creative writing exercises
July 9, 2007 8:00 PM   Subscribe

Give me some exercises for creative writing.

Exercises have always helped me in all disciplines to develop my skills while maintaining focus because of the limitations given. I'd like some good exercises for creative writing, specifically ones that impose challenging constraints, as problem-solving seems to be the most productive way of learning for me.

Thanks for your help, and if you have something that doesn't quite fit the criteria but that you think is great anyway, feel free to post it.
posted by invitapriore to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 123 users marked this as a favorite
Open up a newspaper to the local section; for each headline, write ~500 words that led to it.

Pick a sentence out of a book. Use some random system (numbers on cards?) to select a word from that sentence. Begin a sentence with that word. Repeat, etc.

Go to a supermarket, pick a person going through the express checkout, and 'figure out' why they're buying what they are, why the need it, and why they're slightly ashamed to be seen buying it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:08 PM on July 9, 2007

Best answer: Daily five minute writing exercises. Worked for me.
posted by schroedinger at 8:10 PM on July 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm in a writing workshop right now. I thought the following exercise was helpful:

Think of two of your characters in a particular setting. Write some notes about the two characters (name, age, etc) and their setting (time of day, outside/inside). Then write one sentence in response to each prompt. The piece should read as a continuous whole:

1. A sentence with a wall or boundary in it.
2.A sentence with weather in it (air, temp)
3. A sentence with a sound in it
4. A sentence with a gesture in it
5.A line of dialogue of six words or less
6. A sentence with light in it
7. A line of dialogue of ten words or more
8. A sentence with a ceiling or floor in it
9. A sentence with texture in it
10. A sentence with an object smaller than a hand in it
11. A sentence with an allusion to literature or art in it.
12. A sentence fragment.
13. A sentence with a piece of furniture in it
14. A line of dialogue that is a question.
16. A sentence with a hand or fingers in it
17. A sentence with a dash in it
18. A sentence with an allusion to a current event in it
19. A sentence with a metaphor in it
20. A line of dialogue that is whispered
posted by nameless.k at 8:11 PM on July 9, 2007 [5 favorites]

The Raymond Chandler exercise we did in college: Take any piece of your writing, and pick a random spot. At that spot, have two men with guns enter the room. Start writing a new story from that spot.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:20 PM on July 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure if you're working mainly on poetry or fiction or what, but in either case, if you can exhaust Bernadette Mayer's list you might want to try Charles Bernstein's list.
posted by sleevener at 8:31 PM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know I have answers to this question. They're just all in a storage box I can't get to at the moment. There are some I need to revisist myself, so I'd be happy to get back to you.

In the meantime, the Creative Writer's Handbook is full of exercises.
posted by youngergirl44 at 8:38 PM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

A paragraph without using any conjugation of "to be".
posted by brujita at 9:16 PM on July 9, 2007

Best answer: A sestina in iambic pentameter. Even if your ultimate goals are in prose, it's valuable for the sake of rephrasing and of rhythm.
posted by eritain at 9:36 PM on July 9, 2007

I often use The Poets Companion, In the Palm of Your Hand, and The Practice of Poetry for my workshops. I find them to be excellent resources.
posted by theantikitty at 9:41 PM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Great thread- thanks for posting this!

One exercise from Creative Writing class I found useful is to write the first and last lines of a story. Take it from there.

A really cool (a bit of an emotional wringer) exercise involves imagining a particularly tense, heated scene, maybe an argument you had with someone.

Now write about what happened from the other person's p.o.v. I gave this one to my student and the light went on for him.

Playing with p.o.v. is always interesting, e.g. personification- what would a piece be like from the point of view of a goat? Or a park bench? Or an alien?
posted by solongxenon at 12:12 AM on July 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

In 90 seconds, write down all the words you associate with a hospital.

At the end of the 90 seconds, write a story using all the words, but not setting it in a hospital.
posted by mdonley at 12:44 AM on July 10, 2007

look into the oulipo. oulipo compendium, harry mathews ed./atlas press is a good place to start.
posted by juv3nal at 2:15 AM on July 10, 2007

My writing mentor swears by Bernadette Meyers' list posted above by Sleevener.

Also you didn't ask, but you might be interested in Auden's cure for writer's block. Go back up the paper to the last line you wrote that grabs you. Now, write that line over and over. Before you've written it ten times your writers' consciousness stream shall kick in again by Jack's magic beans.
posted by bukvich at 5:25 AM on July 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Brian Kiteley has some really interesting exercises here...kind of like the John Gardner exercises, if you're familiar with those.

He, in turn, links "Thirteen Writing Prompts" from McSweeney's, which is hilarious and, very occasionally, tempting.
posted by gnomeloaf at 5:43 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lots of awesome suggestions here for "writer's block" (personally I think there's no such thing) and idea generation.

I double solongxenon's suggestion about POV. If Im looking to flesh out a dry scene or get a handle on my character's emotions, I often start writing out questions as though they were being asked by a 6 year old; "Why is that man yelling? Why is that lady crying? Why is that chair broken?"

Another good thing to try when your narrative is stuck is to "raise the stakes". Whatever situation your protagonist is in, make it worse for her/him. Drive your character to action, using any means necessary.

I'm surprised no one has brought up Absinthe yet. Should be in every writer's toolbox (whereby "toolbox" I mean "liquor cabinet").
posted by angry.polymath at 6:37 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

My favorite exercises come from John Gardner's The Art of Fiction. There's a whole section of them in the back, for individuals and for groups.
posted by ourobouros at 7:15 AM on July 10, 2007

Best answer: A daily writing prompt, for example, "Your favorite possession has climbed to the top of the Empire State Building and is threatening to jump. Talk your beloved item out of jumping by expressing your love and letting it know why it's so important to you."

"More prompts than you'll ever be able to write about" has a bunch of links to other sites that list writing prompts.
posted by vytae at 7:38 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I found Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones to be the most useful work I've ever read on this topic. (Plus you can get it used for a penny!!)
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:04 AM on July 10, 2007

Automatic writing can be a good exercise to dust off some inner cobwebs and stimulate the imagination. Just start writing with the first thing that pops into your head, and don't stop until your brain runs out of words.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:32 AM on July 10, 2007

Write an alternative ending to an episode of your favorite TV show.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:33 PM on July 10, 2007

Response by poster: Great stuff, all of it. Thanks!
posted by invitapriore at 11:19 AM on July 11, 2007

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