As I mentioned last week, I’ve been thinking about what I can do over the next four weeks of isolation. I’m still working full-time but I’m using this chance to work more on my ongoing projects, since there’s nothing to distract me right now.

It made me think of all the times people have said to me they wish they could write something – a story, a book, a poem or anything else – and how I had little to offer them. It didn’t sit right with me. Now, given we have more time to try new things, I’ve compiled some of my favourite writing exercises. I hope you’ll find them useful.

Note: I’m not claiming credit for creating or naming these. I’ve come across them from writing groups, university and online sources. There are so many more than the ones I’ll share.

Freewriting

What you need: A timer

This is a deceptively simple task; all you need is a timer. Set a time limit and once it starts, begin writing. The goal is not to stop until the time runs out, regardless of where your mind takes you.

This sounds simple but it’s really not. We are trained to think about what we write, how to structure sentences and paragraphs, follow a lot thread etc. The goal here is to ignore all that. What you write doesn’t matter as much as doing it.

Freewriting is often used before working on something else as a way to get you in the mindset to write. That being said, the randomness and nonsensical logic can unleash brilliant ideas that can be included in other projects or become the starting point of something new.

Mix it up: Vary the length of time you write for to see what works best for you.

Picturesque inspiration

What you need: A picture, a photo, a painting – anything visual.

This is a great exercise, and it only requires one thing: something visual. This means you can do this task over and over with different things, whether a photograph, a painting or even the view from your window. Hell, watch a movie and pause it – then use that.

Set yourself a word count and write something based on what you see. It might be a descriptive exercise if you need inspiration for other projects, or it can blossom into something more. Ask yourself who would be in that scene and why. Ask yourself where it is and what’s around it. Use your other senses to flesh out the world.

If it’s a scene of action, think about what’s happening, or what happened before or after that moment. Who can you see? what are they doing? Even if you know, in detail, what is happening in that scene, let your imagination create something else.

You can do both of the above separately then combine later or evolve into different pieces. This is really two tasks in one and they can fit to your preferences.

Mix it up: Instead of using something visual to inspire you, use audio. A sound, a story, a poem or music. Think about what you hear, what it inspires in you, what the words tell you and do the same as above. You can also change the word count to add another level of depth to this task.

The senses task

What you need: Something you can see, something you can hold, something you can hear and something you can taste (you don’t actually have to eat or drink it, though).

A word count of up to 3,000 is ideal for this task, but you can make it more challenging by changing it, usually making it lower. You must include all of the items you’ve chosen in some way, either as a focus or as a passing comment.

With these building blocks, you can craft anything. Start with the sound or view and build up to why the objects are there, and who might be using, seeing or hearing them. Alternatively, do the opposite!

There’s a lot of freedom in this task and it relies on you to make decisions about the importance, order and reason behind each object. If you find it difficult, start with fewer objects and work up to it. In some cases, they’re integral to the piece while in others they add more depth to a character, location or situation.

This is also a great exercise to work on humour, as the random assortment can sometimes deny belief – especially if you don’t choose the objects.

Mix it up: The simplest way to mix it up is use different items/views/noises. This task literally becomes what you base it on and that means you have endless possibilities. Ask your friends to pick items for you, as they might surprise you with their selections. For a real challenge, ask a different friend for each one. Then you’ll have a completely random assortment.

This is only the first post of writing exercises. I’ve been talking to fellow writers and asking for their favourites, too, so expect to see some of those later in the series. Feel free to let me know how you get on, or if you have any writing exercises of your own!

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