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Guest Post by Reedsy Writer: Savannah Cordova

My Five Favorite Writing Exercises to Unlock Creativity

Ask any writer what their biggest daily challenge is. I guarantee you that most answers won’t focus on plot holes and flat characters, but on finding the inspiration and motivation to write. Even as someone who writes both professionally and in my spare time, I still have days where I stare at my computer screen for ages without typing a word, mind drawing a total blank.
It’s particularly discouraging when this happens during a creative writing session. After all, if your own project can’t compel you to write, what can? But in truth, no matter how great you feel about the piece you’re working on, sometimes you just need to reboot.
In my experience, the solution isn’t to break from writing altogether, but to shift your attention to a different exercise that will stimulate your creativity. It might even give you some ideas for your main project!
On that note, here are my five favorite writing exercises for tapping into inspiration when I’m feeling sluggish. And of course, if you need more, you can always turn to Now Write! Fiction — the entire first section is devoted to tackling this very obstacle.

1. Write a “missing” scene from a recent read

Unless you exclusively read hyper-detailed, stream-of-consciousness fiction, you’ve probably read a novel recently with at least a few blank spaces in it.
One of my favorite creative exercises is to construct these “missing” scenes — usually one that’s implied or mentioned in passing, but not shown happening to the characters. These scenes can also be something I invent myself, though they’re more satisfying to write if they fit canonically with the original work.
In any case, this is a fun challenge that’s fantastically low-pressure, as the author has already done the hard work of fleshing out the characters and their world You can simply step into that author’s shoes for a few minutes and see how you like it. Indeed, it can be creatively stimulating to not only write about someone else’s characters, but also to try and mimic their style. This may even inspire you to incorporate new stylistic elements into your own prose (though you obviously don’t want to copy them completely.)
Regarding which book to pick for this exercise, I find that more recent reads are better for me, as the details are still fresh in my mind — but you can also pick a book you’ve read so many times that you’ve committed it to heart. I also prefer this tack with fantasy and speculative fiction over realistic fiction. There’s much more flexibility when the world you’re writing about isn’t tethered too closely to our own.

2. Choose a moment from your day and expand it

Here’s another low-pressure exercise for when you’re feeling stuck: take a sliver of something from real life and turn it into a piece of creative writing.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a full story — though I have had great success starting short stories this way — it can be a few words of scenery description, an interlude about your feelings on a certain subject, vague psychological prognoses about strangers while people-watching, or whatever else you like.
This is an especially fruitful exercise when you only have a small window of time to write. I used to employ it between college classes — sitting on the campus green and pondering a fellow student, a song lyric, the poetry of a slice of pizza. Sometimes I would recap parts of my day in profound detail, creative nonfiction-style; other times, I’d go off in a more fantastical direction.
I would occasionally develop these bits of writing into full-length pieces later on. But the many passages that remained “unfinished” still served a purpose: they kept me looking out for new ideas. For those who are really burnt out on their current project, I would absolutely recommend this exercise — it’s the most enjoyable way I’ve found to refresh your mind without losing too much writing momentum.
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3. Pick a prompt that’s outside of your comfort zone

Then again, maybe you write to escape reality.
If that’s the case, a good old-fashioned writing prompt can serve the same catalytic purpose as a moment from your day. However, if you want to push yourself creatively, I’d suggest getting out of your comfort zone and choosing a prompt in a genre or on a topic you wouldn’t normally tackle.
That’s not to say you should pick a prompt that doesn’t interest you at all. But I find that, left unchecked, I gravitate toward the same types of prompts and write the same types of stories over and over. Defying complacency is key, so seek out something that intrigues you in a new and different way. For example, I’ve written very little romance, but last week I started with a “cute-meet” prompt and was quite happy with the resulting piece — not to mention the skills I honed by writing it.
On Reedsy, we have a writing prompts directory you can sort by genre, which may help you be more intrepid in your prompt selection. Or you can work with one of the hundreds of exercises available in the Now Write! books. Whatever prompt you choose for this, don’t feel like you have to write an entire story based on it. As with the previous exercises, it’s more about flexing your creative muscles than committing to a brand-new project.

4. Write in reverse chronological order

If you want to play the game on hard mode, here’s an exercise for you: write a story in reverse chronological order.
It takes more effort than any of the others on this list, and shouldn’t be your first move if you’re already feeling discouraged… but if you’re craving a creative challenge that is likely to yield interesting results, give it a try.
The beauty of this exercise is that it forces you to create a plan before you write. That might sound like a drag to some writers (Pantsers, I’m looking at you,) but it can only make your story stronger structurally. It’s also a great way to practice writing twists, which seem to function particularly well in reverse-chronological stories.
A couple of examples for those who want to see this in action: The Final Day by Edward Gold, a story that won our short fiction contest last year, and the music video for Breezeblocks by Alt-J. (Trigger warning for violence in both of them.)
In these narratives, the audience is led to believe one thing based on where the characters have “ended up,” but the reversed scenes cleverly reveal something else. Try challenging yourself to pull this off in your own piece.

