My father says that my creative genius comes from him. Not everybody can be a creative genius, though, which is why there are 227 results if you search “creative writing exercises” on Google. One of the first results is Write to Done’s “10 Best Creative Writing Exercises,” a compilation of ten truly engaging ways to kickstart the writing process. I knew that because I’m a creative genius, I wouldn’t be a good judge of how inspiring these exercises are, so I enlisted the help of my sisters, Cassandra (who hates reading and writing), and Hannah (who loves reading and writing), to try some of them out.
Find the 7th book from your bookshelf. Open it up to page 7. Look at the 7th sentence on the page. Begin a poem that begins with that sentence and limit the length to 7 lines.
I decided to include the rule that you had to have read the book to ensure that we would each emotionally connect to the material.
Alex: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Cassandra: American Girl Mini Mysteries
Hannah: Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Field Guide (The Spiderwick Chronicles)
This prompt only works under very specific circumstances. There are certain sentences that just don’t make good opening lines for poems, like really long sentences or dialogue. In fact, having a complete sentence as an opening line for a poem doesn’t seem like a good starting point at all. You’re automatically stuck with a complete unalterable thought. I guess the point of this prompt is skip the process of starting, but it might work better for prose than poetry. I actually ended up with a great opening line, though. Margaret Atwood, I sincerely apologize for not using it seriously.
Open the dictionary to a random page. Find a word that you do not know how to define. Write an imaginary definition for it. Repeat.
After several minutes of searching, I concluded that there probably isn’t a dictionary in our house anymore or, if there is, it’s scared of being thrown away and doesn’t want to be found. Instead, I found a website that promised to reveal 15 Extremely Interesting Words You Probably Don’t Know; it wasn’t a guarantee, but I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did, though, because I was rewarded with “diamonds.”
Alex: JejunatorCassandra: Duende
We had a bit of a hard time getting into this one. I think there are ways this could be an interesting exercise, but for the typical writer, I’m not exactly sure what would be inspiring about it. If you’re interested in working with sound, though, it might be useful to work with words individually and focus on how they feel rather than what they mean. If you’re trying to start a story or a poem, this probably isn’t for you.
Describe a first. Your first kiss, your first kitten, your first day of school—all will make excellent stories.
I know you’re interested in the nitty-gritty details of our lives.
This isn’t really a bad prompt, but it isn’t very interesting. It basically says write a story about something that actually happened in your life. If you don’t want to write about something that actually happened, then don’t. I guess that advice applies to all of these.
Cut out interesting words, phrases, and images from a magazine. Place them in a bowl, close your eyes and pull out two of these magazine snippets. Write a mini-story of not more than 250 words.
The closest “magazine” while we were working on this was a circular for some St. Patrick’s Day sale. I did my best.
Alex: St. Patrick’s Day & SCAN to Shop Our Website
Cassandra: Silicone Oven Mitt & You are in a hurry
Hannah: Assembly Required & Men’s Adolfo and Adolfo Red, Regular or Slim Fit
I feel like we’re not being trusted to be inspired by what we’re inspired by at first glance. Instead of having us look at a magazine and thinking of something, the prompts ask the writer to cut it out, swirl it around, and let luck decide if you’re really interested in it. Luckily for my sisters, I’m a creative genius so I was able to quickly identify the phrases that would lead to the greatest results. I’m not exactly sure why the writer is limited to 250 words, but we weren’t that committed to plot or character development anyway, so it worked out.
Write an advert selling a boa constrictor as a family pet.
Alex: Buy it or I’ll let the boa constrictor loose on your children.
Cassandra: It will go down in hissssstory.
Hannah: The snake is very magical and fun to watch. I have one so I know.
We don’t get it, like, at all.
Honestly, though, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a little help. Not only is not everybody a creative genius, but nobody is a creative genius all the time. I think what these prompts get wrong, though, is that they aren’t targeting the right problem. All of them want you to skip the process of thinking of what to write about or the beginning of the story by telling you what to write, but the result isn’t something creative as much as something that just exists. If you just want to have something written, then these prompts are great for having words on a page.
If your problem is creativity, though, then you need to get out of your head, not more in it. By writing to these prompts, you’re limiting what you can do. What works best for me is free writing with total understanding that anything I write isn’t anywhere close to done and doesn’t ever have to be shown to anyone. I also find it helps to have some sort of background noise, whether that be from listening to music or sitting in a public place. The idea is that you minimize your control over what you write so that the weird or emotional or incomprehensible parts don’t get filtered out. Hopefully somewhere in that free write, there’s a little glimmer of creative genius, even if just in one phrase, that excites and inspires you. There’s nothing wrong with finding outside inspiration, but it’s important to remember that you can be inspired by yourself.