So how do writers achieve this great feat?
Much credence has been given to the old adage write what you know. Base a character on a friend or family member or yourself. But what fun is that? If you’re an accountant by day, do you really want to play an accountant in your fantasy world too? Probably not. And when you create a character, that’s pretty much what you’re doing, playing a role. You have to get into the character’s mind, live the life, absorb the environment in which the character lives. You have to be your character, even if you have absolutely nothing in common with that character.
Fiction Writing Exercises
Each fiction writing exercise below encourages you to get into a mindset that opposes your own way of thinking or existing. Try one exercise or try them all–just make sure to have fun.
Exercise #1: Write a personal essay from the perspective of someone who is your polar opposite.
If you grew up in the big city, write as a country dweller. If you grew up on a farm or lived in a small town all your life, write about an army brat who was raised living in dozens of towns, going to different schools each year. Are you a stay-at-home, married parent? Write as a swinging single making it big in the big apple. If you’re a successful businessperson, write as a prison inmate who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.
You can also write as your ideological opposite. If you’re Buddhist, write from the perspective of a Christian. If you’re Christian, write from the perspective of an atheist. Are you a political junkie? Write from the viewpoint of the political party you oppose.
For the essay, focus on something you have never experienced or that you disagree with. If you are from the city and you’re writing about the country, write a descriptive essay about a farm setting. If you’re a liberal writing as a conservative, choose an issue and write an essay arguing for the conservative position on that issue.
The idea is to get outside your comfort zone, and explore a different way of life or mode of thinking than the one you know. You can then use this exercise to develop a character who is wildly different from you.
Excercise #2: Write a scene with two characters who are opposites.
Create two characters: one who is just like you (write yourself into the scene if you want) and one who is not like you at all. Write a scene that explores their differences. Here are some suggestions:
- An old-fashioned rancher and a highly successful, modern urban businesswoman are seated next to each other on a plane.
- A Democratic state politician and a Republican lobbyist get stuck in an elevator together.
- Someone who is devoutly religious gets into a deep conversation with an atheist at a party.
There is only one rule here: Both characters must be sympathetic. In other words, you cannot make the character who is your opposite into any kind of villain or antagonist, and neither character will change his or her views or lifestyle by the end of the scene. Your goal is to gain understanding, not make a statement.
Exercise #3: Live your dreams and realize your nightmares.
A lot of people are terrified of public speaking. They may or may not have the desire to get up and talk to a crowd, but it doesn’t matter because their fear inhibits them from doing so. And we all have dreams–some are goals that we can or will pursue but other dreams are far-off fantasies that we know will never come to fruition.
For this exercise, you’ll write a short story or scene in first person. In the scene, you’ll do something that you’ve never done–something you may never do in reality but can certainly tackle in a piece of fiction.
Here are some examples:
- Greatest fear: Either write a scene where you overcome your greatest fear and face the thing that terrifies you or write as a character who does not have this fear and therefore faces it with ease. For example, if you have a fear of flying, write as an airplane pilot.
- Dreams and goals: Have you ever wanted to travel somewhere but haven’t gotten around to it? Do you hope to someday find the love of your life or become a star in your career field? Are you working toward your dreams and goals? Write as a character who is living the life you hope to live someday.
- Fantasy: Did you ever want to be a rock star? An astronaut? A wizard? Write as a character who is living out your greatest fantasies.
The idea here is to do something in writing that you’ve never done in real life. It can be something you may still someday achieve or it could be something impossible or unlikely.
Fiction Writing Exercises for Fun and Focus
Fiction writing exercises like these will help you when you’re writing about characters who are not like you in significant ways. These exercises will also expand the types of characters you feel comfortable bringing into your stories.
If any of these exercises stick and you get really into it, write several pages, or try doing the exercise again with different characters. You might unveil a new side of yourself that you didn’t know you had. You might find it completely uncomfortable and decide to go back to writing what you know, but at least you will have tried something new.
Remember, fiction writing exercises are supposed to be fun, but their purpose is to challenge you to try new things and think in new ways, so be sure to truly step out of your shoes and go beyond your comfort zone.
Feel free to post comments about your character. Who or what will you become? What shoes are you going to step into when you step out of your own?
If you have any fiction writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.
In honor of next week’s launch of the third and final book in the Adventures in Writing series, I’d like to share an entire chapter from the first book in the series, 101 Creative Writing Exercises. “Chapter One: Freewriting” includes instructions for freewriting plus several variations and applications that you can use to make freewriting work for you.
