10 Writing Exercises to Tighten Your Writing

By Brittiany Cahoon

Writing projects can be like children. You love them dearly, but sometimes they irritate you to the point that you just need a break. Working on something fresh and new can invigorate your mind and give you a new approach to your work. These exercises can work for any genre of writing, fiction and non-fiction alike.

1. Free Association

This is probably the most popular writing exercise to get the juices flowing. Pull up a new Word document, take a deep breath and just write whatever comes to mind. Dig as deep as you can into your subconscious and don’t worry about what comes out. Sometimes there’s a mental blockage with something that’s been bothering you, so it helps to write it down and get it out of your system.

2. Think Outside the Box

Think of something you’re passionate about, like a hobby or a love interest, and write everything you know about it. Sometimes writing slumps happen and it helps to write about something you love. Even if you just write a paragraph, it’s better to write something that’s not your current project. This will rejuvenate you to re-start on your current project.

3. Sharpen the Saw

Something I love to do when I’m stuck is read another author’s work, especially an author who writes in the same style or format as my current project. If you’re writing fantasy, read some Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. If you’re writing a biography, try taking a look at some biographies of your favorite actors or writers. Escaping into someone else’s world for a bit can relax you enough to delve into your own imaginary world again.

4. Use the Musical Muse

Writers feel their work, and when you can quite describe what you’re feeling on paper, it can be frustrating. Get out your ipod or computer, put on your earphones and find some songs that appeal to you and the scene or piece you’re working on. Grooveshark.com and Pandora.com are two websites that offer free, instant music streaming to get those juices flowing.

5. Mad Libs

Choose one noun, adjective and verb. Make them as random as possible. Write a story using these words in context. You can also do this exercise with a fellow writer and give each other your noun, adjective and verb to see what you both come up with.

6. Eavesdropper

This is a wonderful exercise if you struggle to write natural dialogue between your characters. Sit in a public place like a park or at your local college campus and listen to the things people say as they walk by. Take copious notes and share them with other writers. This exercise is also great if you need a laugh.

7. Use Writing Prompts

A writing prompt is simply a topic around which you start jotting down ideas. The prompt could be a single word, a short phrase, a complete paragraph or even a picture, with the idea being to give you something to focus upon as you write. You can find examples and resources about on our Writing Prompts 101 article.

8. Person, Place, Event

If you’re in the middle of coming up with some new ideas, this exercise can help. Get a piece of paper and a pen and draw two lines down the middle to form three columns. In the first column, list every type of person you can think of, such as the police, firemen, grandparents, your spouse, a princess or whatever comes to mind. Next, think of a variety of places. It can range from the grocery store to Ireland. In the last column, list a time period or famous historical event like the Battle of Gettysburg or the year 1492. Combine a person, place and event and experiment with writing about that particular situation. You can try as many as you like!

9. Research Rendezvous

Select a random topic, like the African Bush or squids and look it up on as many reference sites as you can find. Dictionary.com, thesaurus.com, Wikipedia.org and about.com are some research sites you can begin with. Learn as much as you can about this new topic. Keep a file for research notes.

10. A New Point of View

Pick a genre or point of view you have never tried before and write a short story with it. If you normally use third-person point of view, switch to first-person. If you normally focus on non-fiction, branch out and write some fiction. If you normally write sappy romances, give action/adventure a try. It’s scary to leave your comfort zone, but you’d be surprised the kind of inspiration you get when you switch perspective.

10 Responses to “10 Writing Exercises to Tighten Your Writing”

  • Kalyani

    A wonderful exercise in itself. Tried the musical muse and worked great. Every song has a capacity to evoke an emotion inside is. Writing about that was uncomfortable, because it’s like exposing yourself. Quite a task, enjoyable nonetheless..

  • Brittiany

    Thanks Kirc! I’m so glad someone said something about Lord of the Rings because you’re right-people are always referring to Twilight. And I don’t hate you for not liking Twilight-I’m not a huge fan myself LOL!

  • Kirc Nelson

    These are really great writing exercises! Thanks!

