Over ten years ago I wrote a site called HerCorner as part of the HerPlanet network of sites for women. Included in the site I wrote were writing exercises, short ideas people could pick up, try and move on with their writing day. I kept all of them on the same page. That way, if the first idea didn’t do much for any one reader, the next or the next would eventually work for them.
Here is the list, taken from the Wayback Machine, because HerCorner (my HerCorner) hasn’t been online for more than ten years now.
Try this: Take one intense emotion you’ve experienced (pain, fear, lust, anger) and give it to a fictional character. Make sure the character is not you. Create a scenario and involve another character as an antagonist or co-protagonist.
Try this: Describe an historical event that intrigues you. Use the perspective of someone who was really there but on the sidelines. How do they take part in some small way?
Try this: Write about the path not taken. Start with something you did today but imagine your day if you had made a different choice. Just something as simple as missing your bus, taking the other route, wearing a different shirt, etc.
Try this: Blogs are popular online now (online journals and scrapbooks) try writing your own ‘about me’ page for your blog. How much or how little would you say about yourself? Keep in mind the flavour of a blog: informal, opinionated and creative.
Try this: In honour of Valentines Day, write a really steamy love letter to someone real or imagined. Be shameless and daring, make it lusty and full of passion. Have fun with it.
Try this: Write about your perfect vacation. Where would you go, who with (or alone), what would you most like to do and how long would you stay away, if you could?
Try this: Try writing a short story without using the letter ‘e’. It’s much harder than it sounds. ‘E’ is the most often used letter. If that’s too frustrating, just pick a different letter to avoid. Work your way up to ‘e’.
Try this: Design a game. If you can draw add those too. But, game design starts with an idea and a story or plot to focus all the characters and play on. What kind of game would yours be: strategy, racing, role playing…?
Try this: Think of something you were really angry about and write a letter to whoever was responsible. Be as bitchy as you can. Don’t send it, just write it.
Try this: Write about your Christmas traditions. What are you favourite things, things you miss and things you can’t wait for?
Try this: How would your day go if it was a disaster?
Try this: Imagine you’ve just moved. Consider the people or person who lived in the house before you. Write about their life and the home they made there.
Try this: Take your journal/ diary on a road trip. Write at least 3 pages in some location you have never written before. If you don’t keep a journal just bring along some paper and write!
Try this: Write about silence. Whether it’s a brief pin-prick of time or a long, drawn out moment, write about absolute silence.
Try this: Try to make a list of the best things you like about yourself. List at least 10 things. Don’t cop out either, you’ll know if it’s an honest list or fluff. Don’t cheat yourself or sell yourself short.
Try this: Write a weblog or online journal. Write one entry knowing masses of unknown people will be reading it. Write another as if your daughter or Mother were reading it. Lastly, write an entry no one will ever read but yourself. How much do you feel comfortable writing about yourself, who you are and what you really think?
Try this: Write a haiku about writing. Remember, a haiku is a short poem with 3 lines which have 5, 7, and 5 syllables. A haiku captures a specific moment.
Try this: Something really extraordinary has happened (a dragon gave you a treasure hoard, you won the biggest lottery jackpot ever, aliens from space came down to ask you for directions, etc) now… how do you get anyone to believe you? Physical evidence is not enough, you might be crazy enough to make that up yourself.
Try this: 1001 (or at least a hundred) uses for – last year’s calendar, a worn out toothbrush, roadkill, stale bread, flat pop, dirty laundry, AOL CDs – pick one or come up with your own.
Try this: Write about something you lost. Give it an adventure, what happened to it after you lost it?
Try this: Randomly pick two ads from the personals in your local newspaper. Give them a story, does it all work out or is it a complete disaster right from the start?
Try this: Consider your website (or your computer if you don’t have a site) and put together a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page all about your site. Don’t forget a guide to how to use the site as well as the purpose for it being there. Study a few other FAQs to get ideas.
Try this: Write a simple poem then change it to show happiness, fear, anger, love, and sadness. What words will you use differently? How will you change the rhythm of the words?
Try this: Write an advertising slogan or jingle for your favourite junk food.
Try this: Write a grocery list for a character in your story.
Try this: Write something for the holidays, a family newsletter, a scary story or a mushy love letter.
Try this: Pick an inanimate object, something ordinary like a light bulb, a coffee mug, or a carpet, and give it life. What does it think, feel? Answer as many who, what, where, when, why and how questions as you can. Then the real challenge, can you edit it down to just a few sentences?
Try this: Write a poem that could be placed on a spacecraft like the voyager, a poem that would explain to someone unfamiliar with the whole human race who we are, where we’ve been, why we act the way we do, and so on.
Try this: Use something you have written recently. Run a spellchecker over it. If any typos or spelling mistakes come up make note of them. Now, if your software has a grammar or style checker run that too. What kind of mistakes does it pick up? Write those down and find out how to fix them. Now, rewrite your original article or story. Run the same checks again and see if anything new comes up. Keep track of your most common errors and learn from them. You don’t have to be a grammar, punctuation or spelling queen but you should know your weak points and focus on them in your work. That way you will be the one in control and your quality of writing and communicating will improve.
