If you’re looking for ways to get out of your writing funk or challenge yourself, we have more writing exercises for you from Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb. Leave a comment below letting us know what works best for you!
- First Lines. Take a stack of novels and read only the first sentence of each.
The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world
was a French scullery maid named Annette.
—The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
I grew up in a small southern town which was different from most other towns because it contained an insane asylum.
—Lilith, by J.R. Salamanca
The church was all heat and white sunlight, dust and the smell of dry grass
and manure pushing in through lung-open doors.
—The Blackbirder, by James L. Nelson
Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits.
—Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a
good fortune must be in want of a wife.
—Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Getting through the night is becoming harder and harder; last evening, I
had the uneasy feeling that some men were trying to break into my room
to shampoo me.
—Without Feathers, by Woody Allen
Randomly opening a novel and choosing any line can also work, but the magic of first lines is that the author is setting the stage for you and trying to hook you in. As you prepare to start writing, think: “What is it about my own story that will draw the reader in?”
- First-Line Story Starters. This time choose a novel, copy down the first line, and continue to write your own version of what comes next. Go for five minutes. Again, no one needs to see it but you, so let your imagination run wild.
- Word Association. Write down one word and then write down another word that the first word brings to mind, and create a chain of single words or phrases in this way. For example:
novel, book, shelf, cupboard, hiding place, stowaway, tall ship, storm, tempest, magic, curse, secret, clue, code, puzzle, joke, seltzer bottle …
Often this process leads to an idea for a scene, as in this imaginary list for
Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
Snow, winter, Christmas, high spirits, ghosts, the past, the Ghost of Christmas
Past, the ghost takes Scrooge to his childhood, Scrooge sees his classmates
but they can’t see or hear him, he sees himself as a child sitting alone and
unwanted, the schoolhouse is not quite deserted—a solitary child, neglected
by his friends is left there still.
- Back Reading. Reread some of what you’ve already written before you start writing for the day. Hemingway used to read everything he’d written the previous day before he’d add any new material.