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Even the most accomplished full-time fiction and nonfiction writers experience lulls when working on a novel, short story, essay, theater script, or screenplay. Some writers may feel a sinking suspicion that they’re recycling story ideas, themes, and character archetypes. Other authors may experience an outright case of writer’s block, where they can do little but stare at a blank page. Whether you’re brainstorming ideas for a magazine article or slogging through the first draft of a 50,000-word novel, shaking things up with a creative writing exercise can help you develop your writing skills and unlock your creativity.

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James Patterson Teaches WritingJames Patterson Teaches Writing

James teaches you how to create characters, write dialogue, and keep readers turning the page.

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9 Writing Challenges to Help You Become a Better Writer

Whether you are a first-time author trying to develop a productive writing habit or a seasoned pro looking to recharge your creative juices, you can likely benefit from a personal writing challenge. Writing challenges are exercises that take the form of creative writing prompts. A well-crafted creative writing challenge should push you out of your comfort zone and make you produce work in a different form than the kind you usually employ. Use any combination of these nine creative exercises to push toward your own nonfiction and fiction writing goals:

  1. Brainstorm a new idea with the snowflake method. The snowflake method, created by author and writing instructor Randy Ingermanson, is a technique for crafting a novel from scratch by starting with a basic story summary, then layering in additional elements. It works well for all sorts of creative writing. To begin using the snowflake method, think of a big picture story idea and describe it with a one-sentence summary. Then, build that sentence into a paragraph, using that paragraph to create various character descriptions. From there, you use those descriptions to create a series of storylines that involve those characters—and each of those storylines traces back to the basic idea at the center of your “snowflake.”
  2. Start with an ending, then write a story that leads up to it. Endings are hard. An otherwise great book can become forgettable if it has a feeble ending. But books with memorable endings—from Anna Karenina to The Great Gatsby to Native Son—are nearly indelible from a reader’s mind. Make sure your ending is worthy of your narrative. Some authors literally begin writing a book by figuring out their ending and then reverse engineer the various series of events, plot points, and plot twists they will need to reach that ending in a satisfying way. Consider this method when mapping out your own story, and remember that it can apply to novel writing, memoir writing, and nearly any sort of everyday creative writing you might choose to undertake.
  3. Start with a title. Not sure what you should write about? Or maybe you know what your subject will be, but you can think of a thousand different ways to approach it. Narrow your focus by starting with a title and then try to craft an outline that serves the title you’ve picked. Don’t settle for a dull, nonspecific title. Get specific and force yourself to equal that level of specificity when you actually start writing.
  4. Write in a different genre. Give yourself a single-day challenge of writing in a genre you don’t know that well. Try writing about an event from your life like in the style of crime fiction.
  5. Imagine you’re writing for your best friend. Keeping a particular audience in mind helps some writers draft their work. So imagine, even temporarily, that your audience is your best friend, a few family members, or someone you know from work. How will this affect your writing style? Will this specific audience inspire a point of view that might not have otherwise come out?
  6. Come up with one new story idea per day for a month. If you’re experiencing a block when writing fiction, try forming a daily habit of producing a new story idea every single day for a month. Many of these writing ideas won’t be enough to sustain an entire novel or even an entire short story. But perhaps one or two of your ideas will be legitimately fruitful and the impetus for a writing project.
  7. Write about an idea you discover online. Maybe you’ll find inspiration from an article, or maybe a spark will come from a photograph or a tweet. Seek out a source you wouldn’t ordinarily consult and see if that source might provide a refreshing perspective.
  8. Write something that would have appealed to you as a child. Turn the clock back and think about the things that would inspire your younger self. What was your favorite place to visit as a kid? What was your favorite food? Your favorite sport? What kind of literary genres and stories caught your attention? Try appealing to that younger version of you, and see what comes out.
  9. Join NaNoWriMo. The NaNoWriMo platform allows you to tap into a social network of fellow writers and then use that network to set and meet your personal goals for daily output, word count, and anything else connected to a consistent daily writing habit. You can also take an online writing course that will help seed new ideas into your head.

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