Try this: Pretend you’re someone else. Choose someone you admire or someone you think interesting. Now write as if you were that person. What would their writing style be? What would they choose to write about?
Try this: Set an alarm clock to go off in 5 minutes. Sit with paper and pen (or computer keyboard) in front of you and don’t write anything at all until after the alarm goes off. Once the alarm sounds write as many ideas down as you can.
Try this: Write backwards. Begin your story from the ending and work your way back to the beginning. This way you’ve already finished writing your story, you just need to add in the details and in betweens.
Try this: Try writing like a theatre script. Show each action you want your characters to make and give stage directions. Now, take all that out and just leave dialogue. How much stage direction do your characters really need and how much is just extra stuff? Could your dialogue be getting lost in your stage directions?
Try this: Write a letter to someone you are angry or upset with. Spew at them, full force. Write all the things left unsaid, or the things you wish you had said at the time. But, don’t send the letter. Keep it as a journal entry, for your eyes only.
Try this: Suddenly you have dropped back in time, no explanations or warning. Do you see dinosaurs, druids, castles or pirates? Write about your first impressions. Don’t forget the who, where, smells, sounds, etc.
Try this: Write a fictional biography for yourself. Have grand adventures, scandalous love affairs, skeletons in your closets, secret criminal activities, and so on. Once you have it done re-work it to 300 words. Not more or less than 300.
Try this: Write an essay for a time capsule to be opened in 30 years. What would you tell yourself or whoever opens your time capsule then? What would you write about, yourself, life in the year 2002 or something else entirely?
Try this: Pretend you are a gossip columnist. Write about a recent personal encounter. Don’t use any names of people, places or things. How does that change your writing? Make you more aware of who, what, why, when and where?
Try this: Think of a place you feel passionate about, somewhere you have been often, whether its your favourite bookstore, garden or town. Now, write a journal about the trip. Include all the details like how it sounds, smells, your favourite spot or thing, where you found free parking, where’s the best view? Tell someone else all about your place, as if they were going there themselves.
Try this: Create a character with a secret to confess. Write their journal entries over the days, weeks, months they keep the secret. Show how it affects the people in their lives. Why do they continue to keep the secret? How does it affect them?
Try this: Practise paraphrasing. Take a large block of quoted text and pare it down to the bare essentials. This is a great skill to have for interviews or your own writing (if you tend to be wordy).
Try this: Find a newspaper article you feel passionate about and write a letter to the editor. Write as if you are going to send it in to be published, think carefully of each of your points, make sure the style is professional and then actually send it in.
Try this: Write a letter to one of your ancestors, someone you have never met but have heard something about. Or make up an ancestor. Tell them all about yourself, who you are, what makes you the person you are.
Try this: Write a letter to someone from another planet. Tell them about life on Earth. Describe everything to someone who may not know what air is, who has never heard of the fast food concept, etc.
Try this: Write out your favourite joke (or fairy tale or poem). Then rewrite that narrative as a tragedy, as a limerick, as a haiku, as a serious academic treatise, as a breaking news story, or as the script for a music video.
Try this: Eavesdrop on a conversation, capture a snippet of it in your mind. Write a story or scene using dialogue only. Since every scene in every story should contain conflict, you’ll want to keep this key concept in mind.
Try this: Watch something happen in public and remember what it was. Try and remember everything and write about it in detail.
Try this: Do a full character analysis. Create a real person: how they walk, the colours they like, who they most admire, where their family came from, their Mother’s maiden name, do they have a zit today and so on.
Try this: Your character is suddenly blinded and danger still abounds. Focus on those senses you might normally neglect when writing.
Try this: Design three tools, inventions, or customs for your science fiction or fantasy world.
Try this: In five hundred words or less, choose a superstition or old wives’ tale and describe how a character of your design came to learn it and/or who the character first remembers teaching it to him/her.
Try this: Choose a favourite fable, fairy tale or literary story. Pick a character (not the main characters) and tell the story through his or her eyes in five hundred words or less.
Try this: Write a poem describing the colour red to someone who has been blind from birth. Keep in mind, this person has never seen the typical things like fire, the sun, etc which you could use as a comparison. If poetry isn’t your thing, write in prose but try to be lyrical.
Try this: Pick out your favourite tape or CD and put it on. Sing a long, dance, pretend you are one of the backup singers or the singer herself. Put energy into it and go wild. Dress up like a rock star, grab a make-shift microphone and sing out loud. When you feel charged up write something.
Try this: Write about a dream, real or imagined. Be vivid. Dreams tend to jump around since they don’t have to make sense or be guided by rules of time and space.
Try this: Get away from your usual writing place. Go outside, get a coffee at the local diner, sit in your car and write. You may find it hard to adapt to the change but it could bring you all new perspectives.
Try this: Verbs make the world go round. With that in mind write a story where the characters are running out of time or involved in an extreme sport. Keep the action sharp and crisp with verbs.
Try this: Try a short word challenge. Write a short story using only words that have six letters or less. Really great practice at keeping it simple for anyone who tends to use ten dollar words when a 10 cent word would work just as well.