Have you ever heard of a musician or a singer who doesn’t practice? I haven’t, and writers are no different.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a blogger just starting out or you’ve been blogging for years. It doesn’t matter if you’ve published magazine articles or short stories or poetry or you’re dreaming of that novel you’re going to write someday.
Writers need to practice, and that means practice getting creative with words. After all, even if you’re a copywriter, any kind of writer creates.
At least a few minutes of creative writing every day can:
- Break so-called writers block
- Get creative juices flowing
- Generate ideas
- Build confidence
- Ease you into other writing that’s not for practice
Any kind of creative writing can serve as a daily practice. All that matters is that you write regularly, even if it’s just for 20-30 minutes or until you reach a certain number of words like 500 or 1000.
I like to alternate between Stephen King and Anne Lamott techniques.
If you’re in a King sort of mood, play with a “What-if?” scenario.
“The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question,” writes Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
He goes on to explain how Salem’s Lot started with the question “What if vampires invaded a small New England village?” Another novel started with “What if a young mother and her son become trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo).” Dolores Claiborne and Desperation started in the same way.
At this very moment, I look around, and I see a few ideas to work with. One thing leads to another:
- What if the snow defies meteorologists’ expectations and just keeps coming down and down in a freak weather event that traps everyone, unexpectedly, for weeks?
- What if the tree gets so heavy with snow that it falls on the neighbor’s house?
- What if a meteorite smashes into the suburbs of a big city?
- What if a jet coming in for a landing crashes in my neighborhood?
- What if global warming makes the ocean rise 100 feet and someone with psychic powers knows it’s going to happen suddenly?
All of those are related: the weather, meteorology, and what I can see (or imagine) outside my window. Any of them could become the next big novel.
For now, though, it’s just a writing exercise. All you do is write whatever comes to mind on What if… and don’t stop until your time limit or word count is up.
If you’re in a Lamott sort of mood, work with “short assignments” and memories.
In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott suggests that you do as she does: she looks at a one-inch picture frame as a reminder to write just one paragraph, just one small description of, for example, a memory from childhood.
Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.
My writing exercise this morning was everything I remember about the house I lived in before I was three. I got to 1000 words in less than half an hour, and I realized I had much more to say about the kitchen alone.
Some other topics for me might be getting bit by a dog when I was two. Learning how to ride a horse at eight. Watching the sunrise from a hilltop at 10 or climbing my maple tree to watch the sunset and the deer come out of the woods. The cafeteria in fourth grade.
Everyone has memories.
What was your favorite dinner, sport, game, uncle, hat, dress, costume, or vacation spot? Set a timer and start writing.
A King-style what-if writing exercise draws deeply on creativity and pulls things up from the edge of the unconscious mind, the place where dreams begin to dance about.
Lamott-style memory exercises, on the other hand, are more about detail and description. As we pull up memories, though, some that are long forgotten might start bubbling up and land us in the very same creative place as a King-style exercise. Both are good.
If you’re in a visual sort of mood and want to dig deep, use photo prompts.
Scroll up to the photo on this page: four leafless trees (and parts of others) are set against a thin layer of clouds that partially obscures the glowing sun. What does it make you think? Feel? What comes to mind?
It doesn’t have to be anywhere near perfect. You can have as many typos as you like. Forget grammar. Just write.
Some ideas that come to my mind:
- Four grandfathers in their rocking chairs on a porch
- The spirits of four Native Americans who once lived in the place the trees are growing
- A young girl rushes from school to find her home and family destroyed by a tornado
- A man returns to his rural childhood home to find it crumbling and overgrown with trees
No matter what exercise you choose, it doesn’t matter what you write because nobody will see it. You can trash it if you like when you’re done or not, as you choose.
The point is to write as a mental exercise. A brain exercise. A get-the-juices-going exercise. What, exactly, you produce isn’t as important as the process. Give it your all. Just write.
And one more for the road:
Did you notice how many times I’ve mentioned trees? As I write this post, I keep coming back to them. Even when I searched for a photo on Flickr, I searched specifically for a tree.
The first thing we see or think of when we wake up (even a dream) can turn into a writing exercise.
When I woke up this morning, one of the first things I saw was the tall maple tree in my front yard covered with snow. Snow is unusual around here so late in March, and it was a big surprise, especially since the weather report called for mainly rain.
I could have written about trees for my creative writing exercise. As it turns out, when I was done, I moved smoothly into this blog post, and what do you know? Trees wiggled in somehow.
The goal is to write.
Having a few tricks like these in your writer’s toolbox is handy, especially if you’re staring at a blank screen or page and panicking.
They’re not just an exercise; they can also serve as an emergency jump-start.
Just start writing by using a what if scenario, a memory, an interesting photo, or the first thing you saw (or heard) when you woke up. If the first thing you saw was your ceiling, go on, write about it.
Set a timer, like this one, and just make yourself do it. If you’ve never done writing exercises for a specific purpose, you might be very (pleasantly) surprised at the results.
Writing creatively as a daily exercise can make a big difference in your writing and even how you feel about it, which is bound to affect the quality of your writing, which will make you feel better, which will make your writing better… Give it a try.
What about you? Do you have a daily writing habit? What tricks do you use? Share in the comments.
Photo credit: ˙·▪•● Peyman ●•▪·˙