Poetry Writing Exercises: Using Connotation to Find the Perfect Word

Poetry Writing Exercises: Using Connotation

Poetry Writing Exercises: Using Connotation.

Poetry writing exercises are an excellent way to develop writing skills, especially skills that are essential to writing compelling poetry. Writing exercises can provide us with new perspectives, techniques, and ideas that strengthen and improve poems we’ve written and poems we have yet to write.

Words are the most basic building blocks for writers, and words have meanings. Often, words have multiple meanings or layers of meanings. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises: A Story for a Song

fiction writing exercises - story for a song

Fiction writing exercises: story and song.

Art Begets Art

A compelling story speaks to us much the same way music does, communicating thoughts, feelings, and ideas in ways that go beyond concrete language.

The result?

Something clicks. When you hear a song or read a story that resonates in this manner, you connect with it on a deep level. It almost feels like the author or songwriter was speaking for you, about you, or to you.

Some say that truly great art communicates directly with the subconscious. That’s why the arts coexist so naturally. Where you find a buzzing music scene, you can be sure a booming literary crowd is nearby. And where filmmakers toil with scripts and cameras, you can bet dancers aren’t too far off.

Creativity breeds creativity, and we are like magnets, drawn not just into our own passion, but those that complement and support our passions. Music, film, and art all enrich and inform one another. So do the musicians, filmmakers, artists, and of course, writers. Read More

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: People Are People

creative writing exercises

From 101 Creative Writing Exercises: People Are People.

101 Creative Writing Exercises takes you on an adventure through the world of creative writing. You get to experiment with fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction while learning useful writing techniques.

Today I’d like to share one of the exercises from the book. This is from “Chapter Three: People and Characters.” The exercise is titled “People are People,” and it offers tips and ideas for writing characters and writing about real people as subject matter.

Enjoy! Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises: Composing a Logline

fiction writing exercises

Write a logline to figure out what your story’s about!

In his book, Save the Cat, Blake Snyder recommends writing a logline for your story before you tackle the first draft. Today we’re going to apply this concept with fiction writing exercises that force you to dig into your story and unearth its core, so you can find out what it’s really about and whether it’s a compelling concept.

A logline is a one- or two-sentence description of your story, similar to an elevator pitch. The idea is to write a logline that inspires interest in your story. Because loglines are primarily used to market books and movies, it may seem like you should write your logline after your book is completed. However, writing your logline in advance has several benefits.

Through the process of fine-tuning and polishing the logline for a story you’re working on, you will pare the story down to its core by identifying what makes it interesting and why people should want to read it. Since you only have one or two sentences to work within, you end up with a crystallized description of your story. Read More

Poetry Writing Exercise: Creative Wordplay

poetry writing exercises

Have a little fun with language.

Charles Dickens invented the word boredom. Sylvia Path coined the term dreamscape. William Shakespeare gave us bandit, swagger, and gossip, along with over 1700 other words that previously didn’t exist in the English lexicon.

Writers have a long history of inventing new words, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. When we encounter an idea or concept and no clear way to express it, creating new language is a practical solution.

Plus, making up new words is fun.

But we’re not limited to inventing new words. Poets, in particular, are always looking for fresh ways to use language. Consider the following line’s from E.E. Cummings’ poem, “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”:

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew

Cummings also played with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The lack of spacing around the parenthesis is not a typo!

Poetic Language

Let’s look more closely at the phrase “down they forgot as up they grew.”

It’s not a conventional way to arrange words. Cummings flouted conventional syntax with the word order (“up they grew” instead of “they grew up”), and he combined words in surprising ways (“down they forgot”).

We know that according to the rules of our language, this excerpt shouldn’t make sense, especially the notion of “forgetting down,” yet as we read the lines of the poem, we know exactly what the poet is saying.

That’s the magic of wordplay in poetry.

Poetry Exercise: Creative Wordplay

Today’s poetry writing exercises encourage you to invent fresh and interesting words and phrases by using language in unexpected ways. To get started, you’ll need some words to work with, so make four lists of about a dozen words each:

  1. Nouns (examples: cat, sky, food)
  2. Adjectives (examples: blue, jolly, flat)
  3. Verbs (examples: dance, squat, bite)
  4. Suffixes and prefixes: (examples: non-, anti-, -er)

Once you’ve got some words to work with, you can start playing with them. As you work through the steps below, don’t confine yourself to the words you’ve pre-selected. Bring new words into your lists as needed or as you feel inspired to do so.

  1. Combine one of the nouns with one of the suffixes or prefixes to form a new word (example: desker).
  2. Combine any two words to form a new word (example: jollysquat).
  3. Turn one of the nouns into a verb and use it in a sentence (example: They’re catting through the club).
  4. Use an adjective as an adverb in a phrase or sentence (example: She’s running blue).
  5. Rearrange the words in one of the sentences or phrases you’ve written (example: Through the club they’re catting).