5. Write a blurb about one of your projects

This final exercise circles back to your current project, but bear with me — it’s an incredibly useful tactic for seeing your work in a new light.
For this exercise, you’ll basically come up with your story or book’s elevator pitch: the hook, brief summary, and any other information that might compel readers.
Doing this forces you to evaluate your work through a reader’s eyes, so you can identify your story’s strengths and weaknesses and revise accordingly. For example, if you think you have a strong story on your hands but can’t write a hook to save your life, that’s a sign you should revisit your premise What elements can you add, or subtract, to make it more unique and interesting?
Or, maybe, in writing your blurb, you realize that certain elements of your work are derivative of someone else’s. Now’s your chance to fix it before you’re accused of plagiarism.
Another nice thing about this exercise: if you eventually self-publish on Amazon, or any other platform, you’ll have killed two birds with one stone. The blurb you wrote to gain creative clarity about your work will become the blurb that attracts new readers. So if you try this one, don’t phone it in — it could make a huge difference to your sales down the line.
Of course, perhaps the best part about creative writing exercises is that you can pick and choose what works for you. Writing a blurb might help you develop your novel, but that doesn’t mean you have to publish it.
Similarly, you might not end up completing any of these exercises, but even starting them can help immensely. Remember this as you press on, and good luck!

About Savannah Cordova

Savannah is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, she enjoys reading contemporary authors, writing short stories, and drinking iced coffee.

 

Soulful Screenwriting Returns

ANNOUNCING: free screenwriting event with legendary screenwriting consultant, author of 10 screenwriting books and Now Write! Screenwriting contributor, LINDA SEGER, awesome screenwriter, Sharon Cobb, and Laurie Lamson. Sign up at Sherwood Oaks Film School.

 

SOULFUL SCREENWRITING: AN EMPOWERING INTERACTIVE WORKSHOP SERIES

Explore the soul of a screenplay and yourself as the writer:

Tuesdays – January 5, 12, 19, 26, February 2

4:30-6:30pm Pacific / 7:30-9:30pm Eastern

In this empowering 5-week interactive workshop, participants receive a big running start toward beginning a project from scratch or rewriting a current screenplay effectively.

We discuss crucial dramatic ingredients along with common screenwriting pitfalls and creative writing exercises and tools for solving them.
Each session includes one or two writing exercises culled from several of the Now Write! books to help you get out of your own way, get creative juices flowing, and benefit your screen stories.
This intimate workshop is a safe space to talk about your work – limited to 10 participants.
Soulful Screenwriting was designed by Laurie Lamson, a produced award-winning screenwriter, screenplay consultant, 4-year telecon host for International Screenwriters’ Association and author/editor of three Now Write! anthologies.

 

Secure your spot:

Eventbrite: $150 including fees
Venmo through December 31, 2020: $135 – Venmo to @Laurie-Lamson

 

What people are saying:

“Your exercises have proven very helpful! It’s a good reminder to me, to keep taking workshops because there will always be new ways of looking at things. Thanks so much for a beneficial and thought-provoking workshop.”
– Lise Pyles, award-winning screenwriter and co-founder of San Antonio Screenwriters’ Guild (two-time attendee)
“It was beyond incredibly helpful. Many of the things I’ve either never heard of before or never thought of before so it gave me a lot to think about!”
– Megan Sarnacki, Writer

 

“Want you to know that I really appreciated the course! I know I’ve got a way to go to truly become a deeply “soulful” screenwriter, and I now feel like I can at least imagine that possibility.”
– David Sawicki, musician, music educator, developing a webseries

 

“I enjoyed the workshops; they helped me figure out some basic plot points for my next screenplay.”
– Patty Sandoval Sralla, screenwriter, top 10 percent in many notable screenwriting contests, co-founder San Antonio Screenwriters’ Guild, rock singer

 

“Had a blast! Very valuable information. “
– James Blake Beene – writer, improv comedian (two-time attendee)
“I really enjoyed your class – and it also helped me from an actor’s perspective, because as you know, we always have to dig around for our characters’ motivation.”
– Kate McIntyre, actress, writer, webseries producer
 

COVID Summer Reading: Inspiration, Education, and Escapism

In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays

by Rebecca McClananan
(Now Write! Nonfiction contributor)
Red Hen Press (September 1, 2020)
A middle-aged couple leaves North Carolina to pursue a long-held desire: to live in New York City. As they struggle to find work and forge friendships in a city of strangers, Rebecca takes her mother’s advice to “make a home wherever you land.” She tracks the heartbeat of New York, finding in each face she meets the cumulative loss, joy, and stubborn resilience of a city that has claimed her for its own.

