MA Writing Adventures: 5 Writing Exercises to Help Overcome Writer’s Block #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I started an MA in Creative Writing in the middle of September, and it’s been fun to get to know the group. There are quite a few short story and YA writers among us! There were also some inspiring quotes from our reading. My favourite is below, and a sketch I did to go with it:

imperfect dome dragon sketch authortoolbox blog hop

‘Better an imperfect dome in Florence than cathedrals in the clouds.’

For me this quote really hammered home the importance of getting your ideas down on paper, even if they’re not perfect. Better that than a daydream that never amounts to anything πŸ™‚

Anyway, every week we’re set some writing exercises to experiment with. Some of these really helped my creative process, so I thought I’d share a few below:

Ma Writing Adventures 5 Writing exercises to help writers block

Free writing:

The idea of free writing is to write without editing, pausing, or crossing out. Keep your hand moving, even if you start off with writing something like ‘What shall I write today?’

I struggled with my first attempt. I kept getting distracted, and I couldn’t write more than one or two sentences without stopping. I disliked not having an idea of what I was writing, so I decided to start over writing around a prompt: Fire.

Having a direction for my free writing worked much better. I only crossed out a few words in the ten minutes I wrote. The results were all over the place. I jumped into different points of view and changed a couple of major plot points in the middle of my scribbles, but that’s okay. The point was not to stop and fix things, just keep writing! (Works best on paper!)

Transcribing it was a nightmare, but I’ve since received feedback from the class, tidied up my story about two brothers, one who has magic, and posted it on my blog:Β Brothers through fire.

free writing author toolbox blog hop

Free writing is fun. It reminded me of when I was little, laying on the floor with a notepad writing without pressure. Nowadays I struggle to turn off my inner editor, but with free writing, after a few terrible sentences, my writing really began to flow. I’m tempted to introduce it into my daily routine, even if it is just for ten minutes, to help break through writer’s block.

Timed Writing:

Timed writing is pretty straightforward. Set a timer and write for a certain amount of time. I chose ten minutes. I’ve done writing sprints before, via the Nanowrimo website, and I find muting the alarm the best tactic: If I lose myself in writing I hate the noise distracting me from it!

I find I write a lot faster during timed writing sessions, because I feel like I’m racing. It doesn’t produce a high quality of work, at least in my case, but it does encourage you to write as many words as possible in the time given and get some semblance of a draft!

timed writing author toolbox blog hop

Pick an Object:

Choose an object, anything lying around nearby, and write about it without stopping to think. See what you come up with.Β I chose a fly on the wall. Not necessarily an object, but it caught my eye at the time. I wrote an interesting story about it, which I’ll share on Sunday.

The exercise made me think about the object in question and what its story could be. It was fun to write without purpose and reconnect with the joy of writing. I think we could all do with a break from our works in progress once in a while to write for the sake of it. Reconnecting with why we love writing in the first place is a surefire way to beat writer’s block.Β 

Something beginning with…:

Choose a letter and start writing all the words you can think of that begin with that letter. Keep going for as long as you can, and see if anything interesting happens.

I didn’t think this exercise would help, but I was pleasantly surprised. When I ran out of words beginning with ‘A’ I looked around for inspiration. Then I remembered one of my character’s names begins with A.Β This made me think of other things beginning with A in his world, and I left the list behind to write a scene from his story, which I thought up whilst I was thinking of words πŸ™‚

Tales from Dragonspire cover
Arckia and Orik

This was an interesting exercise which inspired me to think about my stories. It also reinforced a valuable lesson: Pay attention to the world around you, and you’ll be more inspired.

Write to music:

Choose some instrumental music, with no lyrics. Free write to the music.

I’ve done this before, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This time I chose a Studio Ghibli playlist on Youtube. I was really productive, even though my writing was slower than it is without music. I think this was because the music was slow and meaningful, so I matched the pace. Some of my scenes became sad and thoughtful too.

writing to music author toolbox blog hop

Some days I need music to function. I have tinnitus, and if I’m writing the best thing to drown it out is instrumentals.Β I find music inspiring, especially if I choose a piece that relates to the scene I’m writing. If I find a song that relates to my stories I often leave it on repeat whilst I write.

Bonus exercise: Cento

Cento is taking lines from different poems and mixing them together into a new poem. I decided to take a line from each chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone instead:

‘Where’s the cannon?’ he said stupidly.
‘Up!’ she screeched.
There was nothing else for it.
He had to start somewhere.