You can repeat these exercises infinitely, always bringing new words and ideas into the mix. You’ll find that the more time you spend on creative exercises like these, the more your mind will open to experimental language and wordplay.

Can you think of any other strange and interesting ways to combine words? What about common expressions that already use words in unconventional ways, like using a preposition as a verb (“We’re upping the ante”)? Did you find any words or combinations that worked especially well for this exercise? Share your wordplay by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

Fiction Writing Exercises for Exploring and Developing Theme

fiction writing exercises

Develop themes in your stories with these fiction writing exercises.

Good fiction is comprised of many parts: plot, characters, setting, scenes, and dialogue. But we rarely talk about theme, even though it’s critical to good storytelling.

There’s no clear and easy way to define theme. It has been called the worldview, philosophy, message, moral, and lesson within a story. However, these labels, taken alone or together, don’t quite explain theme in fiction.

We can think of a theme as an underlying principle or concept. It’s usually universal in nature. Some common themes include redemption, sacrifice, betrayal, loyalty, greed, justice, oppression, revenge, and love.

Themes can be philosophical; they can ask questions or pit two ideas against each other: science vs. faith, good vs. evil, why are we here and what happens when we die?

Themes in Storytelling

You need look no further than some of your favorite stories to explore and identify themes. Keep in mind that most stories have multiple themes. For example, in Harry Potter, I would say the most significant themes are good vs. evil and the power of love. However, there are also themes of friendship, sacrifice, and redemption. One theme might stretch across an entire series while other themes appear at the novel or chapter level.

And themes are not unique to fictional literature. Any form of storytelling can (and should) contain thematic elements, including movies, television shows, songs, and poetry. Themes will also be present in nonfiction, and in some cases themes will drive a work of nonfiction, whether it is a memoir or documentary. For example, a documentary about the lives of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton will focus on the theme of justice in the context of a woman’s right to vote. Such a documentary won’t look closely at their personal lives but will focus on their founding of the women’s suffrage movement, keeping to the theme.

Today’s fiction writing exercises encourage you to explore themes by identifying them in some of your favorite stories.

Fiction Writing Exercises: Exploring and Developing Theme

Once you understand theme and have learned to identify it, you can start bringing it into your own work. There’s a good chance that themes will manifest even if you don’t put any special effort into theme development. Themes are so closely tied to human nature that it’s almost impossible to tell a story without a theme of some kind. But if you approach theme with intent (even vague intent), your work might have greater depth and meaning.

Exercise 1: Study in Themes

If you and I both watch the film Titanic, we might identify different themes in the film. I might identify wealth disparity or materialism as a theme, and you might say liberty is a theme. In this case, we’d both be right. For this exercise, you will choose one of your favorite stories and identify its themes.

  1. Choose a favorite book, movie, or television show (for a TV show, you should just choose one episode). Make a list of all the themes you can identify in the story. Try to find three to five themes. Go over your list a few times to make sure you’re identifying themes (big, sweeping concepts) rather than conflicts or plot twists.
  2. Next, determine one key theme that is woven through the entire story. You might find there are two or three major themes. List them all but choose just one to explore in the next step.
  3. Finally, explain how the storyteller presented this theme through plot, character, and scenes. Make a list of events and situations from the story that embody the theme.

I found an example that identifies a theme in Catcher in the Rye.

As an alternative, choose one of your completed poems, stories, or essays. The exercise will work better with a story, but poetry and essays will do. Now go through the steps above to list all the themes in your piece, identify the main theme(s), and examine how you executed the themes. If you’re already working on a story, try to identify a few themes that are appearing in your work and elaborate on them. Look for ways to integrate the theme with your plot, and ask how your main conflict can be connected with a primary theme.

Exercise 2: Starting from Theme

Choose three themes and for each, sketch ideas for how you could make the theme manifest through character, plot, or scenes. Here’s an example using revenge as a theme: A thieving woman is fired because a co-worker reported her for stealing. Instead of accepting responsibility, she blames the co-worker and frames him so he gets fired too, even though he is innocent.

Exercise 3: Theme Master

Now that you’ve learned how to identify themes and integrate theme in your own work, make a master list of themes that can be used in storytelling. Whenever you come across an interesting theme, add it to the list. You can refer back to your list whenever you need a theme for one of your writing projects.

A Few Final Tips for Bringing Themes into Your Writing

Theme is not cut and dry, and it shouldn’t be overly obvious. If you’re working on a theme involving sacrifice, you don’t want to show your characters making sacrifices in every chapter. Theme works best when it’s subtle.

Since themes can contain messages and morals, make a conscious effort not to force your personal beliefs and values onto your readers. There’s a difference between making a statement and being preachy. Most readers don’t like novels that preach at them. In fact, some themes work best when they work as questions and the reader gets to experience contrary viewpoints. For example, we all accept that stealing is wrong, but we feel differently about it when it’s done by a small child who is starving.

