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Become a Better Writer: 10 Writing Exercises for Adults

For those who consider themselves writers, getting better is a never-ending quest

As any writer will tell you, there is no such thing as being good, established, or experienced enough to be immune to the pitfalls of being a creative artist. Sometimes you feel stuck, sometimes you aren’t sure what to write, and you are always trying to improve. Writers are constantly chasing the unknown — that breakthrough they’ll have on the page that will bring everything into focus.

For writers of all levels, writing exercises can help you get better at writing — for many reasons. First, writing exercises get you writing. Writing, as it were, is the #1 way to get better at writing. Second, writing exercises can challenge you to look at things in a new way. Often, writing exercises encourage you to take on a writing task that you might not have otherwise. These challenges bring new ideas, and importantly, they can get you out of a pattern of frustration. Often the reason writers get stuck is that they’re thinking about a creative problem in one way, without considering an alternative way to approach it. Writing exercises can break down those barriers.

Below, you’ll find 10 writing exercises to jumpstart your writing process. You can use them to generate new ideas, to get yourself unstuck, or merely to get yourself in the practice of writing. These prompts blend fiction and non-fiction practices. Don’t relegate yourself to one or the other. Engaging in one type of writing can inspire ideas for another.

#1. Character questionnaire

If you are a fiction writer, one of the biggest tasks ahead of you is to develop your characters. In the process of doing this, many writers do what is called a character questionnaire. This exercise asks you to answer questions about your character. Some of them are probably things you hadn’t yet considered. Here are 10 questions to answer about your character:

  1. What is your character’s favorite food? Why? How does it make your character feel to eat that food?
  2. Who is your character’s best friend? When did they meet? How does that person make your character feel?
  3. Who is someone your character doesn’t like? Why? What is their relationship to each other? How does that person make your character feel?
  4. What is your character’s biggest fear?
  5. What makes your character feel embarrassed?
  6. Think of a time your character was overcome with laughter. What inspired it? Who was your character with at the time? Did that person laugh, too?
  7. When your character gets home at the end of a long day, what is the first minute inside the front door like?
  8. What happened on your character’s 8th birthday? Who was there?
  9. What happened on your character’s most recent birthday? What happened? Who was there?
  10. What is your character’s favorite quality about him or herself, physical, intellectual, or emotional?

#2. Write about a memory you have that is connected to food

Spend 10 minutes picking one food and really digging deep about the memory you have attached to that food. How does it make you feel? Have you ever made it? Can you still get it, or is it for some reason out of your reach now?

#3. Build a new place

Create a new place in your mind. It can be a resort, a town, a municipal office, a home — anything you want, as long as you can define it as a place. Spend 20-30 minutes describing every detail you can imagine about this place. Who comes here? Why? What are the walls like? What does the air smell like? What is hanging in the windows?

#4. Freewriting

The opposite of a prompt. Set a timer. For five minutes, don’t stop writing. Write anything that comes to mind — there are absolutely no limits except that you can’t limit yourself. Whatever pops into your mind, write it down. At the end of the five minutes, if you want to keep going, set another five-minute timer.

#5. Object

Pick an object in your space. Hold it. How heavy is it? Smell it. What does it smell like? Spend time writing about this object in detail. Describe its physical appearance, its emotional connection to you. Where did you get it? Do you want to have it forever? What would you feel like if you lost it?

#6. Your favorite story

What is the best story you ever heard, told to you by someone else? It could be something that happened to them, or something they learned about. What was the story, and what made it so engaging? Why do you remember it so clearly?

#7. Surprise

Think about a time when you were truly surprised. You know, a time when you got that little jump in your stomach because you couldn’t quite keep up with what was going on. Did the surprise bring you joy? What was the experience like? What was your reality right before the surprise, and how was that reality altered by the surprise?

#8. What’s in a name

What is your name? Who gave you that name, and why? How do you feel about your name? If you could rename yourself tomorrow with no consequences — i.e. you don’t have to go through the red tape of renaming yourself, you’re just poof! Now known as something else — would you? If so, what would you change your name to? If not, why wouldn’t you change your name?

#9. What’s in a name, #2

What is your character’s name? Who gave them that name, and why? How does your character feel about their name? If they could rename themselves, would they? Why? Why not?

#10. Close your eyes

Close your eyes, wherever you are. Zoom in, with your ears, on the sounds around you. Describe them in detail. What do you hear close to you? What do you hear in the distance? Where are those sounds coming from? What lives are other beings or people living that are creating those sounds? What are their days like, today?

I hope some of the prompts above have given you some new ideas, or challenged you to think about something from a new perspective. Come back to these prompts anytime — you’ll be surprised at how you can generate something new with them each time.

Lauren Harkawik
Author

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

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