8 exercises to shake up your day and banish that writer’s block – by Annalisa Jackson
8 exercises to shake up your day and banish that writer’s block
by Annalisa Jackson
It’s horrible isn’t it.
Sitting with a notepad and pen, or sat in front of your computer, willing the words to come, but not only has your muse disappeared, its apparently deserted you for a holiday in the sun. Writer’s block is truly the pits. However, all is not completely lost.
If your editor is barking at you for a deadline, you need to put a new blog up to prove you haven’t died, or that work in progress (hereafter WIP) has become a work in stagnation, there are ways to get your mojo back, haul the muse off the sun lounger and get it back to work.
One great way is to use writing exercises.
No, the WIP won’t be getting any longer and the deadline won’t be getting any further away, but you will get some words on the paper. Even if they are no use, it wakes the creative centres in the brain and puts them to work.
Creativity is a muscle: the more you work it the stronger it gets.
At worst you get it pumping iron again, and at best you feel more inspired and even may have come away with a piece of writing you can utilise later. So, follow on below for ten writing exercises to shake up your day.
- 1) Freewriting/Stream of consciousness/Hot penning
I have seen this one given a few names before, but the premise remains the same.
Grab a piece of paper, a pen, and something to time yourself with. You can do this on a laptop, but it’s best to go analogue.
Set yourself a time of anything up to ten minutes, depending on how long you have to spare, or how likely you are to complete it. Then you simply write without giving it too much conscious thought.
It doesn’t matter if all you can start with is “Why the hell am I doing the stupid exercise when I can’t think of anything to write banana banana banana”.
Just keep writing, do not lift your pen at all. You will find that eventually bursts of creativity will appear. You may make connections between words, short sentences, or ideas to tuck away and look at later.
Freewriting cuts out that inner censor in your brain, the one that makes you overthink what you are writing. And its completely private. Nobody ever has to see what you are writing. The idea is not to write a masterpiece for public consumption, but to let go of your judgements and focus intently on the act of writing.
There are apps that can allow you to free write on your phone. Two I use are Tomato Typewriter and The Most Dangerous Writing App*.
Tomato Typewriter allows you to set yourself a target in minutes or words, and a maximum idle time. Once you stop longer than your maximum idle time you can choose any of three punishments: the app making an annoying noise, words beginning to delete themselves, or the entire content being deleted.
(If it deletes don’t fret as it saves it to your clipboard.)
MDWA is similar, but it has stats for words typed, sessions passed, and ‘failed’, as well as giving you Levels if that’s your bag. It does have an idle period of just 5 seconds though so don’t use it when your anxiety is peaking.
The perk of MDWA over Tomato Typewriter is that it also has the option of generating a prompt you can use as a jumping off point.
Speaking of prompts
2) Writing with Prompts
Another handy way to kickstart your writing is to use prompts. Writing prompts are freely available all over the internet. Search in Pinterest and you will be swamped with lists of them. You could print some of these out or pin them to your own board if you have one. Or an alternative would be to use google to find a random prompt generator.
One of the first hits I found on Google was plot-generator.org.uk. I liked this one for the range of prompts available. You can have a prompt for a character, a name, a plot/plot twist. The plot section is what drew me to it, as you can choose a genre to have your plot generated from.
The form generated allows you to fill out as much or little as you please, so you could choose anything, from going purely on a title, to being able to choose multiple aspects yourself and have the rest filled in.
If you are just bored and not trying to break a writer’s block, it will pick you a pen name or help you create a blurb. And if you want to continue looking there are pages of sites all doing similar things and offering you thousands of permutations to choose from.
3) Loop Writing
Remember that freewriting exercise you were doing earlier? Loop writing is a way to use freewriting in a more focused manner. It dives deeper into what you have written, finding thoughts and insights in your freewriting practice you can use to give your writing a direction, unearth starting points, phrases, or lines either for you current WIP, or a new one.
It has a more structured approach than true freewriting because of this deep diving.
You start by making an inventory of topics using a cluster diagram/mind map.
