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Creative Writing Exercises

  • Creative Writing Exercises

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    Unless you are an accomplished typist, I recommend writing longhand for now. As you work on your writing, you want to let the words flow out of you and onto the page, unhampered by your limited typing speed. If you create a piece you really like and want to work on further, you can always type it into a computer document and revise it on the screen. As you type up work you like, your typing speed and skill will improve. Eventually you will be able to create the same flow with a keyboard that you now can with your writing hand.

    For now, though, choose simple paper and pen. Use a fancy journal or composition book if you like, or just a simple spiral-bound notebook. Buy a sexy fountain pen or just grab a lowly ballpoint from that mug by the phone. Any working pen and paper will do. After all, they are just tools. It is what you do with them that counts.

    Daily Practice

    The best way to improve your writing is to write every day. Think of your creativity as a system of muscles that you want to tone up and condition. Tennis players, runners, and other athletes practice their sports nearly every day, with perhaps one day off a week to rest and heal their muscles. If a long distance runner never ran except on race days, he might not even be able complete a race, never mind win one.

    Many would-be writers make the mistake of waiting for inspiration. I'll write a story, they say, when I get a good idea for one. But just as the sprinter whose long hours of physical conditioning give him the burst of speed at race time, the writer who conditions herself with regular writing finds her ideas coming more easily. Inspiration will come more readily to you as you hone your writing skills.

    There will be days when you sit down to write but feel you have absolutely nothing to say. On these days it is important to say something anyway. The runner gets up and runs when the weather is gloomy and his muscles are sore, and he'd rather be doing anything else but running. He knows that his discipline and conditioning will pay off later. Working your writing muscles gets you in shape for the day when the big inspiration does come.

    Exercise: Make a promise to yourself that you'll write every day for a week. Set aside a little time each day. Ideally it will be at the same time every day, but this is not crucial. Set a goal of filling two sides of a notebook page. When the time comes to write, sit down and do it. Fill those two pages with anything that comes to mind. Describe the room you're in, make a list of the things that make you happy, complain about your boss, write a letter to a friend. Anything at all. Don't worry about spelling or punctuation. Don't worry about choosing just the right words. Just write. Your goal is not inspired writing, but to fill up the page. When you reach your two page goal, you can stop, but you may want to keep going. Keep going as long as you like. Do this every day for a week, whether you feel like it or not; whether you are feeling inspired or not. At the end of the week, pat yourself on the back and take yourself out for dinner, or sleep in if you've been getting up early. Congratulations! You're now a writer.

    Read, Read, Read!

    All successful writers are avid readers. Immerse yourself in the world of words. If you do not already do so, commit not only to writing, but also to reading every day. If you have a specific form in mind, read widely in that form, but don't limit yourself. The poet learns things from reading novels. The playwright learns from reading short stories. Don't feel the need to actively absorb and learn from your reading. Don't stress yourself out, thinking, "I have to pay attention to how this writer constructs her paragraphs." Just read, and enjoy yourself. The learning happens unconsciously and naturally. There is a place for actively studying the work of writers you admire, but don't worry about that now.

    Your reading may inspire you to write stories or poems of your own, but at times, reading great literature may also intimidate or discourage you. You may ask yourself, how could I possibly ever write this well? Remember that the work you are reading may have been re-written a dozen times before it was published. Some writers do twenty drafts of a work before showing it to the world. Don't make the mistake of comparing published work to your first draft. And even if you aren't the likes of Ernest Hemingway (yet), there's still plenty of joy to be found in creative writing.

    You Have to Start Somewhere

    If you haven't written much before, it's hard to know where to start. How does one even come up with the thousands of words necessary to complete a short story, let alone ten times that number to write a novel? For now it is important to remember that you don't have to take on a huge project now. You may know you have a novel in you, but wait a bit before you try to bring it out. Do smaller exercises. Limber up your writing muscles. Write something short. If you can fill a page or five with words, you are closer to making that novel happen, than if you can't.

    Exercise: Two Settings. Get a paper and pen and find a comfortable place to sit. Think of a place you once visited. It can be as exotic as a café in Paris, or as mundane as the veterinarian's waiting room. Focus on it in your mind, and then begin to tell about it on paper. Use as many specific details as you can. What was the receptionist's name? What did she look like? What was she doing? What did the furniture look like? Engage all five senses. What sounds could be heard. How did the place smell? Was it warm and stuffy, or cold and damp? What was going on around you? Were people talking? What did they say? Record a bit of their conversation if you can remember it. Make something up if you can't. Try for two or three pages, or more if you like.

    Next, take yourself someplace you've never been. Try your favorite movie star's home, or an igloo in the Arctic Circle. Describe it in the same detail as you did the real location above. This time, of course, you have to make everything up. Don't worry about getting it right; just do your best to imagine the sights and sounds around you. What would the inside of an igloo look like? What would the people in it be doing? What sort of decorating does your movie star's home feature? How many rooms does it have, and is the place empty, or full of staff and hangers-on? What do they talk about when the star isn't listening? Try for two or three pages or more on this place, as well.

    Creative writing is a form of telepathy. When you see a place in your mind and describe it on paper, someone can read your writing and see the same place in his mind. Though no reader will imagine the scene exactly as you imagined it, there will still be similarities. Thus, your picture and story of a place travels from your mind to someone else's.

    All Work is Play

    Creative writing may sound like hard work. You need the discipline to show up and write regularly. Once you've written, you need to revise and polish. A longer work will take countless hours to complete. If you see writing as drudgery, you will avoid it. The key is to have fun. Play around with words. As a writer, you have the power to create and change universes.

  • A key to achieving this is to remember that what you write is private. While you may wish to share your writing with others, do so only when you choose to. You may imagine others looking over your shoulder, disapproving of what you write. We all have a critic inside ourselves who tells us what we are doing is no good. We will talk about gently nudging this critic out of our writing space. For now, remember that you can write anything you want, and no one will see it until you are ready for them to look.

    Exercise: Take one of the settings you wrote about above -- whichever strikes your fancy -- and make something improbable or impossible happen there. If you wrote about a veterinarian's office, have the animals start talking to one another. What would they say? Or have the King of Saudi Arabia sweep in with his entourage, demanding a doctor for his precious Corgi. In that igloo, imagine yourself dining on seal steaks with Abraham Lincoln or Leonardo da Vinci. What would you talk about? What would da Vinci think of such accommodations? Realize that you have the power to make anything you want happen on the page. Sometimes, the more outlandish your scene, the more creativity you will inspire yourself to bring to your work.
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