Do you ever get stuck writing and you’re not sure where to go? Or stalled out in the midst of a writing project? Making and keeping a book journal may be the answer to clearing that writer’s block. Even if I think through the major parts of my WIP (work in progress), I sometimes find myself in need of additional inspiration and writing ideas. One of the best creative writing exercises and writing tool that I’ve found is to use a “book journal” where I think (on the page, through actual writing) about my book.
After a page or two of scribbling, I find myself again submerged in my story world. A book journal will work on a computer too—just keep it in a Word file. In fact, a new writing software program I just bought has a story scrapbook section—much the same thing as my longhand book journal.
You need more than a beginning if you’re going to start a book. If all you have is a beginning, then once you’ve written that beginning, you have nowhere to go.
— Neil Gaiman
In addition to collecting photos, snippets of ideas, sketches and maps of my fictional towns in my journal, I use creative writing exercises to get me going.
Creative Writing Exercises to keep in a book journal
Creative Writing Exercises – Listen to your character
I ask a specific character how he or she feels about what happened in the last scene. Did it make him sad, mad, frighten him? Does he have any insights because of what just happened? What does he plan to do now? Has he stopped to think his action through, or is he simply reacting? Is he getting revenge, or does he have a master plan?
If you are really feeling brave and want to walk a mile in your character’s shoes, answer out loud in her/his voice. Get up and move the way your character would while explaining. Then hang on, the most amazing things will happen.
Creative Writing Exercises – Character monologue
Now it’s really time to be brave. Take the first-person voice of your character and take notes as she describes her life. Put her on the psychiatrist couch and listen and write as she spills her guts! Channel your character. Use your voice and put your character on if you’d like, but best to make sure no one is at home when you do this. If you do it in a car, be sure you aren’t driving around your town. Rumors can and will get started :o)
Creative Writing Exercises – List goals
Make a list of all the characters in your book, then beneath each, list what each one wants. Brainstorm, this will be difficult for some characters. Plot and ideas emerge from what the characters want but can’t have.
Creative Writing Exercises – Change point of view
Switch to another character in the scene and tell it from their side. Are there other characters in the scene, perhaps not point of view characters? Doesn’t matter, write the scene from their point of view as well. You don’t necessarily have to stick to the new POV, nor do you need to use it in your book, but a switch in point of view is an idea generator.
Creative Writing Exercises – Eavesdrop
Take two or more characters and put them in a room. Then, close your eyes and eavesdrop on them. Listen. Carefully, like you have the place bugged. What do they talk about when you aren’t there to record them? Unbeknownst to them (and keep quiet!) write down everything they say.
Creative Writing Exercises- After you eavesdrop
Write a scene entirely in dialogue. Nothing else. No tags, gestures, nothing. Then go back and add the details of the characters, their interactions with the surroundings. All the usual good scene stuff. Your story will end up in the dialogue, which is how great dialogue is written, and you will have most likely unblocked yourself.
While you are at it, after the first “spill” draft in your book journal, go through every sense and add it to the scene. Use all—don’t forget the sixth sense, intuition. See how each sense changes the scene’s tone and mood.
Creative Writing Exercises – Setting
Add these to your journal. Go to the internet and research, print out photos, descriptions. Glue them into your journal (or import them into your word file) and even make each room or building (or area) with its own, complete character/setting page. Make a setting page for your main characters. Where would each character live? What décor would he choose? Why? What about that makes him feel comfortable? Important? Does he decorate for show or for himself? For his family or significant other? Where does this character meet? Go to relax? What about that place makes him comfortable? Why does he like it? Where does he work? What about the workplace does he love? What does he hate?
Creative Writing Exercises- Speaking of setting
Move your characters to a different location. If they are in a more public place, how does it change what happens? Now a more private locale? Can they be in a place that is a juxtaposition to what is going on? Have two people fall in love at a funeral. A misunderstanding and blowout argument at a sensitivity-training seminar. Set the black moment during an inspirational retreat. Remember, this is in your book journal, so if it doesn’t work it doesn’t need to go into your pages…but my guess is that you will discover some gold as you free yourself to write this way.
Creative Writing Exercises – Collage your book
Need to go bigger with photos and details—not only for the setting but for what characters wear, drive, eat, what sort of activities they like? This is a wonderful brainstorming tool, and with the setting pages, you are half way there! The great thing about a collage is that you can pull it out at any time for inspiration.
Keeping a book journal can be a wonderful addition to your writing process. The journal format gives you permission to try something you might not otherwise. You are free to write bad, write dumb, write absurd. My guess is you’ll surprise yourself and come up with some great insights, ideas, and even (gasp!) some writing and discoveries you will move to your manuscript.
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