    I just have to notice how you intelligently suggested reading Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings when writing fantasy; other writers would often couple Harry Potter with the Twilight books. hahaha [FYI, I don’t like Twilight and please don’t hate me for not liking it. LOL]

  • Stephen Thorn

    RE: Person, Place, Event — I’ve long suspected that’s how the entertainment tabloids come up with material. Three boxes, one labeled PERSON, one PLACE, and one EVENT, and fill the boxes with names of current paparazzi-meal (Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, Kate Goselyn, etc.), glamorous places (St. Tropez, Hollywood, etc.) and the last with events and milestones (pregnancy, death, arrested for…, etc.), then pick one or two cards out of each box and make up a story.

    But I digress.

    Good article, Brittany. May I also suggest the REVERSE of “Think[ing] Outside the Box” — instead of choosing something you are drawn to (like the hobby or love interest you cite) pick something you hate, despise, can’t stand, and abhor. Might be a particular food you can’t stomach, political position or person that gets your goat, etc. Strong emotions of any kind are fertile ground for writing ideas, so get grossed-out or angry and take it out on some paper!

    As for sharpening the saw, may I suggest you read outside your regular genre? This may not only jumpstart your writing but you may also discover a new interest and/or ability. Maybe you’ve never written a romance, for example, but if you read a good bodice-ripper you may find you like them and upon trying discover that you’re good at writing them too. Hey, what could it hurt?

  • Garrison

    P.S. In the above: “nonetheless.”

  • Garrison

    When I hit a block I find that it helps me to lose my mind and come to my senses. We are conditioned to live in our heads so much that we often overlook the simple things. Close your eyes. Feel the weight of the sun on your open palms, or run your fingers over different grades of sandpaper, or listen to the “white noise” between the radio stations. Soak in a hot bath. Listen to the water drip, drip, dripping from the faucet. Run your tongue over the surface of your teeth. Ever notice how they feel like they must be huge in your mouth?

    Writing poetry is also a must for creative writers, IMHO. Many years of writing court reports, letters to fellow professionals, and journal articles left my writing style clipped and telegraphic. I had lost all my rhythm and flow and my understanding of the sound of words and the power of words to create colors and images in the reader’s mind. So I started writing poetry and discovered a whole new love. While my fiction remains unpublished, my poetry has been published, not widely or to great fanfare, but it has seen print none the less. And my fiction, my ability to paint pictures and draw the reader in, has grown by bounds.

  • Steve-Personal Success Factors

    Love this list. One of the one may want to consider, as well, particularly for non-fiction blog assignments, is the mind map. I’m a very visual person, so creating a mind map gets my brain going during a dry spell 🙂

  • Terry A McNeil

    This article is very helpful as certainly most of us hit the wall from time to time for a variety of reasons when writing in whatever context. Thanks for your ideas.

    Here are a few tactics I use to stimulate and guide the journey of a particular work. I am sure there are “many more”. Each of us is different in terms of what works best for us. For interest, you may wish to share these tactics with your readers at some point.

    Create Discourse. A healthy exchange of ideas with a friend helps to envigour your focus and inspiration regardless of what stage of completion your work is at. This is fun too I find bringing a little sense of fun to what you are doing truely sparks the related juices.

    Write Poetry. This is premised on the generally accepted differences between right and left side brain cognitives. For me, narrative writing requires a rigorous application of organization, analytic and other similar cognitive skills. Poetry helps to tap into the creative cognitives, thereby adding a flow, color and spark to dry non-fiction writings. My goal in the end is to create a harmony of these two constructs that will make ideas flow with more life and effectiveness to the audience. So the words then become great actors in a play on an engaging and lively stage. More fun stuff.

    Take a break. If you have been pouring it out for hours or days. Don’t feel guity about or regret taking a break. This is a judgement call that is relative to each person and situation. But a fresh, relaxed and energetic sense may renew your vision and help bring together the best of elements that create a much better result.

    Just Having Fun


  • Rebecca

    Excellent exercises! I to use ‘Sharpen the Saw’ because it provides a guideline on how you can approach a story. It helps to read what others have done to give you an idea if your story is marketable.

  • TrafficColeman

    Just buckle down and put your fingers to the key board and start blabbing your words..its all about getting the ball rolling..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

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