A friend of mine sent me an email about how she can't get motivated to write--that she has too much to do on her WIP and no inclination to start. Knowing her manuscripts and her recent critique experiences, I wrote her back that I suspected her subconscious was mulling things over, preparing to make some large-scale changes. The moment my fingers typed that, I knew I had hit on something true.
We can force ourselves to write when we aren't feeling inspired. We should force ourselves to write every day or at least most days. But we don't have to write our WIP. We can write something completely different: a short story, a synopsis for another manuscript, a picture book, a writing exercise. Or we can do something that will help us see our manuscript from another point of view. Literally.
I haven't really done writing exercises in a while. I've felt the urge to let loose several times recently, which resulted in two picture book texts and a short story. But time is so precious, I feel like I can't take time to do something "unproductive." It surprised me how much I LOVED the exercises that I did in the Miami breakout sessions. They completely took pressure away and let me experience the joy of creation--but at the same time, taught me a lot about writing in general and my own writing in particular. In creating those small snippets of scene, I had to include hints of plot, character, setting, theme.... My brain did all that subconsciously, on the fly, which was an instant reminder of why I love being a writer. As a bonus, I now have additional book ideas to throw in my drawer, which is actually quite productive. :D
My favorite exercise came from literary agent Jill Corcoran, who was teaching a break-out session on voice. She gave us a prompt, let us write our brief scene, and then told us to turn the exercise around and write the same scene from the point of view of a different character. WOW. Try this and you will find new conflicts, new personality quirks, new deep character insights, new possibilities in your scene. Of course, part of what worked so well with this was that Jill gave us a writing prompt as a starting point. Here's the thing though: you don't need a writing prompt. All you need is your WIP.
It occurred to me that I can combine writing exercises with my WIP to bring things out of my mind's back kitchen. Trying Jill's exercise on a scene in my novel was even more revealing than switching my main character from close third person to first person point of view. Suddenly, I discovered new depths in the social position she holds in relation to those around her, how much power she wields, and how her actions and opinions effect others. How much of this she knows consciously in turn informs how she should act at any given point. I highly recommend this as an eye-opener.
Whether you are stuck in your current WIP, just starting one, or facing a revision, combining writing exercises with your own scenes can give you a major jolt of creative adrenaline. Including the two I've already mentioned, here are some exercises you could try:
- Take a scene from your manuscript and change the POV. Switch it from first person to third person, from third person to first, from third close to third distant, etc.
- Rewrite a scene from your manuscript from the POV of an observer or one of the supporting characters in the scene.
- Change the age of your main character by twenty years, up or down, and then rewrite a scene from your manuscript from her POV.
- Write a one paragraph description of each of your main characters in the point of view of every other character.
- Write an obituary of each of your main characters.
- Write down the earliest childhood memory of each of your main characters.
- Write paragraphs or scenes in which each of your character's biggest secrets are discovered by another character.
- Write paragraphs or scenes in which each of your characters reveal their biggest secrets to another character.
- Rewrite one of your pivotal scenes between two characters to include no dialogue. (Think of the destroyed kitchen post-sex scene in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.)
- Rewrite one of your action scenes to include mostly dialogue.
- Write an argument between each of the characters in your scene and someone else in the scene revealing baggage from a previous scene or interaction.
- Describe the setting of your scene from the POV of each of the different characters in the scene.
- Type out a chapter from a book by one of your favorite authors and then rewrite a scene in your book in that author's voice/style. Read the ending chapter of a book by one of your favorite authors and then rewrite it.
- Analyze how that chapter is different from the original.