No matter where you are in your writing journey or career, there is always room to grow!
But how do we grow intentionally and in the right ways?
Today we’re going to talk about the fundamental ways that writers improve, and we’re going to try out some fun writing exercises to build your skill level and refine your writing style!
How to get better at writing
There are a few fundamental ways to get better at writing.
- Reading. You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but if you aren’t a good reader, you aren’t a good writer. Reading is the most beneficial thing you can do for your writing style outside of actually writing.
Read tons of content in your genre, but make sure you aren’t pigeonholing yourself to it. Keep your style eclectic and interesting by reading a wide range of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
When I have a student struggling with writing enticing language, I tell them to practice with poetry. If they struggle with narrative voice, I recommend reading autobiographies. The more you read–and the more varied the content you’re reading–the stronger your writing will become.
- Critiquing. Reading other people’s writing with a critical eye helps you realize the issues in your own writing. Even if you don’t have a critique partner or group, you can read pieces by other author’s through a critical lens. What would you have done differently? What are the strengths and weaknesses you can find? Maybe even edit another person’s story for your own edification!
- Writing. And, of course, the best way to get better at writing is by writing yourself. Anything you write will make you better at it! If you’re a young writer, write whatever makes you happiest–fanfiction, movie reviews, short stories, rambly fantasy novels–if you’re learning the craft, you should write what you enjoy the most. Even professional writers should make time for writing things that they truly love to write just for the sake of writing.
Besides writing what you enjoy, you can try some creative writing exercises to intentionally better your skills and style.
Creative writing exercises are great to loosen up the writing muscles, as a warm-up, to practice specific writing skills, or just as a fun activity when your writing project has you feeling stale.
Here are thirteen exercises you can try to sharpen your writer reflexes!
13 Creative Writing Exercises
- Write a scene or short story using no adverbs or adjectives.
This exercise trains you to focus on stronger verbs and nouns. I give this exercise to newer writers because they often default to unnecessary adverbs and adjectives as a crutch instead of refining their word choice in core parts of speech.
NOTE: There’s nothing wrong with using adverbs and adjectives effectively! But before you get a hold of your writer’s voice and personal style, they can weaken your writing.
- Choose a random object from the room you’re in and write an image-only poem about it.
This exercise will let you practice using imagery and specific description without relying on telling.
NOTE: Try using senses other than sight! What does the object feel like? Smell like? Maybe even taste like?
- Take a story you’ve already written and write it from the point of view of a different character.
Writing the same story from a different point of view can give you an understanding of character motivation and perspective. A story can completely change based on who’s telling it!
- Take one of your favorite short stories, either one you’ve written or one you’ve read, and write it in a different genre. For example, take a romance and write it as horror.
This is a super fun exercise, and it lets you practice using tone and perspective! The tone of a story can change the meaning.
- Speed-write a story using a writing prompt.
Speed-writing helps to release judgment you might put on your stories, allowing for a more natural process. I like to speed-write when I’m stuck on a short story or a particular scene.
REMEMBER: You can always edit and delete anything you write! Don’t be afraid to write with your gut without judging it.
A few writing prompts:
- Pull a book from your shelf, open to a random page, pick a random sentence, and use that sentence as the first line of a short story.
- Write a story based on the last dream you can remember having.
- Write in public (a coffee shop, a library), and eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation. Snatch a line you hear and write a story around it.
- Take a memory of something that confused you in your childhood–write an explanation for it.
- Listen to a song, imagine a music video, and write the story of the music video.
- Write a stream of consciousness. A stream of consciousness is a direct transcript of every thought you have. It’s a bit like speed-writing in that you just dump thoughts onto paper without judging them.
Giving yourself the freedom to write without second-guessing it helps to unkink writing blocks.
- “Write your dialogue like it’s a script.” – Gloria Russell, critique professional.
This is more of a writing strategy, but a lot of successful writers, like Jenna Moreci, suggest outlining your dialogue-heavy scenes that way before you flesh it out fully.
Oftentimes, we’ll get so caught up writing descriptions, dialogue tags, and body language cues that it distracts from the important conversation we’re writing. If you can focus on the dialogue itself on the first go, it’s easier to get a natural back-and-forth exchange, then you can write the rest of the scene around it.
- Free-write for ten minutes before you begin your writing day. Before athletes train, they warm up. Writing is the same! Loosen and stretch your writer muscles with a ten minute free-write session. It can be a daily journal, a writing exercise, a stream of consciousness, or anything you’d enjoy!
- “I like to write a story starting from the resolution and working my way backward.” – Micah Klassen, Those Three Words
Writing a story out of order is another way to get a fresh perspective. This exercise can also give you insight on things like story structure, progression, climaxes, conclusions, and countless other story elements. It’s a way to dissect a story and see how they’re built.
- Edit someone else’s writing. Thinking critically about another writer’s work helps you think critically of your own. It is good practice for problem-solving, critical observation, and revision. You might even glean some inspiration!
- Revise the oldest story of yours you can find! Maybe it’s from college, maybe high school, maybe it’s a story you wrote when you were seven–rewrite it with your current skill and life outlook
This is a helpful, fun exercise. It’s good practice, it’s inspiring to see how far you’ve come as a writer, and you might end up salvaging something into a quality story!
- Practice a skill with a short story. Choose a specific writing skill you’re struggling with, or just want more practice in, and write a short story focusing on that skill.
Can’t nail your dialogue? Write a dialogue-heavy short story and edit it until you’re happy with it. Bad at showing instead of telling? Write a scenic short story and focus on writing with compelling imagery and specific details.
Nailing a skill with a short story is quicker and easier than struggling with the same problem throughout longer projects.
- Write your MC in a different world/setting. What would your contemporary character do if flung into a science fiction scenario? What would their profession be in a different era of time? What if their socioeconomic status was completely reversed?
This is a good exercise for understanding your character at a more complex level. If you’re struggling to connect with your MC, definitely try out this exercise.
Anytime you feel stuck on a story, it’s great to do a little free-write session changing something up, like in exercises 3, 4, and 11. Sometimes you just need a perspective switch to knock the story loose.
The best way to sharpen specific writing skills is to identify the weakness and write short stories, really digging into that skill. I find it’s helpful to share those stories with other writers so they can give you feedback and let you know if you’re getting better with it.
I hope you found these exercises helpful! Feel free to share anything you’ve written from them in a comment below.