Skip to main content

Flex Your Creative Writing Muscles

A well-balanced writing diet includes a daily dose of creativity. Here are four ways to satisfy your creative urges. by Stephenie Steele and Joe Stollenwerk

Think about a moment of extreme emotion from your youth or adolescence. It could be a first kiss, or the first time you were caught doing something wrong, or a terrifying moment at summer camp—a memory searing enough to remain vivid in your mind. Then:

1. Write about the event itself. Move moment to moment through the physical and emotional particulars of what happened. Ideally, this means you’re writing about a very short period of time, anywhere from five seconds to a minute. Don’t worry about making it pretty or poetic. Just get the reader to know exactly what it felt like. (Hint: Sensory details will help.)

2. Write about who you were at the time. Step back from the episode and tell the reader about yourself at the time this was happening. Here’s where you get a chance to interrogate yourself, to explore the deeper fears and needs that will allow you (and, with hope, your reader) to understand why this event has imprinted itself in your memory.

3. Now it’s time to integrate the emotions and inner workings of you as a character with the action of the event. A good short story—or even a scene—requires this weaving of passion and perspective. Remember, the key resides in offering the reader everything you know: both what’s happening at the white-hot moment in question and why it matters in the broader history of your character.
—Steve Almond

Reverse something in nature, something in the order of things. Make a central change by putting wild tigers into the laps of small women.

If this prompt strikes you as too broad, ask a friend or family member to write down an element of nature—waterfalls, cyclones, antelope, beetles, dirt. Then, change something about this element. Make it a change that matters. Draw it. Make sure it’s drawable, that you’ve picked a change that is tangible enough to capture with a visual image.

And then write a couple pages from the point of view of someone who is affected by this change. It doesn’t matter who; just jump into a few voices and see who grabs you.
—Aimee Bender

Many fiction writers, especially beginning ones, can be broken into two categories: those who are writing thinly veiled autobiography, and those who are avoiding it (which, usually, includes people who are interested in genres like fantasy or horror). It’s often useful for both types of writers to move outside of their comfort zones, so here are two exercises designed to help you do just that.

1. Start with an incident that happened in real life. Write it in first person, in the form of a kind of summary, in one sentence. For example: “My dad and I were driving to Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky, for a little father-and-son bonding time.” Or, “My girlfriend and I were talking about breaking up.” Just think of something personal that’s been on your mind.

2. The next sentence should be a lie, and probably kind of a big one. “My father was a former movie star, and though he hadn’t been in a film in more than a decade, he still worried about being ‘recognized’ by the public.” Or, “I’d actually been dead for the last few years, but I hadn’t told my girlfriend about it because I didn’t want to scare her.” You get the picture. Have some fun with your lie—you can even make it fantastical—but make sure it’s got enough weight that you can make it convincing. By the end, the world of the story should be almost entirely fictional, but with just enough patina of reality from that first sentence that you can make use of it.
—Dan Chaon

Watch a five-minute segment of a soap opera. Then, rewrite the scene so it feels like serious literary fiction—which is to say, avoid cliché; avoid the expected. If there is a person in the story, or in the situation, who seems like he is set up to be a victim, then make it difficult for that person to be perceived as victimized. Likewise, if there is a heroine in the scene, make it difficult for your readers to believe so simply in her heroism. The purpose of this exercise is not to debunk, but to complicate.
—Brock Clarke

Excerpted from the Creativity & Expression Writers Online Workshop.

WD Online Course:
Learn techniques to add depth, texture and emotion to your writing:

Creativity & Expression

Image placeholder title

Become a Writer's Digest VIP:
Get a 1-year pass to, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all orders!Click here to join.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Dismissing Stories That Aren’t From Books

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Dismissing Stories That Aren’t From Books

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is dismissing stories that aren’t from books.

Why You Should Beware Homophones

Why You Should Beware Homophones

Mistaking a word for a similar one is not an uncommon mistake, but an important one to catch when editing your work. Here, Audrey Wick shares why you should beware homophones and shares a homophone-catching test to practice with.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blackmail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blackmail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, one character blackmails another.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

30 Poetry Prompts From 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge

Get all 30 poetry prompts from the 15th annual November Poem-A-Day Chapbook Challenge here. Actually, 35 prompts if you're counting Two-for-Tuesday prompts!

How to Stalk Publishing Professionals on Social Media in an Appropriate Way

How to Stalk Publishing Professionals on Social Media in an Appropriate Way

Many people are self-professed "stalkers" on social media, whether they're following life events of friends or celebrities. But writers can learn quite a bit on social media by stalking publishing professionals too, and this post covers the appropriate way to do so.


Samantha Vérant: On Romance and Recipes

Author Samantha Vérant discusses how her writing process changed while writing her new contemporary romance novel, The Spice Master at Bistro Exotique.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 633

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a warm up poem.

Do I Pitch Different to Agents vs. Editors?

Do I Pitch Different to Agents vs. Editors?

Every so often writers ask if they should pitch different to agents vs. editors. This post answers that question and provides some extra help on how to successfully pitch both.

Urban Legend

Urban Legend

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, feature an urban legend in your story.