Give yourself about five minutes for this. Chose base topics then create your map with ideas that branch off from the base topic.
This is one I created recently as an aid for my character mapping.
Once you finish, sit and read it. Choose the topic that you think has the most potential, or that you are most comfortable with. This is your focal point.
Next take your topic and write for fifteen minutes on everything you already know about the topic.
Once you reach the end of your fifteen minutes you start the next ‘loop’. Read what you have written again. Underline the parts you think are the most pertinent, or important, and use these to start another five to fifteen minutes of free writing.
These loops can be continued indefinitely and are a great way to build on a key part of your work, or to make connections between topics. I find it a useful process for constructing my characters. Once I know more about them, I’m able to write their story with more richness and interest.
- 4) Change of genre
Bored of free writing and want to do something more structured? Switching up your genre is a fantastic way to engage with your writing with more conscious thought and lateral thinking.
If you are a children’s writer, try an adult horror flash fiction, or if you are a crime writer, try a short fantasy story. If you are stuck for a starter, you can always go back to the writing prompts or random generators.
You can use your expertise in other genres to give a fresh take on your new one. Or you could use a film or book plot in your chosen genre and write it differently.
How could you rewrite Harry Potter? Could you give the villain a win?
Alternatively, take a character from a totally different genre, put them into this one and tell a new story. A short story putting the Terminator into a love story perhaps. There are a lot of options here to freshen up your writing.
You may want to come back to this new genre and try it again. I’m a children’s author, but I have ideas for adult genres I have tucked away to try on these kinds of days.
And now I’m writing this I find myself intrigued about how I could write the Terminator into a love story…
- 5) Change to a different POV
If, for example, you are writing a space story about an alien encounter from the point of view of the astronaut, but you are stuck at the moment he lands on the jungle planet, then why not try switching points of view for a moment.
Write instead through the eyes of the aliens who have spotted his spacecraft crash-landing. How do they feel about this intruder on their world?
Changing your character point of view may give you a different idea for world building, or give your secondary character new emotions, motives or adjectives that are transferrable once you switch back to writing as your primary protagonist.
It’s entirely possible it may give you inspiration for a whole new direction to your WIP. You could alternate between these points of view rather than writing the whole book or story in one voice.
- 6) Write a letter
Let’s step away from that WIP for a moment.
Writing is writing, be it casual or focused. The minutiae may be different, but what connects them is an ability to use language, construct a narrative, bring the reader into what you are saying.
For this reason, letter writing is an excellent writing exercise, less used now. Step away from what has been frustrating you and take some time to write a letter instead.
It doesn’t have to be to anybody you know (although it could be), you could write to a family member, famous person, yourself from the past or future, or to one of your characters, either from yourself or from another character.
It’s the fact you are pushing past your writer’s block and getting the words down that will help. As said previously, creativity is a muscle and any exercise helps.
- 7) Acrostic Poems
I love acrostics. They are an excellent way to practice poetry and writing in general. You have a topic and a framework to go with already. If you are unfamiliar with acrostics, it’s a remarkably simple idea. You take a word, be it a noun, verb etc, and you write it down your page with a letter per line. You then write a poem about that word, using the letters you have written out as the first letter of each sentence. As an example, this is one I wrote on rainy days.
Racing for cover under shop fronts
As clothes stick slick to skin
I watch it patter gently on the windows
Nicely shielded from menacing clouds
You fret about the pegged out laundry
Dogs and children delight in puddles
As I enjoy the sensation on my face
Yes, I’m a fan of rainy days
So long as I’ve gotten the laundry in
Acrostics are a simple but effective way to warm up to your writing and help you start to engage in being creative. You don’t have to be a poet to enjoy acrostics, and they don’t only help poets with their writing. They are very worth a try if you find yourself sat, face down at the table, telling yourself you will never be able to write again. You could always work your WIP in by doing one on a character or place from your work.
- 8) Read
On the days you can’t write, read. Just read until you are inspired.
*Please not I am not paid for any apps or websites I suggest, they probably won’t even know I have suggested them. I am simply recommending what I have found useful.
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