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Ignite the Creative Writing Process

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Most writers at some point will come face to face with their nemesis: the dreaded blank page. The exercises below, which tap memory, observation, and imagination, aim to help you push past that daunting void and get the words flowing.

Recommended Creative Writing “Jump Start” Exercises

1. Practice awareness of the world around you

Go to a restaurant or coffee shop (or another busy place) and take notes about it, focusing on sensory details. What are you seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and touching? Try to incorporate everything.

2. Dive into a Photograph

Find a random photo of a person in a magazine or newspaper. Imagine this person’s life. Create a detailed inventory of what is in this person’s bedroom, refrigerator, and medicine cabinet. Then, write a personal ad as if you were this person.

3. Look for Odd Stories in the News

Troll news sites and social media for odd stories. Try writing a scene that involves some aspect of the person, place, or action, inventing the details as you go.

4. Find a story seed in the “Personals” section

Go to the Personals sections of a newsweekly or Craigslist (the subhead “Missed Connections” is good). Write a scene or poem based on an encounter/potential encounter, making up the details you need.

5. It’s about Time: Try a ‘short’ time-bound story

(From What If? p. 267; full citation below): Try writing a story that takes place in a short unit of time – 60 seconds, an hour, a day.

Make a list of things that can be done in a short period (e.g. washing a dog/car/hair, stealing something…). Limit the story’s action to that time frame.

6. Start with a Given First Line

Here are a few to try (from What If?, p. 21-24):

  • Where were you last night?
  • I met him/her on the stairs.
  • The neighbors were at it again.
  • I haven’t been the same since__________
  • The first time I (or Name) heard SPECIFIC SONG, I (Name) was down/up/over at PLACE and we were doing ACTION.

7. Start with a Title

Try one of these (or make one up of your own): People I’ve Kissed. The House on Deacon Street. Sunday. The Road to Nowhere. Dinner. Things to Do in 60 Seconds or Less.

8. Watch a Favorite Film

Pay attention to notable scenes, or “moments of fire,” within the film. Then re-create one of those scenes in writing.

9. Begin with a Space

Recall a building in which you once lived. Map out this building on a sheet of paper. Consider all of the rooms and spaces and think about the “hot spot” – the room that stands out the most to you. Describe that room and/or write a scene that takes place there.

10. Your Start Might Be In the Cards

Get some color-coded index cards or scraps of paper. On one color, write a random selection of characters (e.g. butcher, baker, candlestick maker). On another color, write a random selection of incidents (e.g. hits dog
with car, bakes bread for dying friend, sets fire to trashcan.) Mix up the cards and pick a few at random. Then choose which combination appeals the most. Start a scene or poem using those two (or three) elements.

Recommended Resources

Bernays, Anne, and Pamela Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. College Edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2004.

Kowitt, Steve. In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop. Gardiner: Tilbury, 1995.

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor, 1994.

Scofield, Sandra. The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer. New York: Penguin, 2007.

Stern, Jerome. Making Shapely Fiction. New York: Laurel, 1991.

Original composed: 06/2008 | Adapted and revised for web delivery: 07/2021

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