Writing Exercises (stolen from various teachers I have known throughout the years)

1. The exercise in which you type out a few pages of your favorite writer but you DO NOT PLAGIARIZE.

This is a nice beginning exercise and it sort of falls under the golden rule of writing: Show Don’t Tell.

What is your favorite book? Okay. Go get a copy and type or handwrite out a couple of pages of that favorite book. Do it slowly. Because this is all there is to the exercise. Pay attention to the rhythm, the structure, the language—try to deconstruct what it is about the writing that you like. Start applying this analytical reading to other books. What works? Why? Part of being a good writer is being an attentive reader.

2. The exercise in which you steal a character or some other element from that favorite book and do your own thing.

Okay, that scene you just wrote out from someone else’s book: Using the character or voice or some strong element from that piece of work, write your own something or other in that voice/character/etc. You could write a new scene. Or a diary entry. Or a blog post using the voice or tone from that book (as an example, once in school I had to write a paper using about Catcher in the Rye written in Holden Caulfield’s voice. It was a great assignment.) Again, we’re not going to plagiarize or pass this off as your own creation, but we’re using someone else’s work as a jumping off point to play around. It’s all about learning how it’s done.

3. In which we create our own character sketch.

Write down five characteristics (adjectives, such as bitchy, sarcastic, conniving, insecure, shy, funny, loving, goofy) and write a one-page scene in which one character displays these attributes. Let your friends read the page and see if they can guess which characteristics you were going for. If they guess, or guess close, give yourself a cookie. If they don’t, give yourself a cookie. Writing, like all things, takes practice! And you just practiced.

Okay, now we’re ready to cook with gas and try some more advanced writing.

4. Begin a story with the following sentence: “You really should know better,” she said. (You can also say “he said” if you want.)

See where this takes you.

5. Write a short story that takes place during no more than one hour.

6. Write a short story from one perspective (e.g. first person “I” narrator). Then, just for the heck of it, rewrite from a different perspective (third person narration, “he says, she says,” etc.).

7. Write a short story in which the narrator is not the main character, in other words an observer watching the action happen to someone else.