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March 21, 2008

Flex Your Write Brain: A Few Exercises

This week's Extra Ink was written by our intern, Shelly M. who is an undergraduate at Boston College.

So you have been thinking about trying your hand at creative writing, but don't know where to begin? All right, well think back to elementary school, how did you learn to write in that oh-so perfect cursive? Practice of course! Here are some exercises that will help get the creative juices flowing, and maybe help prevent writer's block if you're already a creative writing pro!

Exercise #1 - Break Out That Photo Album!

Are you familiar with that cliche: a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, test this theory out. Start rummaging through old photo albums around the house. (You know those embarrassing pictures you try to hide.) If you want to leave the past in the past, then simply flip through some magazines, or even check out fine art online or in books. What you're looking for is a picture or image that says something to you, a picture that is unique. After you find that perfect snapshot, just start writing whatever popped into your head when you first looked at it, what this image said to you. If it didn't really say much (we are all shy sometimes) then try to describe what the image looks like to a person who has never seen the image before. This idea is important, to show not tell. Remember to use unique descriptions, and you can do this by simply using your own words or ideas that personally relate to you even if they may not make immediate sense to someone else.

Those are some good ideas if you're writing poetry. But if you want to write a short story, here are some further questions to ask: Does the photo contain a person? If so, why is that person there? What is he/she doing? Is he/she happy or sad, and why is he/she happy or sad? Where did this person just come from, and where are they going next? Just put yourself in his/her shoes, and try to write something from their perspective. If there isn't a person, there must be some object you can ask these questions about!

Exercise #2 - Music That Moves You

So you recently bought this new CD, or downloaded this new album, and you can't stop listening to it. You startle yourself when you break into song in the middle of hall, like you're living in a musical. Don't stop the music! Use it! Take that line -you know the one because it is stuck in your head right now--and write it down. Can you relate to this line? If so, why? Whenever you listen to this line, do you hear yourself saying, man this is exactly how I feel, or hey, I've been through that before? Well write about that feeling or that situation.

Another option is use this line as the first line of a story or poem (those are usually the hardest to write in the first place) and see what you can come up with after that.

If you're the type of person who likes to listen to music without lyrics, here is an exercise for you: Begin playing that song on your computer or iPod, and take out a sheet of paper and a pen (just to get prepared). Now close your eyes. What do you think of when you hear the song? What do the instruments sound like to you? Think of them as having a conversation. What are they saying? What are they talking about? Or simply write down whatever the song makes you think or feel. What emotion or image is attached to this song?

Remember any first draft of creative writing will not be perfect. The important thing is to not restrict your flow of words. Never think an idea is stupid, write it down. Don't get stuck trying to think of the ideal word, just jot down whatever word comes into your head. You can always go back later when you're reading it over. Just put that pen to paper, or fingers on that keyboard, keep writing, and don't look back until you can't think of anything else to say!

Also, don't forget that Teen Ink offers an Online Writing Course which is a great place for you to get more exercises like this and get feedback and guidance from an actual creative writing teacher. Don't miss out on this great opportunity to go to a creative writing class in your PJs! Classes start April 22.

P.S. In May, Teen Ink is doing a feature on parents. So send us your stories, fiction or non-fiction (true), poems, even artwork on your mom or dad. You can submit your work by clicking here.

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