50 Excellent Writing Exercises to Cultivate Your Creativity & Craft

Posted June 10, 2010

If you’re a good writer, you can succeed in any industry, no matter what kind of online degree you have. But even great writers sometimes have trouble organizing their work, polishing up the details, or even picking a cohesive idea to write about. Here are 50 excellent writing exercises to help cultivate your creativity and craft, from brainstorming to beating writer’s block and remembering your motivation.

Brainstorming and Organization

Try these brainstorming exercises to map out your ideas, spur on your creativity, and plan your project.

  1. Levels: Break down your topic sentence or main theme into levels to create subtopics and then single terms that you can explore individually with lists, charts or free-writing.
  2. Free-writing: This traditional form of brainstorming involves writing down anything that comes to your mind even if you don’t think it makes sense. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down everything.
  3. Be a journalist: Ask the questions a journalist would ask if he or she were covering your story. This will help you develop a logical plot.
  4. Close your eyes: This exercise worked for little kids and could help you, too. Close your eyes and think of keywords you’d like to expand upon, then open your eyes and write down your strongest memories and responses.
  5. Describe any object in great detail: This brainstorming exercise challenges you to play with adjectives, make up metaphors, and study the nature of an object.
  6. Choose a challenge: Make a list of challenges and then build your story around solving it.
  7. Organize all the pieces visually: Whether it’s your to-do list, character family tree or essay research, map out your pieces visually on a chart.
  8. Brain Writing: This group exercise involves writing down your ideas on a piece of paper, passing it to a facilitator, who then passes them back out in random order. Each person in the group will spend a few minutes adding on to the original idea or story, then passes it on to the next person.
  9. Consider all the senses: Write down all the senses you’d experience if you were witnessing the scene in your story.
  10. Plan projects week by week: Angela Booth recommends that multi-tasking writers schedule writing projects week by week in order to stay organized.

Writer’s Block

When you feel like procrastinating or just can’t get past your insecurities and anxiety, use these exercises to get back to the page.

  1. Use prompts: Print out and then cut up these prompts to store in a writer’s block box. Pull one out whenever you have trouble starting a project or even a scene.
  2. Change up your environment: If you’re stuck at the same desk all day, it will be hard to get your mind out of your rut, too. Go sit outside or even try the library for some added inspiration.
  3. Write a letter: When you have trouble with your style or with developing a story, try writing it in letter form first.
  4. What? So What? Now What?: In this exercise, ask yourself what topic you want to explore. Write down all your answers, then ask yourself "So what?" Write a more analytical page about the topic, and then finally ask yourself "Now what?" to reach a more conclusive point or idea.
  5. Write the worst thing that could happen if you write your story: If you can’t think of any ideas beyond your procrastination or writer’s block, use that as your guide.
  6. Write: The most obvious exercise is to keep writing. You won’t get anywhere if you just sit there.
  7. Write outside of your routine: Experiment with different genres, points of views and character types to spice things up.
  8. Try block writing: Write in timed blocks instead of getting hung up on single sentences or editing paragraphs. You’re not allowed to go back and change anything, only to propel the story.
  9. Play with crayons: In this exercise, you’ll get your frustration out by coloring on a blank sheet of paper and then have to write about the colors and what they mean to you.
  10. Write for fun: Take a break from your serious project and answer a silly writing prompt so that you’re still practicing your craft.

Games

Find a mixture of online, group and individual games that will help you play with words and find inspiration for your stories.

  1. 3 Perspectives: Challenge yourself to look at your topic from three different perspectives: its description, its history and evolution, and how it’s "mapped:" who and what it’s related to.
  2. Link Love Mad Libs: Bloggers should write a post but leave in blanks for links they want to share. Then they can fill them in so that the anchor text is the name of the partner blog. See how this blogger did it.
  3. Write a legacy brick: On a legacy brick, you have limited space to write something important and to the point. Write legacy bricks for different characters or events to practice being concise.
  4. The Opposite Game: Every time you think of an adjective, come up with a creative opposite.
  5. I Have a Secret: Another group activity, this game instructs everyone to write down a secret on a piece of paper, then fold it up and toss it into a container. Mix up all the secrets then take turns picking one out. You’ll end up using someone else’s secret as inspiration for your story.
  6. Electronic poetry: This game is like magnetic poetry on the computer.
  7. Etymologic: Learn about word history and usage here.
  8. Text Twist: This game is sort of like Scrabble and Boggle put together.
  9. Free Rice: This vocab game has a philanthropic twist and can help you get out of your word rut.
  10. Bookworm: Learn definitions of weird words that can add interest to your writing.

Language and Grammar

Choose better words and strengthen sentences with these exercises.

  1. A Day Without Modifiers: This writing challenge requires you to write scenes without adjectives or adverbs.
  2. Use the dictionary as your prompt: Open up the dictionary and blindly put your finger anywhere on the page. Whatever word you’ve picked out — no matter how weird or complicated it is — write a paragraph about it, not just using it in a sentence. You’ll work on your vocabulary this way too.

Style

Draw readers in with your unique, perfected style after working with these exercises.

  1. Describe your audience: Write a list of qualities about your target audience, and then refer to that list to make sure your style will appeal to them and matches your story.
  2. Use active voice: Read about the difference between active and passive voice and why active can make your writing stronger.
  3. Get the stereotypes out of your system: If you want your entire piece to read like a cliché, avoid stereotypes. You can get them all out of your system on a scratch sheet of paper and then move on to something more original.
  4. Think about what you like to read: Think about your favorite authors and genres and why you’re drawn to them.
  5. Experiment with other writers’ styles: Then, pick the elements that came most naturally to you and use them in your writing.

Editing

Just because you have a draft doesn’t mean you’re finished. These editing exercises will teach you to improve grammar, wording, and even story lines.

  1. Cut out all unnecessary words: If you can imagine the sentence without the word, cut it.
  2. Read out loud: You’ll find spelling, grammar and even logic mistakes more quickly this way.
  3. Move scenes around: If you usually write in chronological order, change scenes around for a more creative plot line and rhythm.
  4. Give each sentence the key word test: To make sure your work is clear and concise, check each sentence for the right key word.
  5. Double check point of view: If your story’s point of view isn’t consistent, it throws off the whole story and tone.

Inspiration

Find more inspiration and motivation when you explore the following writing exercises.

  1. Find out what motivates you: This exercise asks you to create a goal that inspires you and then find four realistic ways to achieve it.
  2. Bring the story to life: Connect yourself to your main character by wearing an accessory or piece of clothing he or she would wear.
  3. Read: Read newspapers, magazines, blogs, books, poems and essays to feed your imagination.
  4. Use one of the seven basic plots of literature: Model a story off of the basic plots commonly used, like man vs. nature, man vs. self, or man vs. the supernatural. Then, choose one of Ronald Tobias’ 20 master plot themes like escape, underdog, temptation or forbidden love.
  5. Journal your dreams: Each morning, write down what you remember from your dreams and use this journal as inspiration for future writing.
  6. Write what you don’t know: Stretch your imagination and challenge yourself to write characters you know nothing about. You’ll improve your research skills this way, too.
  7. Highlight the word "that": Go through your draft highlighting the word "that" every time you use it and try to eliminate it each time.
  8. Change the ending of an existing story: If you change the ending, it changes the whole story. Think about a story line from a TV show, movie or book, change the ending, and then rewrite the story with different characters.

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