Creative Writing Exercises to Improve Your Writing
Anyone can write, that’s a fact. But good writing is truly a craft. It’s a skill that must be practiced and honed continuously. The more you write, the easier it becomes. But there are some creative writing exercises that you can do regularly that will improve your writing and thus improve the experience for the reader.
Brainstorming is one of the many essential creative writing exercises that amateur and professional writers can both benefit from, and one we have discussed extensively before.
First Line/Last Line Inspiration
Stack up five to ten books similar to the type of book you’re writing. Read the first lines of each book then write the first line in your book, keeping in mind that the goals are to engage the reader and set the scene.
Pick a book, copy the first line of the book onto a piece of paper or into your word processor. Read the last line of the book. Now write down your own notes on how the story or book went from that first line to the last.
Write one word followed by the next word that pops into your head, and the next, and then the next. Keep writing down words that pop into your head even if they don’t seem related. You can do word association in list form or with the first word in the middle and subsequent words going out like spokes around it. Or you can just write the words anywhere on the page as they come to mind. There are also multiple apps that are useful for word association. Once you have your word cluster or list, reread them and see if a scene comes to mind.
Prime Your Muse
Reread the content you wrote the day before to refresh your memory and remind yourself of where you left off. For some people, re-typing the words they wrote the day before can be a way of warming up their muse. You retype or rewrite what you wrote the day before as fast as you can, no editing and no stopping allowed. This serves to prime your muse pump so to speak so when you reach the end of what you wrote the day before, you are in the flow and you just keep writing.
Create “Realistic” Characters
The characters are the backbone of your story, and there are several creative writing exercises that can help you to nail this aspect to a tee.
People Watch and Eavesdrop
Go to a public place where there are a lot of people, like the local coffee shop or the mall. Find a comfortable spot in the open where you have a good view of people moving through. Take notes on what you see and what you hear. Phrases, outfits, quirky characteristics. That guy who walked with the Where’s Waldo looking glasses or the mom with her three children all dressed in matching outfits, the elderly couple walking hunched over but still hand in hand. Take detailed notes. Then go home and either make up a life for someone that you saw or use the phrases and quirks that you spotted to give your existing characters more depth.
Get into Your Character’s Head
Creating realistic characters is tough for any writer but it’s especially difficult for new writers. Often, a new writer will create very flat, one-dimensional characters or will resort to stereotypical characters. The goal is to create characters that are unique and quirky and have goals of their own. One method is to write about each character as if you were that character.
So for example, let’s say you have a mailman in your story. Put yourself in the shoes of that mailman for a day. You are the mailman and you wake up in the morning. Imagine yourself going through the neighborhood of the main character in the story. Start writing the answers to these questions:
- Where are you?
- Are you alone?
- Do you have children or pets?
- Do you live in the neighborhood?
- Do you get along with your co-workers?
- How long have you been a mailman?
- What income bracket are you in?
- Do you have discretionary income?
- Which houses have dogs? Are you afraid of dogs?
- Is there a neighborhood “crabby guy”?
- How do you greet people?
- Which people do you interact with?
- Do you like your job?
Your mailman character will become a lifelike person to you. Do this for each and every character in your story. This way as characters appear in the story, you will have a much better idea of how each of them will respond to specific situations and why.
Know Your Target Reader
If you are a non-fiction writer, you can use the above questions technique to help your writing by imagining yourself as your target reader. Think about the people who you believe will want to buy your book. Imagine yourself walking into the bookstore and picking up your book.
Write about “the reader” in a similar way. Now when you decide to include or delete things from your book, instead of random changes, you can make a decision based on how your target reader might react or respond.
Tighten Your Writing
Finally, the following creative writing exercises can help you to perfect your writing, focusing on simplicity above all else.
Active Versus Passive Voice
Unless you are a scientific writer and writing research reports, write in an active voice, not passive voice. It’s the difference between active such as “The dog bit me” and passive “I was bitten by the dog”. Passive voice usually includes some form of “to be” action. During editing, watch for passive voice and make a point of changing it to active voice.
To practice writing in active voice, make a list of sentences. You can pull these from your own writing or from someone else’s. If the sentence in the list is written in active voice, then change it to passive voice. If it’s passive voice, change it to active voice. Changing every sentence to active voice might be difficult, and passive voice isn’t always bad, but writing in active voice portrays more urgency, emphasizes action, and engages the reader.
Use Strong Words
Use specific words whenever possible but make sure you are saying what you mean. Avoid boring use of the same word over and over. Use a thesaurus if needed, but make sure you look up the actual definition of the new word you choose to make sure it conveys the meaning you want.
Copy multiple descriptive sentences out of your own writing or out of another author’s writing. Can you find a verb or adjective that spices up the sentence? Does the sentence create an image in your mind?
The importance of strong words is to create different images in the mind of the reader. Consider, “It rained” or “It sprinkled” versus “It poured”. Practice changing the image each sentence invokes in your mind just by changing one word.
Keep It Simple
Good writing is precise. It portrays the intended message in a clear, simple way. Long, descriptive sentences can be hard to read or confuse the reader. A good writer engages the reader, draws them in, and keeps them in the story. A long, difficult to read or confusing sentence can jar the reader out of the story. The last thing you want is for your reader to have to read with a dictionary beside them to look up the meanings of the words you are using. During the editing process, do one read-through where you are specifically looking to simplify your sentences.
Reduce Use of Adverbs
Adverbs are used to describe the action and a good adverb can enhance the image for your reader. But adverbs are often overused, especially for inexperienced writers. During your editing process, reread your work specifically looking for places where you have used an adverb unnecessarily. If you can remove the adverb without taking away from the sentence, then take it out.
Create a schedule for yourself that includes several creative writing exercises. Practice brainstorming so that your creativity flows. Take time when a new character appears in your story to ensure that they are realistic and lifelike rather than just a one-dimensional placeholder. Practice writing in a tighter way by doing some the creative writing exercises above to tighten your writing during the editing process. Regular use of these exercises will improve your writing over time and will more fully engage your readers.