This morning, I spent four hours in a coffee shop. I had with me my trusty notebook and pen; ready to write and let the words flow
And then… nothing.
I think everyone, whether you’re creative or not, has found themselves stuck in a rut. Pursuing creativity, in particular, can be overwhelming when you have no idea where to start. So instead of working on my fiction, I wrote down several creative writing exercises I like to use to help me get rid of writer’s block.
Before I continue, let’s lay down some foundations.
1) Overnight success is a myth.
Yes, sometimes it happens, but statistically it’s incredibly rare- which is why they make headlines about it at all! For the rest of us mere mortals, becoming a successful writer takes many years of practice and a great deal of determination.
2) Write first, edit later.
I’m sure you must have heard this one before! It can be tempting to correct every typo and other mistakes as you go, but doing so will slow down your writing and distracts you from creating more. Remember that a first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, it only has to exist. Besides, even if it really is awful, no one needs to see it besides you. Old drafts can be kept and recycled for future use- nothing is wasted!
3) Creativity is a muscle.
And like all muscles, the more you train it, the stronger it gets.
4) All writing advice is rubbish
And yes, that includes this list. At the end of the day, everyone is different, and creativity can’t be manufactured. So if you find that what works for you contradicts everything I’ve just said, then go for it.
Now that’s all out of the way, let’s get on with the creative writing exercises! View each one as an experiment to help you get out of your rut. Don’t think about the end result, your aim is just to keep pen to paper.
1) Write to music.
Probably the most obvious one, but these days it’s extremely easy to create your own playlists on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube and many more. It’s no secret that music has a big effect on our mood. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson likes to play Puccini’s “Humming Chorus” during sad, thoughtful scenes to help his actors get in the right mood. Likewise, putting on Hans Zimmer’s’ movie soundtracks as you write an intense battle scene might help you create the right atmosphere in your writing.
2) People watch.
For obvious reasons, this exercise works best when you’re in public. Find a place to sit and observe, and invent the stories behind the strangers that you see. Perhaps the little old lady sipping on her coffee is a retired super spy. Maybe the barista has magic powers. Fill in the other half of a phone call from the man next to you. Write the story behind why the middle aged man is so desperate to leave. The options are endless.
3) Write fanfiction.
Fanfiction might be associated with passionate fangirls, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It only means that they love something so much they’re willing to write novel-length fiction in their spare time for free. If that’s not worth applauding, I don’t know what is. Choose your favourite book or film and develop the back story of a minor character. Explore a ‘what if’ question: what if the main character had been female instead of male? What if it was set in India, not England? What if I told this story from another character’s perspective? What if they were really an alien and didn’t know it? And throw in some vampire and werewolves because why the hell not? Sure, maybe these story ideas have been done before, but not by YOU.
4) Find an old photo, whether it’s from a family photo album or a questionable website. Write the story behind the photo.
5) Think of a nursery rhyme and invent the story behind the lyrics.
6) Likewise, invent the explanation behind an old wives tale, or behind a popular phrase.
Give yourself a set amount of time, from five minutes to an hour. Keep writing within that time, no matter what the topic. Even if it’s just describing what you had for breakfast, it can be enough to trigger your creative flow again.
8) Describe a ‘first’
First day at school, first kiss, first time getting drunk. If you think the true story is too boring, embellish it all you want. It’s fiction, after all!
9) Find a word in the dictionary, or from a foreign language, that you don’t know. Invent the definition of it.
10) Write a letter to the past or future you. What advice, if any, would you give?
Obviously there are many more writing exercises out there, but this is just a short list. If you have any other exercises that you like, please feel free to let me know in the comments below. I hope this helped you!