Bookcase Writing Tools


(c) Arike van de Water 2007-2009

Writing Tools

I am not a professional writer. Hence, these are not the words of an author with much experience or the credit of a professional. Instead, I simply wished to share some of my better discoveries. Some of the articles in the resources section, for example, really helped me through some hard spots in the writing process. Like the place I grind to a halt because my novel's lost its appeal for a moment or at the start of the very first revision I ever did on something longer than a short story. The exercises below, too, are simply some of the best I've found.

On this page are a few exercises for flexing those writing muscles. Under prompts you'll find words and images that might inspire you. Under generators you'll find exactly that, for situation, challenges and word count. In resources are links to articles, blogs, dictionaries and more. Take your pick!


For other writers, here's a few of the tricks I use to get myself writing. In the future, I'll probably add some more, but here's some to start with. I hope you find them useful.

Different Styles

As a flexing exercise for the creative muscle, trying a style other than your own can be very useful. A smart little exercise our teacher gave us in my very first creative writing class allowed us to do just that.

First think of an object, any object, that you can touch, taste, smell, see, handle.

Then, in very short, plain words in very simple sentences, describe the object straightforwardly, making it as thorough as you can. That is the minimalistic style.

Next, go completely the other way. In florid descriptions of long words, with many embellishments, drama, additions, elucidate, expound, exaggerate in long, wandering sentences. That's purple prose.

For the last description, make the object the symbol for something much greater than itself. For example, describe the state of America by means of a plate of bacon and eggs, or the bloodiness of the late Middle Ages by means of a warhorse. Make it clear in the description what the object stands for, but never say it outright. Simply imply it, in the associations you use, your word choice, the selection of features you describe. That is the representational or symbolic style.

Practical Heroics

When your character faces some kind of conflict that he or she must resolve, try to think of an original, unexpected way to solve it. If they must choose between two options, what is the third? In other words, use cleverness instead of force.

Some examples:

A Dutch seafaring hero, Michiel De Ruyter, knew he had to sail past an overwhelming force that would gladly capture and conquer his ship if it could. He ordered his entire ship to be slicked with soap. When the enemy tried to board his ship, every hook they threw at him slipped away, not getting any grip. He sailed past unharmed, and safely arrived in Holland.

My father was asked to look at a casing of an internet radio that was suspected to leak when the weather was both hot and moist. He could have sent it to the lab, costing the company several hundred dollars and have the results a couple of days later. Instead, he put the radio in the car for a few hours. Since it was parked in the driveway, standing squarely in the Californian sun, it heated up nicely. Then he put it under a leaking shower. That way, he could confirm that same day that not all was right with the casing, and set about solving the problem.

In the bonus story of Rurouni Kenshin, the legendary swordsman bumps into a girl that's being pursued by two bad guys. Instead of facing them down and killing them, he picks up the girl and runs for all he is worth. That way, he prevented a fight, unnecessary casualties and exposing his own identity. The girl denounces him as a coward, but he doesn't think it wrong with saving her while at the same time avoiding violence.

This exercise is meant to get you thinking outside the box in terms of conflict resolution. Often, there's more than one solution to a problem, or an unorthodox way out of a desperate situation. Using it can be a very refreshening for your writing.

Word War

This one is not truly mine, but I use it often, so I thought I'd include it. You can do this on your own or with several people at once, online or in the flesh. You agree on a period of time, anywhere between five minutes and an hour. During this period, the only thing you do is churn out as many words as you can, no rereading, no correcting, only writing. At the end of the period, you compare word-counts, give some back-slaps, have a break, and, if necessary, start over.

There's also a long-term variant. In this one, someone challenges themselves and/or others to write a set (and preferably insanely high) amount of words to write in a day, a weekend, a week, a month or even a year. At the end of it, you either cheer for yourself (and others) over winning, or give each participant a pat on the back for the good try.

No matter whether you reached the goal you set or not, or whether you won the war, doesn't really matter. In the end, it matters that you've accomplished something by setting a goal, wether it was that goal or something different. It's a really good way to get over writer's block, to shut up the voices whispering you're not good enough, and just write, get those ideas out on paper. In imperfect sentences, yes, but you can always edit later. Plus it's exhilirating what you can accomplish if you let all those self-imposed standards go.