To master swimming, swimmers swim often, practising different techniques to find the one that suits them best. Pianists master difficult pieces by building finger strength until they have superb control over their timing and rhythm.
Just like other artists, writers sharpen their writing skills through practise.
Whether writing is a hobby or a career for you, developing consistent writing habits is key to becoming a better writer.
Great writing won’t happen overnight. Many writers commit to writing every day to break through that fear of the blank page. You might have to make some sacrifices in your schedule, but by managing your time and making use of creative writing exercises, you’ll build a writing toolkit that helps you improve as you write.
Looking to improve your writing practice? This list of creative writing exercises will help you unlock your creativity and get words on the page.
How Can I Stimulate My Writing?
Sometimes, the words just won’t come. Use these exercises to break through writers’ block.
1. Practice Freewriting
Freewriting is just what it sounds like: write freely without stopping.
Let your fingers type and don’t worry about making mistakes. The words you write here are for your eyes only—at least at this stage.
So, just write—and keep writing—whatever is on your mind.
Can’t think of anything to write? Choose an object you can see.
It can be a mark on your door, or a fire-exit sign at a hospital. It could even be something as mundane as the TV stand in your living room—in fact, the more boring the object the more creative you’ll need to be to find something to write.
Once you’ve got your object, write. The idea is to allow your stream of consciousness to run as a way to bring new ideas to the surface.
The aim here isn’t actually to write about the TV stand, or the fire-exit sign. As you cast around for a way to make these objects interesting, an idea will emerge out of the muddle. And then you’ll have a premise you can adapt and use in your main writing practise.
Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, calls freewriting exercises “Morning Pages.”
She advises writers—beginners and experts alike—to practice freewriting every day, first thing in the morning, right after waking up. Don’t think, don’t edit, just write.
2. Use Story Starters
Trust me, even the biggest authors struggle with generating writing ideas every so often.
Using story starters or writing prompts can be a great way to break out of a creative rut.
A writing prompt can be anything—a single sentence, a short paragraph, or a witty passage that a writer uses to bring creative story ideas to the surface.
There are loads of places to find story starters and writing prompts online, including Daily Prompt. You could even take the first line of your favorite book and take the story in a new direction.
Here are three ideas to get you started:
- Begin your story with the line, “I’m never talking to you again.”
- Write about an introvert and an extrovert who are best friends.
- Start your story as an adult recalling the events of their childhood.
3. Write a “Dear Younger Me” Letter
Imagine writing a letter to your younger self. What would you say to yourself five, ten, 20, or even 50 years ago if you had the chance?
You could write about a specific event—maybe the time you went on a picnic with your friends without informing your parents, or a trip of a lifetime you took in your 20s. You could give your past self advice, or reassurance, or confirm or deny their expectations for the future.
Or, flip the script and imagine what someone else in your life would say to you at different stages.
In this exercise, the focus in on what you—or your chosen letter-writer—feels, and the relationships you write about. Take those feelings and connections and rework them into inspiration.
How Can I Practice Writing Point of View?
4. Use a Different POV
Take a chapter from your favorite book or novel. Switch out the main character. And then rewrite the story from a different character’s point of view.
For example, take a chapter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and rewrite it as if Hermione is the main character. What does she see that Harry doesn’t? What is she feeling? What tensions arise? Are they the same as in the original telling?
People do this exercise all the time when writing fanfiction. There's something exciting about exploring character writing within the framework of an existing story. As you write, notice if the story takes on a different tone. Is it as enjoyable? Why did the author choose the main character they did?
Chances are, the story will take on quite a different form—and you can use this as the basis of your own, new story. Just make sure you introduce new elements, characters, settings, and themes, of course.
This is a great exercise for learning how writing works. Another way to pick apart other authors’ writing for inspiration is writing the same chapter in a different point of view.
As you write, make sure to keep track of what the character knows and doesn’t know at this point in the story. Will you include more or less sensory detail? How much will you reveal what the main character is feeling? Is there anything you can do to help the reader understand the story even better?
Use this exercise to work out what point of view you like writing in best, and to learn how to effectively share information with, and withhold information from, your reader.
5. Put Yourself in the Middle of the Action
Take a memorable story you once read or heard. The story old or new, written for children or for adults, even a true story you heard in real life, but it should be something that moved you to a point that it changed your life’s perspective and transformed how you relate to people.
