Welcome to the Jump-Start Your Imagination series. On the last Friday of every month, we’ll post lots of different creative writing exercises and writing prompts for you to try. These are a great way to jump-start your imagination and kick-start the right creativity-side of your brain into high gear. They can be used as a warm up as you write a novel, or brainstorm for new projects, or just a way to call the muse and get her working for you!
For inspiration, I often start my writing with a “warm-up” to take me into the writing zone and keep my imagination fresh and my mental wheels turning. I urge you to do the same, or at least try it! This practice keeps working, even in your sleep. You’ll find yourself waking in the middle of the night with a great idea because your subconscious will keep persevering over one of the writing exercises you’ve done. Plus, it’s amazing the amount of connections you will make once you start this practice. You’ll get ideas on specific projects while brainstorming on a seemingly non-related writing exercise.
If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write.
Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come.
You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.
I look at writing prompts as a way to connect to my imagination and to give it some time to play. We all know how important play is to creativity!
How do you capture all the pieces of brilliance that will come once you begin? My advice is this: keep two files, one on prompts and another of ideas and brainstorming you do. I use index cards, and I keep them with me at all times, because once I open the door, the ideas keep coming. You can also do this electronically, by copying the information to an Excel file or use this fun tool: www.wikicards.net.
Fill your ideas out by doing a quick explanation, enough so you’ll remember the details. You never know what is going to jar the next great idea from your imagination.
Brainstorming Characters: Start with the Name and Go From There!
1. Makeup twenty names off the top of your head, or go to a website, graveyard, or phonebook and find them. Characters will start coming to you—write about them!
Use google to find cemeteries that list those interred and find some interesting names, both first and last. Here is a site where you can find specific graveyards and look up names online: http://www.interment.net/ You can even look up names in graveyards and cemeteries in other countries.
At this social security government site, you can look up popular names by the year of birth from 1880 or later.
Here is a site that will generate not only a random name by nationality and country but construct an entire identity.
This site will generate a vampire name for you or one of your characters. There are too many sites to list that will generate all sorts of names for you, from pirates to gangsta to romance writer. Google-search “name generator” to find them all.
Once you get a list of names, write a paragraph or two of a character profile. Choose your favorite and start writing about them. (In addition to writing prompts, these sites are also great if you are trying to name a character.)
List Your Way to New Ideas!
1. Make a list of bizarre, exciting, off-the-wall jobs. These are fun to research on the internet too. Now, take your character list from exercise one, and set it beside this list. Close your eyes and point to one on each. Open your eyes. Write about the character and their job.
2. Make a list of phobias and fears. Add a few of these to your brainstormed characters and see what happens!
3. Research a list of interesting settings. A beach on a tropical island, a backstreet of a major city…how about a backstreet of a tropical island and a beach in a city? What about a list of bathrooms? On a space station, police station, corporate office, underground subway, sports stadium. What goes on in each during the day? What about after-hours? Just keep listing and writing. Before you know it you’ll slip into the writing zone and ideas will come pouring out.
4. Brainstorm and list twenty titles for books (or articles) you’d like to write. List ten different genres and make up ten titles for each of these.
5. Make a list of your favorite magazines (or what the heck, google and find some that interest you, even if you’ve never read them) and brainstorm articles to write for each of them. If any stick or interest you, write away!
6. Write twenty opening lines for a book (use #4 for ideas). Run the gambit from fiction (thriller, romance, modern-day fairy tale) to openings for essays or the non-fiction book that has been rolling around in your head to write one day. Pick one (or two, or three, or…). Write.
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing and speaks at writing programs across the country. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. Her books, FIRST THERE IS A RIVER, JASPER MOUNTAIN and THEATER OF ILLUSION are available online and at bookstores everywhere. Check out more at www.kathysteffen.com