Here are five of my favorite writing exercises that have helped me when I have been struck with writer's block, bored with my own story, or feel the need to work on a particular element of my writing.
Take a walk/day dream
This pre/mid-writing exercise is meant to get you out of your head, so your head can get some ideas into it. Since I’m a jittery, wiggle worm, I enjoy walking, jogging, biking, swimming—anything active so that my body is moving and preoccupied— so, my mind is able to focus on the story. If being active isn’t your jam, a light walk may be more your pace; meditation, enjoying a refreshing or warm drink, or another task you may enjoy (painting your nails, taking a bubble bath, cleaning the house, staring at the side of wall) can do the trick. The point is, sometimes we’re so absorbed in trying to get an idea, move the story forward, make our themes work, we’re forcing it. Doing something you are familiar with and repetitious can help your brain relax, making room for inspiration.
Write a letter to your character
This is one of my all-time favorite exercises. Writing a letter to my character has helped me understand my character more than answering 100 questions in a character bio or drawing a character or what have you. What do you write to your character? That’s up to you and depends on the type of story you’re writing. Mystery/Thriller? Write a letter taunting your character. Romance? A love letter. Historical? Mimic the style of the time. If you can’t think of a coordinating theme, I always fall back on writing a letter describing my feelings about the character. “What I think about you” letter.
Write a short story using all five senses
And when I say short story, I mean SHORT. No more than 200 words. This is great practice in descriptive writing. It also helps keep your writing sharp and concise while creating vivid images. This exercise is all about being choosy with your words, making a habit of using the all the senses, and figuring out if you’re being descriptive or just wordy.
Stream of conscious writing or free writing
Or whatever you or your high school language arts teacher wants to call it, this exercise is helpful in a variety of ways: clearing your mind, getting into the habit of writing (if done on some sort of schedule), coming up with new ideas, playing around with the characters—getting the imaginative juices flowing. Sit at your computer, or however you like to write, and just write the first things that come to your mind. You don’t have to worry about spelling; you don’t have to worry about punctuation. You don’t even have to worry about making sense. The point is to let your thoughts flow freely.
Love it/Hate it
Pick a topic/item and write about it as if you love it with all you heart. Pour your heart and soul into it. Explain the feelings you have for it, why you have these feelings, unabashed and full of fervor. Now, take the same topic/item and write as if you hate it with every fiber of your being. This exercise is good not only to practice physical description, but also emotional description, state of mind, and can help with mood and tone.