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5 Creative Writing Exercises to Jump-Start NaNoWriMo

An old journal and typewriter.

To many folks, November means raking leaves and Thanksgiving. To thousands of people worldwide, though, November is National Novel Writing Month, aka, NaNoWriMo. If, like tons of other devoted scribblers out there, you plan to pen a best-seller this month, we have some creative writing prompts to help you get started.

NaNoWriMo started in 1999 as a not-so-simple challenge to write 50,000 words during the 30 days of November. Now, every year, while others are planning Turkey Day dinners and holiday shopping, countless others are furiously typing, scribbling, or obsessing over creating their own novel.

If you’re one of them, but you have no idea where to start, these creative writing tips and exercises could offer just the spark of inspiration you need!

Morning Pages & Free-Writing

A young woman in a cafe writing in a journal.

The idea for “morning pages” came from Julia Cameron, best known for her self-help-through-creativity book, The Artist’s Way.

It works like this: Every morning, before you do anything else, you fill three pages (single-sided) with any stream-of-consciousness thoughts that come to mind. The idea is to capture your raw, unfiltered thoughts and feelings before the rest of your day interrupts them.

To keep things authentic, Cameron insists you write your morning pages by hand, rather than typing them. She also insists that you fill three full-sized pages to reap the full benefits. Anything less, she claims, won’t provide valuable breakthroughs, while anything more will become narcissistic.

So grab your morning coffee, a notebook or journal, and your favorite pen, and get to scribbling.

This is also called “free-writing,” and it just means writing without intent or purpose. It can, however, kick-start inspiration by helping you better understand your emotions. Many times, you’ll find yourself writing random drivel, and that’s okay. This is still an excellent warm-up exercise to do each day or right before you get down to work on your novel.

Using an object as inspiration can also sometimes help you get out of that directionless free-write bog. Just look around the room, pick the most uninteresting object you see, and start writing about it. It could be the desk, a rug, a vase, or a sock. Even the most mundane objects can become sources of ideas and inspiration when you use them for a free-writing session.

You might be surprised—that sock without a mate could find its way into your story.

Memory & Dream Journaling

Creative writing isn’t all about inventing new worlds and characters. Often, it’s about retelling true stories in interesting ways.

If you want to write, but aren’t sure what to write about, simply start writing down one of your memories. How far back you want to go is up to you. For example, you might want to see how much you can remember about your earliest childhood memory or your first vacation. You can even write about something that happened yesterday.

When the event happened doesn’t matter, it’s just a tool to get you writing! And, of course, you don’t have to show this or anything else you write to anyone. Rather, it’s just meant to help you mine your thoughts and find something to write about.

As you write, you might tap into details you’d forgotten, or remember new things about your emotional state at the time. If you’re feeling stuck, simply write, “I remember …,” and then go on free-writing from there.

Writing down your dreams can also be particularly helpful when writing fiction because they’re often so peculiar. Looking up the meanings of certain symbols, animals, or objects in a dream dictionary could also be helpful, not only for understanding yourself better, but to get ideas for your novel. So, start jotting down those sleepytime adventures—you never know what will spark your creativity!

Writing Prompts

Woman typing on a laptop.
G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock.com

The Internet can be a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration for writers. A quick search for “writing prompts” reveals countless results, all of which are designed to simply get you writing. This list of nine prompts covers just about every genre, and there are sure to be a few you find interesting.

If you prefer, you can even get a writing prompt for every day of NaNoWriMo. From making decisions and taking action, to exploring feelings and reflecting on motivation, each day’s prompt will help you give your characters (and story) depth and momentum.

Write Some Fanfiction

Fanfiction is often derided as the lowest form of creative writing, thanks, in part, to some of the more bizarre tales that have become famous online just for being bad. However, fanfiction can also be one of the easiest, and most enjoyable, writing exercises for beginner writers.

Fanfiction is a story that’s based on the plot and/or characters of a popular book, movie, or television show. For example, you could write a fanfiction story and insert yourself as a character in the Star Wars universe, or one in which everyone in Twilight gets eaten by zombies. In short, anything goes.

Fanfiction can be awful, brilliant, or anywhere in-between. You can make your story as silly or self-indulgent as you want. As a writing exercise, the only thing that matters is that you have fun with it. You don’t have to show your fanfiction to anyone, of course—but if you want to share it, there are countless websites where you can do just that.

One of the most popular sites for these derivative tales is FanFiction.Net. It’s been around since 1998, so to say the collection of stories is massive would be an understatement. You can find a story based on just about any pop culture property you can think of here.

Another popular place to write and share fanfiction is on Wattpad. Here, you can establish an audience and develop a following for your stories. In fact, popularity on this platform has led to publishing and movie deals for some authors, so it’s an excellent place to simultaneously hone your skills and maybe even get noticed!

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this month—or writing any time of the year—these writing tips and exercises can jump-start your creative brain. They can be especially helpful for getting started, or “unstuck.” So, grab a pen and paper or your laptop, and start writing. Who knows? By the end of November, you could have your first novel under your belt!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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