3 Old School Exercises to Inspire & Improve Your Writing

Posted by Drew Robinson

Creativity drives good storytelling. Creativity can weave tales that force us to question our own morality or open our eyes to new possibilities. It’s the magical ingredient that transforms a set of mundane facts into a believable and moving narrative. Good writers can use this creative superpower to hook their reader and share their unique vision. But even the best writers struggle to find their creativity sometimes.

As a young writer, I found myself sitting at a blank screen, uninspired and unable to write. I often attempted to push through these dry spells and overcome writer’s block through sheer perseverance. This strategy produced mixed results. Yes, I was writing, but it was mostly unusable stuff - just words on a page. And these pages lacked that magical ingredient: Creativity. Over time, I realized my writer’s block was actually a creativity block. So what can writers do when our creative juices stop flowing?

In my day job, I’m an educator. I work with teachers, helping them imagine new and innovative ways to reach their students. You might be surprised to learn that teaching requires just as much as creativity as storytelling does. So, I performed an experiment. I took the strategies and activities I used to inspire my teachers and applied them to my own writing.

The results were (and continue to be) remarkable. I don’t get writer’s block anymore. When I recognize I’m getting stuck, I pause and try a different strategy. It boosts my creativity and quickly jumpstarts my writing. I am able to get back to my original assignment, reinvigorated and ready to work. Below I share three strategies (and accompanying writing exercises) that I use to spark my creativity.

1) Change Your Lens

As you might imagine, teachers face a wide variety of problems in the classroom. From overcrowded classrooms and short attention spans to unreliable technology, the teacher must be a consummate problem solver. But what happens when there isn’t an obvious solution? In the Change Your Lens strategy, I work with teachers to explore alternative perspectives on the problem they are facing. By “wearing a different hat,” we can notice details that illuminate root causes and solutions that weren’t visible before.

3 Old School Exercises to Inspire and Improve Your WritingLooking at your story from another perspective can help you identify weaknesses in your plot.
Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash)


The same is true in storytelling. As writers, we often tackle a story with a strong point of view, whether it’s our own or our protagonist’s. This helps drive the plot and our character’s actions but it can also limit us. Have you ever got stuck in a scene but struggled with identifying the issue? We can become so blinded by our perspective that we lose the big picture. How does your story shift when told from the antagonist’s point of view or from the POV of a minor character? By changing our lens, plot holes and unrealistic character reactions become clearer.

The writing exercise I’ve included in this section is a fun way to practice changing your own lens.

Challenge Yourself: Genre Shift
What if Beauty and the Beast was recut as a post-apocalyptic tale? What if Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were set in outer space? How would the Raiders of the Lost Ark change if told from the perspective of Indiana Jones’ rival, the French archaeologist?

3 Old School Exercises to Inspire  Improve Your WritingHow would you shift the genre on the classic story of Beauty and the Beast?
Photo by
Alex J. Reyes on Unsplash)

Take a classic story (or your own) and shift the genre. Check out Christopher Rule’s re-cut horror version of the Mary Poppins movie trailer for inspiration. If it’s a romance, try rewriting it as a scary story or a comedy. If it’s an action adventure, what would it look like as a musical? Take a look at a list of genres, pick one you find interesting (or challenging) and have some fun with your storytelling.


2) Be Playful

Teaching is a very serious business. There are standards that have to be met and students that require a teacher’s undivided attention in order to succeed. So it’s easy for teachers to forget that we can learn as much from playing (if not more) as we can from reading a textbook. When I work with teachers, I often use tools and games to help them recover their inner child. By embracing our childlike wonder and curiosity, we create a playful environment where our creativity can thrive.

3 Old School Exercises to Inspire and Improve Your WritingHave you designed a playful environment to inspire your creative writing? (Photo by Grace Ho on Unsplash)

The same is true for writers. We need a playful environment to write creatively. When risk taking is acceptable and encouraged, our own unique voices can really shine. But creating this safe space can be challenging. Often, there is so much riding on our writing. The desire for financial sustainability or the perceptions of our own inner critic can hold us back from taking the very risks that would lead us to success. Think about your own writing environment. Have you designed a mental safe space for yourself? Maybe you need to stop and take some time to play and just enjoy writing.

The writing exercises I’ve included in this section are designed to be no-pressure, joyful ways to jumpstart your creative writing.

Challenge Yourself: Roll the Dice
Take thirty seconds and devise a story that includes a dog walker, a dragon, a bank and a tulip...What did you come up with? Share below! Remember, there’s no such thing as a dumb story in a creativity exercise.

3 Old School Exercises to Inspire and Improve Your WritingRory’s Story Cubes are a set of dice which can be used to inspire storytelling.
(Photo by
Bernard Goldbach)

Pick a tool like Rory’s Story Cubes or Storybird and write a story based on the prompts provided. Pull in your fellow writer friends to create a collaborative story. Need some inspiration? Use a writing prompt generator to get started.


3)Reduce & Reuse

Sometimes constraints can actually force us to be more creative. This is certainly true for teachers. Ask your teacher friends about decorating a classroom on a zero budget or teaching most anything in the era of standardized testing. When I work with teachers, I focus on having a growth mindset. This is the belief that each of us can learn and grow and that with hard work we can find a solution. In this way, barriers and constraints become challenges to overcome through creative problem solving.


3 Old School Exercises to Inspire and Improve Your WritingDo you find feedback useful or painful? (Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)


Constraints can be hard when we are writing too. As a young writer, I balked at feedback from editors and others. I didn’t want to spoil the universe I had designed. Whether it was a problematic character or a demand to reduce pages, I often felt like I was being forced to sacrifice my vision. But when I embraced a growth mindset, I began to ask myself how I could reshape my words to better share my vision. In this way, the editing process has become enjoyable rather than painful.

The writing exercises I’ve included in this section can be hard at first so I recommend trying them on a regular basis.


Challenge Yourself: Less is More
Write a short story in 280 characters (that’s a tweet, by the way). Next, try rewriting that same short story but in only 140 characters (that’s an old school tweet). Looking for an extra challenge? Try writing a six word memoir or tell a story by creating your own meme.


3 Old School Exercises to Inspire  Improve Your Writing

Drew Robinson’s writing is based on her diverse professional experiences.
She has walked dogs, served on the front lines of a hospital’s complaint
department, and taught the youth of America. Currently, she is the director
of a technology initiative at a small university. When she’s not questioning
her life decisions, she enjoys drawing, reading books and discussing the
ramifications of a hostile robot takeover.

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