A hooded figure came swiftly down the front steps of the castle.
He was carrying a large wooden crate under his arm.
‘How did he get covered in blood?’
When he looked up, the figure had gone.

On Saturday, things began to get out of hand.
‘Dragons!’ he whispered.
His heart skipped.
He hadn’t even lasted two weeks.
‘Do you think they’ll attack us if we cross the room?’

Vault seven hundred and thirteen had no keyhole.
The ghosts didn’t help, either.
At last there was silence again.
He had found what he was looking for in his inside pocket.*

*No copyright infringement intended. This was a fun exercise, part of a Creative Writing course.

It was fun to experiment with different lines and try to order them into a poem that made sense. Of course mine had dragons in it! This exercise can spark enthusiasm for writing and break you out of a slump. It also has the potential to help you think of new characters and story ideas.

scales divider copy

Thanks for reading!

So far I’d recommend an MA in Creative Writing. I’m getting a lot out of the course already, and I only believe I’ll learn more. The workshop aspect was a little daunting, because other than this blog I’ve never submitted anything before, but it was a lot better than I expected.

To read more posts in the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, hosted by Raimey Gallant, click here:

ATB

The hop is on break now, until January, but I’ll probably be posting about my university experiences in the meantime, especially as we come up to Nanowrimo. (I’m rebelling this year, which I’m sure will be less stressful!)

Have you tried any of these writing exercises? How did you find them? Do you prefer to write with pen and paper, or type on a computer? If you try any of the exercises, let me know which ones work best!

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26 comments

  1. Good post, Louise, I like your idea of freewheeling. I kinda write that way when I’m the most productive, but often fall back to being too precise. I don’t think I have enough musical talent to write to music, but I do have music playing in the background when I’m up late writing.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great exercises! Thanks so much for sharing. Freewriting has always been my go-to way of working, and so I sometimes have the opposite problem and don’t have enough of an inner editor. πŸ™‚

    Best of luck on your MA! Can’t wait to read more about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m very fond of free writing. I think it’s easy to always insist that writing be focused, productive, and intentional, but sometimes it’s nice to just let go and let the words flow.
    The letter/word exercise certainly sounds interesting. I’ve never done taht.
    I also really like music prompts. Every month I pick out a song that has no lyrics, preferably one I think most will not recognize, and I play that during the writing session. Since it’s not an image or a text based prompt, I find that it gives people something to react to while also avoiding anything concrete that might limit their creativity.
    Another one I’ve heard, but never tried, is to go to a bookstore, choose a book you know nothing about, and open it to a random page. Then choose either a single line of dialogue, or a paragraph, but choose without reading it first, and copy it down. “That” is now the prompt for the exercise. Start with that and keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great ideas! I used time writing whenever I’m stressed out or the words aren’t coming. I force myself to write whatever comes to mind for 30 minutes. No social media, not internet! Usually, when the alarm sounds, I’m annoyed at being interupted from my writing flow!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good tips πŸ™‚ I find timed writing — in the sense that I write down when I started and when I stopped — shows me how I’m actually using my writing time. I don’t rush — I hasten πŸ˜‰ — to get the words down in the best possible way. To cut out distractions, I use a pen and notebook for first drafts. Does get a little daunting when it’s time to type it all up, but the story seems more streamlined that way.

    As for sharing your writing: it’s supposed to be exhilarating and scary πŸ™‚ Good luck!

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox blog hop day: Running Your Author Empire

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ronel πŸ™‚
      I don’t think I could draft an entire novel on pen and notebook, but I often use that method to draft short stories or scenes I’m struggling with. I find I’m very easily distracted, and some days even that’s a struggle.

      I’m going to share my work again next week. It was great to have someone point out something I’d missed πŸ™‚

      Like

  6. These are some great ideas, thanks for sharing! I think one of my goals is to take some time and do more writing exercises. I usually end up spending the majority of my writing time devoted to a specific project and I think taking some time to do exercises and sprints would maybe help me break out of the box. I keep hearing about everyone doing writing sprints! I’ll have to try it one of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful post. I do so like writing prompts. I am so visual my favorite is the object. I like To pick three random images I find on Pinterest and put them all together them define a fast character and her world πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had fun reading this. You reminded me of a game my brothers and I used to play in the car. Someone says a word, the next person has to say word starting with the last letter of the previous word. You can make is specific, like only using city names, of animal types etc. Lots of fun. This might work for writing too.

    Liked by 1 person

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