Freewriting is one of the simplest, fastest, and most flexible creative writing exercises you can do. Use it for daily writing practice, idea development, and problem solving. I encourage all writers to give it a try.
Chapter One: Freewriting
Freewriting is one of the most creative and liberating writing exercises you can do.
Also called stream-of-consciousness writing, freewriting allows you to let your thoughts and ideas flow onto the page without inhibition. Anything goes. Turn off your inner editor and allow your subconscious to take over. The results can be inspiring, enlightening, and thought provoking.
Freewriting is ideal for daily writing practice. A twenty-minute freewriting session in the morning is a great way to capture your dreams or record your ideas before your head becomes cluttered with the day’s activities. A nighttime session is perfect for clearing your mind of the day’s clutter and for noting new ideas that have occurred to you throughout the day.
Guided freewriting is a bit different. As you write, you focus your attention on a specific idea, topic, or image. There are a number of variations on guided freewriting, which are explained in the variations section after the exercise.
With any kind of freewriting, you write quickly and let your thoughts flow freely. Remember, anything goes, even if it doesn’t make sense. Thoughts that sound ridiculous as you’re writing may gain meaning or clarity when you read the piece back later.
The process is simple. First, set a limit. Your limit is the minimum amount that you will write. Limits can be set in time, word count, or pages. Then write whatever comes to mind, no matter how outrageous. You will write up to your limit and if you want, you can exceed it. In other words, if you set a limit of ten minutes, you must write for at least ten minutes, but you can write for longer if you want.
The first few times you try freewriting, you might find that your mind goes blank at different points throughout your writing session. When this happens, don’t stop writing. Your pen should always be moving. If nothing comes to mind, write the word nothing over and over until your thoughts start flowing again. Just keep writing.
What limits should you set? If you have a timer, try setting it for twenty minutes, which is a good amount of time for any writing session. Or, fill two pages in your notebook, writing in longhand. If you’ll be writing electronically, then aim for five hundred words. You may want to experiment with how you set allotments for your freewriting sessions. Some writers find that anything beyond thirty minutes of freewriting becomes garbled; others find they hit their stride after the ten-minute mark.
Experiment with different writing tools. Many writers like writing in longhand for better creativity. If you write primarily on a computer, then give paper and pen a whirl for a few of your freewriting sessions.
Also, don’t give up after your first attempt at freewriting. Most writers who are new to freewriting find that it takes a few tries to get the hang of it.
Below are a few examples of guided freewriting for creativity and problem solving:
Focused freewriting is writing around a certain idea or concept. If you’re working on a novel and your characters are stuck, a focused freewrite might help you break through the scene or move your characters to the next step. This is a bit like brainstorming except you write freely and continually, letting ideas stream instead of pondering them before committing them to the page.
Topical freewriting is writing about a specific topic or subject. If you’re working on an essay, you might engage in focused freewriting about the subject matter. This allows you to explore your thoughts and feelings and figure out which ideas and aspects of the subject you want to examine or address.
Words and imagery freewriting is great for poetry writing and useful if you’re writing nothing a lot in your general freewriting sessions. Choose a word or image and while you’re freewriting, keep your mind focused on it. If your mind goes blank during the freewrite, come back to the word and write it over and over (instead of nothing). Some examples: my body, apple tree, hummingbird, war, freedom, family, library, or museum.
Character freewriting helps you get to know your characters. There are two ways to do character freewrites. The first is to freewrite about the character. Write the character’s name across the top of the page, set your timer, and then write whatever comes to mind about the character. The second method for character freewriting is to write in first person as if you are the character. This brings you inside your character’s head to better understand his or her goals and motivations.
Solution freewriting is a technique for solving problems in your writing projects. Start by writing the problem across the top of the page. Try to form it into a question. Then write. Allow yourself to explore tangents and be emotional. You may find that you write yourself right into a solution. Some examples include the following: How can I explain the mystery I created for my story? What is missing from this poem? How can I better argue my position in this essay?
Freewrites are perhaps best known for generating raw material that can be harvested for poetry. The nature of stream-of-consciousness writing lends itself well to poetry because freewrites tend to produce unusual or vivid images and abstract ideas.
Freewrites are also perfect for daily writing practice, especially when you don’t have a larger project underway or need a break from your regular writing routine.
Looking for more creative writing writing exercises that will inspire you and sharpen your writing skills? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available at your favorite online bookstore.