Penless Writing Exercises


In case you don’t have any time to try writing exercises on paper, or just don’t do random creative writing, I thought I’d share my favorite exercises. I like quick and easy.


  1. At stoplights, look in the review mirror and observe the people in the vehicle behind you. I like to watch their hand gestures, the expressions on their faces, whether or not they’re looking at the speaker. I wonder about what relationships bind them—friends, family, or lovers. Without even thinking about it, my mind starts forming a story about them…The woman is tight-lipped and clutching the steering wheel because her teenage daughter just told her she’s getting a tattoo…


  1. Notice the unusual as you drive. I wonder about why a child’s bicycle lies rusting outside for six months and how a Christmas tree could be at the curb mid-March. I still want to stick that in a story.


  1. At the checkout stand, I really look at the customer yelling at the cashier and think, What really happened today to make her so irate? Could something happen to make me behave like that? Some of these questions give me ideas for my characters’ personality traits or personal history.


  1. Make up a bedtime story for a child. My children love action and characters they can relate too. The plot changes like a snake with their questions, forcing me to be creative.


  1. Browse Google Images. I can’t count how many ideas I’ve stumbled across by typing in the subject I’m exploring and sorting through the results. I find aspects of the topic I didn’t even think about. Frequently my plot ideas solidify or twist in a new direction because of a striking image. Sometimes they just provide the details to make something more real.


  1. Ask Why? My children constantly ask why people are doing things….Why is the man digging a hole (to hide the body, I think to myself), Why is the woman mowing in her bathing suit (because the man next door is hot and single, of course.) The questions force me to remember and consider that each of us has a motivation behind most of what we do, something that I can’t forget in my manuscripts.


My suggestions center around seeing familiar things in a new way. Instead of thinking about people, places and things in general, I try zoom in and see what’s really there. Break out of the restrictions. These mental exercises have improved my writing and stretched my imagination. No pen necessary!



Copyright 2005.  Originally appeared in Rumpled Sheets, October 2005, Publication of the Missouri Romance Writers of America.  Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for right to reprint.