Try to rewrite the same story as if you were the main character—as if everything happened to you. Can you include any details you think are missing, or that the story could’ve used to become more interesting for the reader?
You’ll be surprised what creative story ideas you’ll come up with.
This writing exercise helps you flesh out someone else’s story and make it your own.
What Exercises Can I Do to Improve My Writing Skills?
The technical side of writing can be hard to master. Here are some ways to practice editing and improving your work.
6. Eliminate Empty Words
This one is technically an editing exercise—but the more you do it, the better your writing will be in the future.
Sentences contain working words and glue words. Working words tell your reader the key information they need to know. They convey emotions, describe details, and help readers understand what you are trying to say. Glue words hold the working words together, and make them work as sentences.
Phrases like there are, there is, there was, it is, it was, and so on are common empty words that slow down your story without giving any extra detail.
Here’s an example: “There are two birds sitting on the roof.”
The words “there are” serve no purpose other than to make “two birds sitting on the roof” a complete sentence. This indicates that the verb you’ve used, sitting, may not be strong enough to carry your sentence.
You’re better off introducing a stronger verb instead that paints a clearer picture, for example by writing “Two birds perch on the roof” or “Two birds idle on the roof.” ProWritingAid’s Sticky Sentences Report highlights sentences where more than 60% of the words are glue words.
Run through a scene in your manuscript and eliminate the glue words from your sentences. Replace weak verbs with stronger ones, and be economical with your word count. When you start out, go further than you'd think. Then, go back and add more detail where you think the meaning or the style needs it.
This writing exercise can help make your writing more precise and your sentences easier to read.
7. Outline Dialogue Heavy Scenes
If you want to create a natural back-and-forth exchange between characters, try outlining dialogue heavy scenes before you write anything else in the scene.
And by anything else, I mean getting caught up with writing descriptions, dialogue tags, and body language cues. These can make you sideline the actual conversations instead of using them to convey subtext and key information.
Start out by just writing the dialogue. You could use two different colors to help keep track of who is speaking. What do you need to add to help the reader understand how each character is feeling just through what they are saying?
They could use tentative language like maybe or perhaps to show uncertainly, or speak in metaphors to alienate the other speaker.
Then, fill in the rest. Remember, you only need to add a dialogue tag if it isn’t clear who is speaking. And when you do, try to stick to said and asked. If you feel the exchange needs a little more, add an action beat—like a glance or setting down a bag with a thump.
8. Replace Adjectives with Descriptions
Adjectives are powerful.
They get the reader more involved in the story, but they don’t always fully describe what you want your readers to feel. They only tell.
Last night’s movie was too scary for Peter.
Instead of telling the reader the movie was too scary, describe the movie so that the reader is horrified as well. In short, describe (in vivid descriptions), don’t tell.
When the headless bleeding corpse slithered out from the box in the attic, Peter screamed and ducked behind the sofa.
Here’s how to turn this into a creative writing exercise:
In your current draft, look for places where you describe something using an adjective, such as exquisite or dreadful, and then replace it with a vivid description.
To be even more precise, try and use sensory words that cover all the five senses—sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.
ProWritingAid makes this easier for you with the Sensory Report. This report will tell you if your writing is heavy on one sense and light on another. For example, my writing here has more about sight than any other sense.
This Sensory Report shows that 73% of this article’s sensory words are about sight. If I was writing a story, I’d need to balance this to appeal to a wider reader profile.
9. Blog Every Day
We all have a story. But to squeeze these stories out, we need an outlet—like a blog—to put down our thoughts.
Blogging every day creates a regular writing habit, which is a great creative writing exercise for any writer.
If you’re not sure about what to write daily, don’t worry.
You can get tons of tips online on how to write better blog posts. But the most important tip is to keep your fingers and mind active—by reading and writing stories regularly.
Before you create a blog, find a gripping subject that you want to focus on, one that holds genuine interest for you and your readers, then narrow or limit your subject.
This should be broad enough to give you lots to write about, but specific enough that you can dive deep and share some meaningful insight.
By limiting your subject, you’re giving yourself a basic framework to work from while encouraging yourself to explore new perspectives and information. For an extra challenge, limit the amount of words you write. This will both give you a number to work towards, and challenge you to structure your work tightly.
What Are Some Good Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers?
There’s so much to think about when writing a novel. Take a step back and try these challenges first to practise the skills you need on a smaller scale.
