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Writing Exercises to Get Your Pen Moving

I don't get blocked too often. Usually I'm eager to write and too desperate to carve out a chunk of time for writing to feeling stuck. But those moments do come, especially when I'm distracted by some personal event or feel lost in what I'm writing. How do I get through it? Sometimes I piss away my time doing nothing of importance on the internet while I "brainstorm" (haha), but most of the time I grab a pen and notepad (I find that when I'm stuck, I can't be bothered with my laptop) and do a short writing exercise. Here are a few that have released the dam on my creative juices:

1) Freewrite. I know, I know. Duh. This is every writing teacher's first line of defense-advice for when you're stumped. Thing is, when my brain feels like a black hole, even freewriting seems an exhausting task. I feel pressured to jot down emotions or random but meaningful observations, even though I know I'm supposed to be writing whatever crap is in my head. Which usually, at that point, is me berating myself for not giving myself a break when it comes to freewriting. What I've discovered is that if I simply look around and write what I see, it will lead to something. Example: That wall is white. I need to clean off my sewing table. My bookcase is stuffed with books two-thick. Just like it was when I was twelve and the nails began to pull out under the strain. Which is why I decided to be Tween DIY Extraordinarie and grabbed my dad's drill and screw that thing back together again . . .

And suddenly that white wall has morphed into a story. So try starting your freewrite with the most mundane observations and go from there.

2) Write a letter. Write it to yourself, to a friend or family member, to a character in your novel. Pick a voice for the letter; it can be your own, but this is also a good opportunity to experiment with accents, regional dialects and futuristic swear words. The subject and "author" of the letter can be anything you choose, from real events from your day to elaborate imaginings, from writing as a contemporary teen to writing as a farm animal with complaints about every other animal on the farm (as in one recent letter I wrote.)

3) Write an interview. Take on a persona--or keep your own--and imagine you're being interviewed by a magazine writer. Choose your favorite magazine, or one that fits your new character, such as Rolling Stone, Cosmo or Time. Draft the questions, then answer them true to character.

4) Get off your butt. Exercising--the physical kind--releases endorphins that happify your brain and give you extra energy. A happy brain is a less-stressed brain is a brain with more free room to fill with creative endeavors. My days are better when I get a workout in the morning, without fail, and a few minutes of jogging around my room (yup, looks dumb) or jumping jacks gives me a boost that translates into creative-brain stimulation.

What are your favorite writing exercises?
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. These are actually really good ideas! My favorite is probably write a letter. That sounds so interesting! I'm glad the free writing works for you. I've never been a fan of writing something random. The closest I can come is writing a random scene from my book, and that's only occasionally.
    Thanks for the useful advice!

  2. I like the interview technique, but I use it to interview my characters and make sure I have a solid grasp on who they are.

    My absolute favourite writer's block buster is music (as is pretty clear based on how many links I post on my blog!) I listen and let my imagination get carried away.

    Lovely Sunday morning post. Thank you!

  3. Oh, all of these are really great pieces of advice! Usually, when I'm stuck, I'll pass time making tiny character spreadsheets about my characters and everything about them. I often go for a walk around my neighborhood, though, because like you mentioned, exercise is truly awesome for getting your mind pumped. :)

  4. Number 3 is my absolute favorite to do. It seems to work so well for me. I do use number 2 occasionally. I need to use number 4 a bit more often though. Hehe.

  5. Great ideas, Kris! The tried-and-true "take a bath" or "go for a drive"(which of course you know, given the name of your blog) serve me fairly well too.

  6. Excellent advice... I find #1 especially interesting. Just writing what you see will eventually turn into something... I'd never thought about that before.

  7. I <3 this site. Every post is a legitimately interesting and relevant article. I'm horrible at writing exercises because I'm so lazy when it comes to them. I've got a big project I'm supposed to be finishing and I've got myself convinced that any time spent writing something else is time I could have spent meeting my deadline... even though as it is I'm so stuck in slog that I'm not moving forward on my main project at all! The brain is an infinitely frustrating machine, lol.

  8. Awesome ideas! I think I'll try all of these next time I have a block. Hope it's not soon though. >__<

  9. The idea of an interview sounds interesting. I would not have thought of that on my own. As someone who adores characters, that would be a perfect way to get in their head. Thank you.


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Item Reviewed: Writing Exercises to Get Your Pen Moving Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook