Whether you’re writing just for fun, for school, or with professional goals in mind, these exercises can all help you to improve your writing. Some will give you inspiration, others will help you avoid editing as you write, and many of them will help you pay closer attention to your word choices.
I hope you’ll enjoy giving them a go!
#1: Cover Your Screen While You Write
If you find yourself doing more editing than actual writing, then try covering up (or, on a laptop, turning down) your screen while you draft.
If, like me, you can touch-type – try closing your eyes instead. I find it surprisingly relaxing! (Though I tend to stop every sentence or two to make sure I’ve hit the keys I thought I was hitting…)
At first, it might seem odd not to be able to see the words that you’re typing – but you might well find that you write faster and express your thoughts more freely this way.
#2: Set a Daily Writing Goal and Track Your Progress
Writing, as most other crafts, only gets better with practice. If you want to improve, therefore, you will need to write pretty much every single day.
The best strategy to achieve this objective is to set a goal of how many words you want to write per day, and then to track your progress over time. A simple notebook or spreadsheet should be enough for you to record your daily statistics.
The Prolifiko blog has a great piece with more tips to set writing goals and resolutions and to make sure you achieve them.
#3: Use a Writing Prompt to Get You Going
If you want to write, but you don’t know what you want to write, try using a writing prompt. This could be anything from a story scenario (“write about someone who gets caught in a lie”) to a blog post title (“Ten Things I Wish I Could Tell My 15-Year-Old Self”).
Here are a couple of sources of prompts to keep you busy for a while:
25 creative writing prompts, a list of prompts you can use to start writing a simple story or even a novel.
365 Creative Writing Prompts, from Think Written – a mixed bag of prompts, with some for stories and some for poems; many would also work for blogging.
Even if you’re working on a longer piece, like a novel, prompts can be helpful. A line of dialogue, for instance, might give you just the inspiration you need for your next scene.
#4: Don’t Start at the Beginning … Start at the End
There’s no writing rule that says you need to begin at the beginning. In fact, many writers find it more effective to start at the end.
You can do this in a couple of different ways:
- Start your story (or blog post, etc) close to the chronological end – e.g. you might begin with “As I stared down the mountain, I couldn’t believe I was actually here…” You can then jump back in time and narrate the events that led up to that point.
- Write the end of your blog post (or story, etc) first. Once you’ve written your concluding paragraphs or final scenes, you’ll know what you’re leading up to. If you prefer not to write it out in full, you could make notes.
#5: Rewrite a Masterpiece or a Famous Story
Choose a famous masterpiece or classic novel (like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) and write your own version.
This is a great exercise because you can do it at almost any level: you could write a short story for children, or you could write a whole novel or screenplay. (Bridget Jones’s Diary, for instance, borrowed heavily from Pride and Prejudice; the children’s movie Gnomeo and Juliet is based, as you might guess, on Romeo and Juliet.)
You can do this with fairytales, too, like the story of Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood. You might decide to bring the stories into the modern world – or you might switch to a completely different genre, like a Western version of Little Red Riding Hood or a sci-fi version of Cinderella.
Hopefully, you’ll think of some interesting ways to present an old story in a new way – great practice for avoiding clichés and stereotypes in your own writing.
#6: Create a Found Poem from Your Spam Folder
A “found poem” is one created from text that already exists – and some writers enjoy repurposing spam emails for this!
Check your spam folder. I’m sure that, like mine, it’s full of emails with some strange wording and dubious promises like:
I did not need to find a winning product. he gave it to me…
Just drinking 1 cup of this delicious hot beverage in the morning sets you up to burn more fat than 45 exhausting minutes on the treadmill.
Hello %E-mail_address%, I know your very love Engineer Jobs and want have T-Shirt for Engineer Jobs.
It is vital to have a telephone system that has all the specific functions
(All of these are taken verbatim from my own spam folder…)
Could you pick out a few lines (they don’t have to be consecutive ones) to create your own found poem? Feel free to add some words if needed. There are some wonderfully odd examples here.
#7: Write Something Inspired By a Piece of Writing, Music or Art
Inspiration can come in all sorts of ways – but if you’re struggling to find an idea, try turning to other people’s creative works. In my blogging, I’ve often been inspired by other people’s post structures, by an idea of theirs that I want to take further – or even by something they’ve written that I disagree with.
You can use music and art in a similar way: they can be particularly potent sources of ideas for stories. If you have a favourite song or artist, what in their work speaks to you? How could you craft a story using some of those themes or thoughts? Alternatively, look through some photos of artworks, and choose one or more to use as the basis for a story.
#8: Interview Your Novel’s Characters
This is a fun exercise that a lot of writers use to dig into who their characters are: the character interview. You can work through a pre-set list of questions, or you can come up with your own in advance, or you can just start typing and go with the flow!
You might do this essentially like a character questionnaire or checklist, or you might want to write it more like a mini-story, with you as the author inviting your character to sit down and talk.
Depending on the sort of fiction you write, the setting for your interview could be almost anything – perhaps you’re enjoying a casual chat over coffee and cake with your character, or maybe you’re interviewing them as a journalist, or even in court. Or, if you’re into rather darker fiction, you might be conducting an interrogation…
However you do this, it’s a great exercise to have fun with, and you might discover a whole backstory to your character that you’d never thought about before.
#9: Use the Alphabet
This is a fun exercise that can work for almost any type of writing: craft a piece where each sentence starts with the next letter of the alphabet. Here’s the start of one to show you what I mean:
At six o’clock, Josie woke up. Before she’d even opened her eyes, she knew what had woken her: she could hear it, just like she’d heard it every Friday morning for months. Cliff, her neighbour, was out in his garden. Despite all the times she’d gone round and asked him, through gritted teeth, to please wait until at least seven, he was mowing the blasted lawn again.
“Excuse me!” she called, over the fence. For a moment, she thought he hadn’t heard her over the sound of the mower.
(Yes, it’s tricky once you get to X! You might find this list helpful, or you might choose to use a sentence-starting word that merely contains an X.)
#10: Write with a Sentence Length Limit in Place
Can you limit every sentence you write to ten words? (Or fewer!) This might be tricky. It’s a great exercise for bloggers and online marketers, though. Short snappy sentences and paragraphs work well online.
You might want to draft as normal, then edit ruthlessly. Or you could count the words as you type. Whatever works for you!
(Yes, the sentences in this section are ten words max…)
#11: Write Without Using Any Adverbs
This is a common exercise advised for fiction writers: write a whole scene without using a single adverb.
Adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives and adverbs. They often (though not always) end with –ly.
Here are a few sentences with the adverbs indicated in bold:
The girl walked quickly to school. (“Quickly” is modifying the verb “walked”.)
Slowly, the fairly tall man stood. (“Slowly” is modifying the verb “stood”, and “fairly” is modifying the adjective “tall”)
On the bus, the baby cried dismayingly loudly. (“Dismayingly” is modifying the adverb “loudly”, and “loudly” is modifying the verb “cried”.)
Writing without adverbs forces you to write crisper, clearer (and shorter!) sentences, which often have more impact. In particular, you’ll find yourself choosing stronger verbs.
All of these sentences could replace “The girl walked quickly to school” – and each has a slightly different nuance:
- The girl strode to school.
- The girl hurried to school.
- The girl power-walked to school.
Of course, adverbs aren’t bad in themselves – so I don’t recommend avoiding them in all your writing! This exercise can help you, though, to be more aware of when you’re using adverbs unnecessarily.
Pick one of the above exercises to try out during your writing time this week. (If you’re feeling up for it, pick two and combine them – how about rewriting a classic without using any adverbs?) Have fun!