Fifteen Writing Exercises
by J.C. Hewitt
Writing exercises are a great way to both increase your skill as a writer and to generate new ideas for future work. They can also give you a new perspective on your current project. One of the great benefits of private writing exercises is that you can free yourself of fear and perfectionism. To grow as a writer, it is important to sometimes write without the expectation of publication. Don’t be afraid to be imperfect. That is what practice is for. What you write for any of these exercises may not be your best work, but it is practice for when you will need to write your best work.
- Pick ten people you know and write a one-sentence description for each of them.
- Record five minutes of a talk radio show. Write down the dialog and add narrative descriptions of the speakers and actions as if you were writing a scene.
- Write a 500-word biography of your life.
- Write your obituary. List all of your life’s accomplishments. You can write it as if you died today or fifty or more years in the future.
- Write a 300-word description of your bedroom.
- Write a fictional interview with yourself, an acquaintance, a famous figure or a fictional character. Do it in the style of an appropriate (or inappropriate) magazine or publication such as Time, People, Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen or Maxim.
- Pick up a newspaper or supermarket tabloid. Scan the articles until you find one that interests you and use it as the basis for a scene or story.
- Keep a diary of a fictional character.
- Take a passage from a book, a favorite or a least favorite, and rewrite the passage in a different style such as noir, gothic romance, pulp fiction or horror story.
- Pick an author, one you like though not necessarily your favorite, and make a list of what you like about the way they write. Do this from memory first, without rereading their work. After you’ve made your list, reread some of their work and see if you missed anything or if your answers change. Analyze what elements of their writing style you can add to your own, and what elements you should not or cannot add. Remember that your writing style is your own, and that you should only try to think of ways to add to your own style. Never try to mimic someone else for more than an exercise or two.
- Take a piece of your writing that you have written in first person and rewrite it in third person, or vice-versa. You can also try this exercise changing tense, narrators, or other stylistic elements. Don’t do this with an entire book. Stick to shorter works. Once you commit to a style for a book, never look back or you will spend all of your time rewriting instead of writing.
- Try to identify your earliest childhood memory. Write down everything you can remember about it. Rewrite it as a scene. You may choose to do this from your current perspective or from the perspective you had at that age.
- Remember an old argument you had with another person. Write about the argument from the point of view of the other person. Remember that the idea is to see the argument from their perspective, no your own. This is an exercise in voice, not in proving yourself right or wrong.
- Write a 200-word description of a place. You can use any and all sensory descriptions but sight: you can describe what it feels like, sounds like, smells like and even tastes like. Try to write the description in such a way that people will not miss the visual details.
- Sit in a restaurant or a crowded area and write down the snippets of conversation you hear. Listen to the people around you — how they talk and what words they use. Once you have done this, you can practice finishing their conversations. Write your version of what comes next in the conversation. Match their style.