Racialism and the Media: Black Jesus, Black Twitter, and the First Black American President

by Venise Berry
(Now Write! Fiction contributor)
Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers (May, 2020)
In the 21st century, we need a more nuanced understanding of racial constructions and how the nature of racial ideology has changed in our society. Yes, there are still ugly racists who push uglier racism, but there are also popular constructions of race routinely woven into mediated images and messages. This book examines selected exemplars of racialism moving beyond traditional racism.

Also check out:

The A to Z of African American Cinema

by Steven Torriano Berry and Venise Berry
Scarecrow Press (September, 2009)
Covering everything from The Birth of a Nation to Crash, this book provides a deep understanding of the role African Americans play in film history, with loads of photos and hundreds of cross-referenced entries on actors, actresses, movies, producers, organizations, film credits and awards.

Shakespeare for Squirrels: A Novel

by Christopher Moore
(Now Write! Mysteries contributor)
William Morrow (May, 2020 – hardcover, Kindle and audio)
Shakespeare meets Dashiell Hammett in this hardboiled murder mystery take on the Bard’s most performed play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, featuring Pocket, the hero of Fool and The Serpent of Venice, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, Jeff. A New York Times bestseller.

 

Wild Ride Home

by Christina Hemp
(Now Write! Nonfiction contributor)
Arcade (February, 2020)
The close-knit Hemp family believes beauty and humor outshine the most devastating circumstances, but when the author suffers a dangerous fiancé, her mother’s dementia, unexpected death and illness, a feisty little Arabian horse, with his own history to overcome, offers a chance to look back on her life and learn to trust herself (and others) again.

Burners – A Jack Daniels/Alex Chapa Mystery

by Henry Perez (Now Write! Mysteries contributor) and J.A. Konrath (June, 2019)
Jury duty is not how newspaper reporter Alex Chapa wants to spend his day. But when he learns Chicago Homicide cop Jacqueline Daniels will play a key role in the trial, his curiosity gets the better of him—with potentially lethal results.

 

 

Looking for some summer and Covid-19 escapism?

Hungry for Your Love: an anthology of Zombie Romance

Edited by Lori Perkins
Ravenous Romance (September, 2010)
Packed with Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror contributors (stories in order of appearance in Hungry For Your Love:)
“Romance Ain’t Dead” by Jeremy Wagner
“Eye of the Beholder” by Stacey Graham
“First Love Never Dies” by Jan Kozlowski
“Julia Brainchild” by Lois Gresh
“Kicking the Habit” by Steven Saus
“Some New Blood” by Vanessa Vaughn
“First Date” by Diana Fredsti

 

And for your self-care in these trying times – request a free color ePub version

Inner Yoga: 23 Simple Self-Care Tools for Peace, Healing, and Authentic Empowerment

by Laurie Lamson
(Now Write! Screenwriting and Now Write! Mysteries co-editor/author; Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror editor/author)
JaZzyMaE Media (May, 2020)
A variety of simple tools collected and practiced over decades of research into the most effective ways to feel better.  With a little practice, these “quick fixes” can become habitual – healthy habits for the mind, body and spirit, bringing you more into alignment with the Real You. Soon you will be able to count on them as friends and allies on your journey through life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soulful Screenwriting: Empowering Interactive Workshop

Explore the soul of a screenplay and yourself as the writer:

Each Wednesday in September: 2, 9, 16, 23, & 30

4:30-6:30pm Pacific / 7:30-9:30pm Eastern

In this empowering 5-week interactive workshop, participants will receive a big running start toward beginning a project from scratch or rewriting a current screenplay effectively.
We’ll discuss crucial dramatic ingredients along with common screenwriting pitfalls and creative writing exercises and tools for solving them.
Each session includes one or two writing exercises culled from several of the Now Write! books to help you get out of your own way, get creative juices flowing, and benefit your screen stories.

This intimate workshop is a safe space to talk about your work – limited to 10 participants.

Quote from past participant, Lise Pyles, award-winning screenwriter and co-founder of San Antonio Screenwriters’ Guild:

“Your exercises have proven very helpful! It’s a good reminder to me, to keep taking workshops because there will always be new ways of looking at things. Thanks so much for a beneficial and thought-provoking workshop.”

