If you’re like me, dear readers, then there are some days where you need a bit of prodding to get you into the writing mindset (and by some days, I mean every day). When this happens, I find that the best way to get back to writing my master piece a la Mr. Stallone up above is to do some writing exercises to get those creative juices flowing again. Since I know that a number of you will be participating in NaNoWriMo next month, I figured I’d share with you, dear readers, some of the exercises and prompts that have worked best for me or I’ve particularly enjoyed over the years.
Pick a book at random (don’t cheat! It’s more fun if it’s random), either on your bookshelf or on your eReader, then the first sentence of that book and make it the first sentence of a piece, which you have five minutes to write.
For example, for a recent podcast I did with a fellow writer I took the first line of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, which was “Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block?” I did this in order to get me into the mindset of one of my characters who is cuckolded. It should be noted that I tend to use environmental cues as jumping off points in speed exercises like this, and that there was a man playing a flute near me at the time. It should also be noted that I actually very much like flutists (my mother, a flutist, is going to kill me I tell her about this…)
Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block? No? Well too damn bad, because I’m going to anyway.
See, there was the flutist.
I hate, hate, HATE flutists. They’re so uppity, all “oh look at me I’m a cute little flutist watch me sound like pixies and fairies and be completely impractical and hit all the high notes that are sure to insight excruciating migraines on all of my victims, like you, sir who is scowling at me and holding your ears, let me just follow you around like the nuisance you’ve always found me to be because I am a cute little flutist and this is what I do.” I should pause here and say that this flutist was decidedly not cute, nor little, as he happened to be an obese meth head who had leprosy of the face and was in dire, dire need of a pair of dentures.
But I digress. This wasn’t actually the reason why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block; I just thought that sounded more eccentric than the actual reason, which was that my wife is a cheating whore and left me for a man who I am 90% sure played flute in high school.
Or maybe oboe.
No, definitely flute. Flutists are infinitely worse than oboe players.
But not bad enough to drive a man to jump off of a tower block. No, only whores are bad enough to do that. But flutists are bad enough to make you misjudge the height a tower block needs to be in order for the drop to be fatal, which was why, in my case, I am still here to tell you this rambly, tangental tale.
This one is similar to the First Line exercise. Pick the 7th book on your bookshelf (doesn’t matter what shelf), then open it up to the 7th page, pick the 7th sentence on that page, and write a 7-line poem or 7-sentence flash fiction.
This one is from one of my graduate program writing workshops, and was inspired by a Chekhov short story. Write a 500 word or less story that details the following scenario:
Character A and Character B dislike/hate each other and can’t stand to be around one another, but are both vying for the love of Character C.
One of the more obvious scenarios that meets this criteria is the classic love triangle, but you shouldn’t feel tied down to this idea. There are *plenty* of alternatives if the love triangle story doesn’t float your boat. For example, when I turned this in to class I made Characters A and B a cat and a dog, and Character C their neglectful owner.
Write for 300 words in all dialogue, no narrative descriptors, not even “he said” or “she said” tags. And no cheating by writing a long-winded monologue! The trick here is to make the characters’ voices distinct enough that readers know exactly who is talking when without needing tags, which you should be doing in all your writing in general.
Write a fully developed story in 140 characters or less. This is very much a practice in minimalism and the art of condensing. Less is almost always more in general, and this is a great way to get in that habit!
There are many of these 140 character stories floating around that you can find on Twitter, but here’s one of my favorite examples from 140 Characters:
Write a story in six words. This one is similar to the Twitter stories exercise, but is even more minimalistic. Try and make sure you have the story be as developed and full-circle as you possibly can with this one.
When you’re in a public place, eavesdrop on the people around you and write a flash fiction piece based off of one or two lines of dialogue that you hear.
This one can be really, really fun if you try to not pay attention to the context that these lines are said in; one time, I did this after hearing a teenage girl on a bus say this to her friend: “She was making out with, like, all these guys at the party, but she’s a nun!” So many fun things to do with something out of context like that!
Obviously, there are many, many more fun exercises and prompts here that I didn’t include. If any of your favorites weren’t included that you think should’ve been on here, please write me and let me know so I can make sure they’re in the next one. Happy writing, dear readers!