As a professional writer, you have no time for writer’s block. But there it is, lurking in the background like a bad date who keeps calling you, long after you’ve asked him to stop.
While you can’t guarantee that you’ll always be a fountain of fantastic ideas, there are a few ways to keep writer’s block on the back burner. The next time you feel stumped and need to come up with something STAT, try one of these fun writing exercises.
Pick a Word, Any Word
Okay, you’re not actually picking any word. The goal of this exercise is to choose a noun, a verb and an adjective and to use them to structure a short and simple story. Write nouns, verbs and adjectives on slips of paper and place in three separate jars. Let’s say you pick out bear, sleep and yellow. You could write a short piece about the sleeping bear who has a yellow scarf. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a good idea.
Look at the News
Your local news can be a great way to find prompts that spark an idea. News pieces are a great way to practice developing a newsy tone or for working on creative writing. When looking at news stories, pay attention to the plot of the story, the characters and the setting. Then, write something short and sweet based off of the story.
Get in Form
Sometimes, you need rules and restrictions to get the writing juices flowing. Even if you’re not a poet, try writing a poem in a classical form, such as a sestina, or if you want something simpler, a sonnet. A sestina can seem like a nightmare to write. It’s got 39 lines, seven stanzas, and a lot of repetition. The first six stanzas each have six lines, the last one has three. The challenge in writing a sestina comes from the words that end each line. Throughout the poem, you rotate through six words, ending each line with one of those six words. For example, in stanza one, you end line one with word A, then end line six with word F. You then end line one of stanza two with word F, and end line two of stanza two with word A, and so on.
It sounds frightening, but seriously, just give it a try. You never have to do it again if you try it once and absolutely hate it.
Mimic Another Professional Writer
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that, so the next time you’re stumped for an idea, turn to one of your favorite writers and try to copy what he or she does, whether it’s subject matter or form. Writing for a bit in another’s shoes will help you feel more free.
Write About Something You Know
It’s the most cliche piece of writing advice, and one that works when the going gets tough. Pick something you know plenty about, whether it’s your neighborhood, your mother or your favorite food and write a short piece about it. You don’t have to be too creative, either. For example, write a short biography about your mother or describe the taste, texture and flavor of your favorite food.
When working on writing exercises, the most important thing to remember is not to censor yourself. Just write it down, no matter how stilted or terrible is seems to you. You can go back and edit or discard it all later.
Amy F is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia, PA. She’s mildly terrified of sestinas but loves a good short story.