Soulful Screenwriting was designed by Laurie Lamson, a produced award-winning screenwriter, screenplay consultant and author/editor of three Now Write! anthologies.

Eventbrite: $150 including fees
Venmo through Aug. 24: $135 – email for details

Guest Post by Pen Densham: Creative Person’s Survival Manual

Passion, Creativity and Success

A creative person’s survival manual

 (Excerpted from Pen Densham’s free eBook – link to download the whole book at the bottom.)
Our media business involves a zillion layers of invention, including every craft and art seen credited on those end-title crawls. Each credit connotes an innovator and creative problem-solver bringing his or her talent to bear in the creation of movie magic.

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Across the spectrum of vocations, whether you’re an actor, writer, director, inventor, chef, computer programmer, research scientist or, God help us, a weapons creator—we struggle with the process of bringing forth what has never existed through the mysterious process called creativity.
For many, this exploration toward the ultimate joy of accomplishment has a cost: anxiety!

FIRST RULE: IGNORE ALL RULES

I share these thoughts, aware of how ignorant I am of the true spectrum of your inspiration process. Which I consider pretty close to sacred. I want to dialogue “with” you and not at you. Please ignore everything here that goes against your instincts.They are usually right!
My observations come from the privilege of a longish career. A few wild, giant successes and many rejections (many!) Experiences that have given me the one thing I didn’t have when younger – “perspective”. I have discovered the scripts I’ve written from the heart have gotten them made more frequently than the projects the studios paid me to write. But, as an artist and businessman I have never been far from the pain of uncertainty, when attempting to make concrete what has flitted around inside my head.
images-1As a curious young documentary filmmaker, I explored some amazing game-changers in various fields. Like revolutionary Media Guru Marshall McLuhan, Master Magician and Psychic debunker The “Amazing” James Randi. Brilliant Canadian Architect Raymond Moriyama. Malcolm Bricklin, the car entrepreneur who built a gull-wing sports car before Delorean. Toller Cranston, the first international figure skater to perform his sport as Ballet on ice and not just muscular gymnastics – and my own mentor, Norman Jewison, who’s list of amazing films is humbling. People who have the habit of pushing beyond the limits in their fields.
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What did I learn? They have a universal sense to think freely and uniquely outside their current boxes, but it didn’t prevent stress and outside criticism. They cared so much about their goals that despite the negatives they headed where their guts told them. It was infectious. I don’t think of myself as particularly gifted… More a dreamer and not a great employee, but they made me feel that pursuing my own dreams was possible.

I HAVE NEVER ESCAPED STRESS

It comes from our imaginations trying to help us define the future – but without any compass for that untrod path. Stress is normal, it evolved alongside the imagination as a protective problem solving mechanism, igniting our body’s fight or flight system. A kind of psychic radar, bouncing negative things out and reflecting on how we might defend against them. But, when it is not attached to solving a real issue, it can bounce all over the place, unnerving us in the process.
UnknownI saw the world’s most renowned stress pioneer speak. The late Dr. Hans Selye. He stated that being mugged or experiencing a surprise birthday party can create an identical adrenaline rush. Heart rate increases. Tension tightens. Breathing speeds up. But, in the mugging, the effect is felt as fear and the birthday surprise, as joy. – “Anxiety” when it is in the service of something we value is embraced as “Excitement”.
Selye said, our adrenalin glands disturb us less when we are impassioned, pursuing goals that fascinate us. Even more strongly if we feel those goals benefit others!
Unknown-1Alternately, working on projects that are against my nature. (Maybe I sold out a little?) – Trying to cash in on someone else’s goal can be painful. I have done it as a writer.And it was like trying to pluck words out of my flesh. I didn’t like the end result and failed to have the incentive to fight for it.
When I am going in the direction my instincts support, the fear of failure is still there – but mitigated with the magical excitement of discovery.

The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
-Edwin H. Land

Download your own free copy of Pen Densham’s Passion Creativity and Success: a Creative Person’s Survival Manual.

DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF PEN DENSHAM’S 20 SECRETS FOR SUCCESS.

About Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror contributor: Pen Densham

PenDenshamPen Densham rode into the movies at age 4 on a live alligator and started a life-long love of cameras and story. Pen produces, writes, directs (2 Oscar Nominations and over 60 other awards.) He is partnered in the Trilogy Entertainment Group with John Watson – their breakthrough hit was ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, and they made 16 other features such as MOLL FLANDERS (which Pen wrote and directed), BACKDRAFT, TANK GIRL, HOUDINI and Trilogy’s 2013 feature, PHANTOM submarine thriller starring Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner. Pen also revived The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone series.