So you’ve executed all of the suggestions available out there for beating writer’s block: read a thousand books, took a walk (or a nap), removed all distractions, danced to your favorite song, and enjoyed some spicy tacos (wait, just me?).
All of these important activities can keep your writing mind sharp. But, if you’ve gone through all these exercises and your brain is still filled with the fuzzy fluffies, maybe it’s time to sit down and do some actual writing.
I’ve come across some pretty creative writing exercises out there, such as writing a letter to your bestie and describing in excruciating detail every annoying trait about him or her. (Obviously, you don’t want to send it, unless you’re looking for an excuse to end the relationship. Or start a fight. Which might make some good writing material. But I digress.)
I’ve obtained a collection of a few offbeat exercises that I employ when I’m beating my head against the wall for ideas.
Try these methods to get those creative springs bubbling.
Write Some Fanfiction
Fanfiction isn’t just for bored middle-aged housewives. If you’ve got a favorite television series, movie, or book (I’ve even seen fanfic written about famous, real folks like sports figures), then this might be the practice for you.
Take the characters from your favorite fandom and create new relationships, settings, and plots that are different from canon (that’s the official material in the fictional universe for all you non-geeks out there).
In this case, there’s no need to come up with brand new characters or settings; just use the already-created characters in your fandom and let your imagination fly. Didn’t like the end of the Harry Potter series? Write an new one! (I always thought Hermione should have ended up with Draco, but whatever.) For added challenge, try keeping your characters in character while they’re placed in entirely new situations.
Please note, if you’re interested in sharing your work on some of the fanfiction sites, keep in mind there may be legal issues involved with using (borrowing, ripping off?) someone else’s created character. I prefer to keep my stories to myself and just apply them as a useful writing exercise, but keep this in mind before sharing publicly.
Create Opposite Characters
Create two characters that are opposites of each other in terms of physical traits, personality, family life, age, etc.
If I have difficulty getting started with this one, I may use a real person that I’m well-acquainted with — a friend or family member — and create my opposite character from him or her. If my friend is an extroverted, easy going, single baby-boomer guy, I’ll invent a character that is a young female introverted wife and mother who stresses about everything (um, I may have just invented myself. Except the young part.).
Once you have your opposite characters, create a situation (real or imagined) where you, in turn, place your character and real person. Let the characters lead you to write how they would react and act differently (or possibly similar in some respects?) in that same situation.
Invent Nonsense Phrases and Words
This can be fun. Set a timer for 15 minutes — or whatever time you want — and combine words to create nonsense phrases or sentences. Flaming glove. Creative pooch. Standard bath onions. They don’t even have to be real words (swillowy and benaptic). Keep putting them down on paper or screen until your timer rings.
Keep track of how many words and phrases you come up with. Each time you do the exercise, try to come up with more than the previous time.
This can be more difficult than it seems. Our brains are so limited by what we we perceive as “real,” that it’s difficult for our imaginations to break out of that. But breaking away from that perception is what the exercise accomplishes. Your words and phrases may or may not be pretty, but it will stretch your brain biceps.
Write a Story About Last Night’s Dream
Sometimes I think dreaming is the process of our minds drawing out stories from the Universe that we’re not able to access while we’re awake and distracted with life stuff. These are stories that desire to be told, so don’t ignore them.
If you’re able to remember your dreams, they can be a spark for creativity. If you have weird dreams like I do (I once dreamed about a giant octopus that lived on the roof of my old elementary school — I’m not making this up), they become fuel for something interesting and wonderful.
Maybe you only remember snippets of your dreams. That’s OK. If it helps your memory, keep a dream journal and pen next to your bed to write down your dreams immediately upon waking.
Sell Ice Cubes to an Eskimo
Why not try your hand at a little copywriting? The process of writing advertising for products and services can be a helpful exercise, even if you’re only into writing fiction. The objective is to persuade your “customers” into thinking they desperately need the product/service you’re advertising; that they can’t live without it. The challenge lies in explaining how the product will improve their lives.
You may have a lot of success writing copy for a product you like, but to up the difficulty, try it for a product or service that you despise (ahem, pineapple pizza).
There are plenty of methods to help crumble writer’s block. But to get right down to it, you must write. Writing exercises and prompts can be the WD-40 to get your creative cogs turning, even (and especially) if you don’t ever share them.
By writing without the expectation of publication or sharing with others, it allows our writing to become freer. We can even give ourselves permission to write garbage. ANY writing at all can become the cure for writer’s block.
Please share your favorite writing exercises in the comments!