10. Write a 500-word Story
In the writing world, this creative exercise is known as flash fiction.
Don’t confuse this exercise with free writing where you write freely without stopping.
Flash fiction is different. It requires all the structural elements of a story, just on a much smaller scale.
Think of it as writing a brief story but with set rules and guidelines such as plot, conflict, and character development.
For instance, let’s write a condensed narrative as a mock advertisement.
To start, choose a random word from anywhere. Then use that random word to write a formal “newspaper classified” ad (and another informal ad for the online market such as Craigslist) to sell an object you have.
Use casual text and describe the object you want to sell. Convince the reader why they should buy it from you. Use 500 words or less.
11. Set a Captivating Mood
If you want to make your story more enjoyable to read—and help your readers connect emotionally with your words—you need to set the right mood.
Emotions are key to drawing your reader in. They should feel intrigue, concern for your characters, and wonder at your settings and world-building. You feel this when you find yourself glued to a movie that’s full of suspense, not knowing what will happen next.
This exercise is detailed in the book Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight.
Damon talks about imagining you're a character in a room. You then describe everything that's happening in that room, without mentioning or even referring to the character. You only write about what the character sees and experiences.
The responses of a character to their surroundings matter a great deal in learning more about the character when you don't have any other details.
As an exercise you can complete now, imagine a stranger just called you and said, “I’m coming to kill you.” How does the way you describe the space around you change? Do everyday objects become potential weapons? Does a once-annoying sticky lock now become a death knell?
12. Be Observant
To write well and more clearly, pay close attention to everything that is happening around you—and the emotions you experience afterwards.
For example, let’s pretend you’re a visual artist.
You’re heading out to the beach with a sketchbook to capture what you see and feel. Observe everything that is happening at the beach and take in all the emotions that you experience.
What can you hear? Can you see or feel where it’s coming from? If you’re excited to be at the beach, find out what triggers your excitement.
What, exactly, is giving you this emotion? Is it the roaring of the waves? The seagulls as they fly by?
Write everything down. Then, later, write a scene in that same setting, using the details you collected to evoke the same feelings and sensations for your reader.
In short, paint a picture of the beach for us and what was happening there.
This writing exercise helps remove vagueness from your story. Don’t just tell us the beach was beautiful. Be specific and show us why.
13. Practice Empathy
If you want to write well-developed characters in a story, practice empathy.
To put it another way, be sensitive to the feelings of others and see the world through their eyes.
Imagine a mother struggling with a stroller and shopping bags on the bus. Her kids are loud, they press the stop button repeatedly, and she has to take a loud phone call while on the bus. Some passengers might find this annoying. How can you write the scene from her perspective to help your reader empathise?
Maybe the call is from the hospital, about a loved one? Maybe she notices people looking away instead of offering her a seat?
This exercise is even more effective when you think of someone in the past for whom you felt a lot of anger and hatred. It could be an ex, an enemy, or a parent.
Write a story from the viewpoint of the person in question, being as empathetic as possible—even if you don't agree with what you write.
Stories need conflict. If your story is only focused on pleasant events, or if you have only written characters you’d like in real life, this creative exercise can help you break out of your “happy place.”
14. Group Writing Exercises
Working with a group is a great way to trigger creative writing ideas.
For example, in a group, give everyone a few minutes to write one or two possible themes (of not more than 5 words or less) for a new holiday story.
Take the papers, shuffle them, and then distribute them randomly to everyone.
If you’re working online, you can each write your themes in a group chat. And everyone can pick whatever theme they fancy or are comfortable writing.
In the next 10 minutes, write a short story based on one or two given themes.
If you’d like, you can swap your story with another group member to continue the narrative, building a complete story together.
By working with other people, you force yourself to just write so you have something to show at the end. Plus, it's fun!
How Do You Really Improve Your Writing Skills?
Stephen King once observed:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
If you really want to inspire your readers and communicate your message more effectively in writing, you have to read like a writer. Notice how the stories you’re reading make you feel, and why they make you feel that way.
But most importantly, you must give your writing skills a workout—and these 14 creative writing exercises provide the perfect starting point.
What’s more, make use of tools available to you to help you learn more about your own writing. Professional bloggers, novelists, copywriters, and other types of writers use ProWritingAid to receive personalized feedback on their work. It’s a one-stop-tool that helps you learn, edit, and improve your writing. Try it out today.