Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Priming the Pump: Writing Exercises

I don’t know a writer who doesn’t experience times when the ideas flow freely, and times when the creative juices dry up. We all need a kitbag full of strategies to prime the pump.

From writing groups, workshops, and other sources, I’ve come across a few good quick writing exercises here and there. I like to use them when I’m feeling stale and uncreative, when I need to solve a problem with a manuscript, or sometimes just for fun. Here are a few of my favourites:

1. Free writing. I think every writer does this once in a while, for good reason. It’s a great way to unblock and release your muse. Simply take a picture or a word as a starting point, set a time limit – one minute, five minutes – and WRITE. That’s the only rule. You cannot stop writing, even if you write the same word ten times. It’s as simplistic as it sounds, but you just might amaze yourself with what you produce.

2. Write a scene using DIALOGUE ONLY. No body language, no description, no narrative. I had a lot of fun with this one writing a dialogue between two partially deaf people who kept misunderstanding each other. It really gets you thinking about how to show instead of telling.

3. Think of a character as different from yourself as you can imagine, and write a scene showing that person getting up in the morning and starting their day.

4. Take a very familiar scene, like your bedroom or backyard, and write about a blind person in that setting. I’ve mentioned this one before, and it’s a great way to get away from dependence on visuals and learn to include all the senses in description.

5. Take a scene you’ve already written, with two characters, and write it in the other character’s point of view. I did this with several scenes in McShannon’s Chance. It helped me figure out if I really had written those scenes in the POV of the character with the most to lose.

6. Tell a story in ten words or less, newspaper headline style. The best one of these I’ve ever seen: ‘Spinster aunt sold wedding dress today.’

Hope you enjoy this, and may your muse be kind! Feel free to add to this list if you have ideas.


  1. Great ideas. I'm always looking for different ways to start writing so have enjoyed reading your list.

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Sarah. I find it interesting how putting restrictions on ourselves can actually free our creativity.

  3. 'It helped me figure out if I really had written those scenes in the POV of the character with the most to lose.'

    Great idea, Jennie! I'm totally going to use this one.

  4. Hi Julia, that idea saved me in the scene where Trey tells Beth his deep, dark secret - I wrote it from her POV because I wanted readers to feel for him like she did, but then when I wrote it in his POV I saw that that's how it had to be because he experienced it.

  5. Great ideas! We should try some of those at the retreat. :)

  6. Ann, Kelly, thanks for dropping by! Yes, Kelly, it would be fun to do some of these at the retreat.