5 Writing Exercises That Will Make You More Creative
Writing is serious business, full of mental anguish, studious contemplation, philosophical brooding, and bullshit. Listen: If your every literary moment is spent agonizing unhappily over your creation -- just quit. If you're going to be unhappy with your pastimes anyway, take up carpentry. Even a shitty, crooked spice rack will keep the oregano from cluttering up the cabinets. If you're writing, you should have the decency to enjoy it. Remember: All you're doing is transcribing imagination time. Don't take it too seriously. Writing is a game, and if you're stuck on a level, the solution isn't to grind through it -- just cheat. Here are a few simple cheat codes to get you started, and maybe unfuck your creativity love enough for you to finish that masterwork about a boy and his homosexual robot dog. And if you try any of these, feel free to post the results in the comments. Because that's the other important aspect of being a writer: the shameless attention whoring.
Brutally End Your Story
Having trouble starting your piece?
Why not end it instead? Why not write the cacophonous, mad, tragic, soul-shattering climax to a magnum opus that never existed? Start with the heartbreaking death of your main character, and write it like thousands of readers have already grown to know and love them. Reveal the mind-blowing plot twist without ever having to go through the drudgery of setting it up. Some writers use the "last line" trick -- where they just write the very last line of the story and then try to get there. I'm advocating for the full finale. Write the last two pages. Cut into the action in the middle of a sentence -- or the middle of an explosion -- and see where it takes you. You don't have to worry about quality or integrity or any of that crap, because the story you're ending never even existed. This exercise is a fine way to start a work you intend to keep. Oh, you won't keep what you write while playing this game: You'll probably rewrite every single word of this trite rubbish while sobbing in angry shame, but you might figure out an overall goal. That's just as important. The biggest danger, especially in longer works, is getting lost along the way. Even if you never pick up this particular story again, the exercise at least lets you practice what to do when you reach that goal so you don't pull up to your dramatic finale with a blank look on your face and motion for all the action to stop while you read the instruction manual.
-foot broke through the Papier's skull with a sound like eggshells cracking.
"I told you it would come to this," I informed the shattered paper man. He looked at me with flat painted eyes.
"What sin did we commit?" the Papier asked me, not understanding.
"Worship of false idols," I said.
I motioned to the torn and shredded husks all around us.
"I didn't worship them..."
"No, that was their sin. Yours was pride."
"I just didn't want to be alone anymore," he said, "They were my brothers."
"They were dolls," I corrected, "and not very good ones. Their limbs were malformed. Their brains were feeble. You were the best of them. That's why I saved you for last, old friend."
I bent, pulled a pair of faded pink safety scissors from my pocket and began to cut. I started on the mouth, so I wouldn't have to hear him scream.
"How's your project coming, Billy? Will you be finished before nap time?" Mrs. Davis asked me, her oblivious eyes carefully selecting the reality she allows herself to see.
"It's almost done, Mrs. Davis," I answered. "It's almost over now."
Drive Your Story Insane
Make a throwaway copy of whatever you're working on, pick a point at complete random, and, purely as a practice exercise -- with no thought for cohesiveness or quality -- introduce something totally unexpected. If you're writing something ridiculous and fun, have your wackiest character get a call telling them they have terminal stomach cancer. If you're writing a serious literary drama about a woman struggling to deal with emotional commitment, have a troop of superpowered luchadores bust out of a wedding cake. Figure out how your characters would respond to utter madness and desolation. Try (and, almost certainly, desperately fail) to make these random events jive with your world and existing plot. You're not keeping the end result. It doesn't count, so do whatever you want. As a writer, never forget that you're Bill Murray on Groundhog Day. You know everything and can do whatever you want, without consequence. You are the undisputed master of this plane of existence. The words aren't writing you -- you're a fucking literary god. Be a bad one for a page or two. You're Gozer the Gozerian, and these petty mortals dare defy you? Fuck 'em. Warp reality, completely screw the whole world, damage your character's minds and send them reeling into psych wards with acute PTSD from the experience. Then, when you're finished, close your word processor and go back to the real story. It will help, in the long run. You just never know the measure of a woman until you've seen how she takes an atomic suplex on her wedding day.
"Do you solemnly swear to love and obey-"
"Did somebody say 'ole'?!" A muffled voice sounded, impossibly, from inside my wedding cake.
"No," Mark started, scanning for the source, "no they actually didn-"
He cut off when a fist-size clump of frosting caught him in the bridge of the nose. I didn't even see the chaos; I was too close to the cakesplosion epicenter. There was a hot, wet thump, and then I was upside down on a church pew. I was still spitting chunks of vanilla lavender when the first dropkick caught me. I was still spitting teeth when the bright green bootprints on my chest began to burn.
Abandon Your Story
Full disclosure: This whole idea was inspired by a post I wrote last week, and this entire entry is pulled from my own site, because I'm a lazy bastard. But in my defense, I only do it because I want to, because I can, and because nobody can stop me.
I'm constantly mentally writing the beginnings of stories. Beginnings that I have no intention of ever expanding on, either because the ideas peter out, the concept doesn't interest me enough to devote more time to it, or because the premise is just laughably bad. It doesn't matter, really: It's fun to write the first paragraph of a huge work and then completely abandon it, mocking its potential and daring the muses to take a swing at you (they won't do it -- pussies). There was a proposed Cracked project a while back, where we were kicking around an idea for a series that was just overly explanatory theme songs to shows. We would film the opening credits, and maybe a second or two of the show itself as a button. But the meat of the content would just be the ridiculous opening sequences setting up this terrible show's premise in detail. The one I was going to pitch was called "So I Married a Corvette..." about a man whose wife is somehow turned into a sports car. Science, magic ... I didn't get far enough to sort out the details. The important thing was this guy's wife was a car, and maybe they fought crime and they certainly made a lot of terrible car puns like, "Sorry to cut in, but I really MUSTANGo," and "Could've had a V8!" (As a man is horribly crushed beneath an engine block.)
We all have the devil inside of us. He takes many forms. For some folks he's a desire they can't put down. Lust, or greed, or envy. For others, he's an addiction. My daddy had two devils living in his guts: alcohol and gambling. They cost him everything -- his job, his family, his life. Me? I only got one devil to carry. His name is Larry. He's about 2 inches tall, and he lives in a hollowed-out space in my chest. Got a little armchair in there. Doesn't like visitors much, but he'll see you as long as you knock first. You wanna meet him?
... and that would be an instance of the "laughably bad" category. But that's the point: to start a story that you have no obligation to finish. Why does it matter if it was any good? It's going in the garbage one way or another. This is not a good exercise to start an important work; it's a good exercise to bleed the poison out before you begin actually writing.
Cheat on Your Story
Fuck your novel, anyway.
That thing's been giving you nothing but trouble: Ignore the bastard for an hour or two and go play with something else. Pull your favorite toy out of whatever you're working on -- a character you like, an interesting setting -- and take it to a friend's house. Write something totally unrelated using those familiar parts. It doesn't matter what the subject matter is: something boring, something random, something stupid. The important part is that it has nothing at all to do with your central plot. If you pull a setting, it doesn't have to be a vital set piece. If you pull a character, it doesn't have to be the protagonist -- you've spent too much time together anyway. That's not a healthy relationship; you guys need your own lives. Pick a supporting character and write a few paragraphs about something irrelevant that happened to him 10 years before the plot takes place. How would he respond? Pick a setting five years after your plot ends and put somebody else in there. What would it look to him? Hopefully this exercise will help you get to know your own stuff a little better -- or at the very least, it will help you cement these things as existing places/persons/cybernetic lust-beasts independent from the story you want to tell.
... will mean nothing to you here, because it would be a tangential spin-off of a supporting character from a project that you don't know even know that I'm working on. That's like four different ways for you to not give a shit, so let's just fill this space with a man trying to kill the ground with an explosive sledgehammer. Do try to not look disappointed.
Steal Somebody Else's Story
Are you sick of dealing with your project? Probably. But what can you do? You don't feel up to starting a new one, and you don't want to get too distracted with something else.
Don't worry, there's an easy fix: Just steal somebody else's work!
Remember: They can only prosecute if you try to use it. Everything else is satire, parody, fan fiction, or a few crumpled pages in a garbage can. If you have writer friends, nab one of their pieces and finish it yourself however you see fit. If you don't have writer friends, fuck it. Take something from pop culture. Grab a plot synopsis for Moby Dick and have Ishmael constantly making crude jokes about sperm whales. Write RoboCop from the point of view of a surly teenager. Write the finale of Lost in a way that makes sense -- you can do the impossible! Don't worry about undertaking some massive project you owe fealty to, because you can stop wherever you like. Bang out a few hundred words of the "Sermon on the Mount" as delivered by Quentin Tarantino. Get two paragraphs into your version of Die Hard where John McClane is a giant bee and ditch it whenever you feel like it. It's a literary rental car: You go ahead and jam that Camry into a 40-mile-an-hour handbrake turn. You bought the insurance -- ain't your problem. It's like staying at a friend's house: You're leaving in a few hours, so why not pee in the closet? They probably won't find it for a day or two, and even then they'll probably just yell at the cat. This story is not yours, it doesn't matter if you break it, and you owe it nothing. That freedom is exhilarating, and once you're done playing around, some of it will carry over to your own work.
"Whatever," RoboCop said, "I didn't want to come here anyway."
"That's a great attitude," Officer Lewis snapped. "You're sure to enjoy yourself with thinking like that."
"I wanted to stay home and watch TV!" RoboCop kicked an errant pinecone. It spun into the gutter. He spat at it.
"Well, you can't, OK? You are going to spend some time outside if it kills you, and I'll tell you what else: if you don't shoot that perp's knees out right now you'll lose cruiser privileges for a month."
"What?!" RoboCop snapped his facemask off so Officer Lewis could fully appreciate his indignant fury. "How am I going to see Suzy without a car?"
"I guess you won't," Officer Lewis answered coolly. "Unless ..."
RoboCop heaved a defeated sigh and, rolling his eyes, put fifty 9mm rounds into Boddicker's gut.
"There," RoboCop said. "You happy?"
"I am," Officer Lewis laughed. "Aren't you?"
"Whatever," RoboCop answered.