Finally, have fun with theme. You can go through your outline and make notes about where themes are addressed. Or you can look for opportunities in your story where theme could be expanded. You can do these exercises over and over for various stories until you get a good handle on theme, and then you can use theme to enrich your own writing. You might also use the Internet to look for other people’s ideas about theme for any given story.

Let’s Talk About Themes

How do you approach themes in storytelling? Do you purposefully develop themes, or do you let them happen naturally? Did you find today’s fiction writing exercises helpful in understanding and exploring themes? Got any theme-related resources or ideas to share? Leave a comment!

And keep writing.

Are you looking for more fiction writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

Writing Exercises: Writer, Know Thyself

writing exercises to help writers understand themselves

Writing exercises: Writer, know thyself.

Today’s writing exercise is an excerpt from 101 Creative Writing Exercises, a book packed with writing exercises and ideas. Enjoy!

Writer, Know Thyself

This exercise asks you to look in the mirror and ask yourself a critical question:

Why do I write?

There are many forces that drive writers to the page. Some do it for love, for creative expression, or because writing is simply something they must do, a compulsion. Others do it for riches, prestige, or to make a living.

It’s not easy to succeed as a writer. Most writers have day jobs and write during their free time, chipping away at novels, drafting essays, or penning articles, short stories, and poems. They spend their evenings polishing their work, and they spend their weekends submitting it to agents and editors. Some plan to self-publish. Many already have.

Writing professionally requires an immense amount of self-discipline, because in the early years, you’re hustling. Trying to land gigs. Building up clips.

On top of self-discipline, writers are competing in a field that’s saturated with dreamers and overrun with talent. Creativity is fleeting; gigs are scarce. Far too many novels end up half-finished and buried in a bottom drawer.

For those who intend to succeed, finish that novel, get that poem published, or earn a living wage as a freelance writer, staying focused is imperative.

Those who succeed are not the most talented or the smartest. They are the ones who refuse to give up. They have good writing habits; they are focused and motivated and consistently work toward their goals.

As a writer, it’s important to know where you are in relation to your goals.

The Exercise

This exercise presents a series of questions about your goals and motivations as a writer. Your job is simple: Write a short paragraph to answer each question. Keep your answers concise and try not to go off on tangents.

You can revisit this exercise at least once a year to see how you’re progressing, to stay focused and motivated, and to remember why you write.

  • What do you write, or what do you want to write? Think about form (fiction, poetry, memoir, etc.) and genre (literary, speculative, romance). Be specific.
  • How often and how much do you write? Ask yourself whether you have enough time to write and whether you could make more time for your writing.
  • What are your top three goals as a writer?
  • Why are these three goals important to you?
  • What is your five-year career plan as a writer? What do you need to do over the next five years to achieve one (or all) of your top three goals?
  • In the past year, what have you accomplished in working toward your goals?
  • What can you do over the next year to move closer to your top three goals and your five-year career plan?

Tips: Keep your goals separate and specific. If you want to publish a novel through legacy (traditional) publishing, you don’t need an additional goal of getting an agent. Getting an agent is implied in the greater goal of legacy publishing.

If you have more than three goals, then list up to ten, but highlight your top three priorities.

If you’re not sure what your goals are, then make goal-setting a goal. Give yourself some time to set goals (a few weeks or months).

Variations: Instead of answering all the questions in a single session, you can spread them out and answer one question a day. While concise answers will be the clearest, the first time you do this exercise, you might want to write a full-page response to each question. You can also use these questions as journal prompts and write your answers in your daily journal.

Applications: These questions help you clarify your intentions. When you know what you want to accomplish, it becomes easier to attain. In addition, articulating your goals ensures that you can discuss them intelligibly, which comes in handy when submitting query letters, in meetings and interviews, and in discussions with other writers and professionals in the publishing industry.


101 creative writing exercises


Poetry Writing Exercises: Shifting Perspectives

poetry writing exercises

Poetry writing exercises for experimenting with perspective.

Writers share something in common with actors; they need to be able to understand people who are outside their own personal experience. When we write a character who is vastly different from us, we do what actors do, which is step inside the mind and body of someone else.

Not all writers do this. If you write essays, blogs, or memoirs, getting into other people’s heads is not a necessary skill. But if you write fiction, it’s essential. It’s also a common practice in poetry, especially in poetry that strives to be compassionate, socially aware, or empathetic.

It’s also not a bad life skill. Fostering empathy gives you a broader understanding of the world and the people in it and can be immensely helpful in mitigating conflict and bridging cultures.

Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write a poem from a perspective other than your own.

Poetry Writing Exercises: Shift Your Perspective

Below, you’ll find three poetry writing exercises. Each one asks you to write a poem in which you shift your perspective and try to see things differently:

1. Animate the Inanimate: Choose an inanimate object, such as a tree or a toaster. Prepare for the exercise by looking at images of the object or the object itself, and then write a list of things that would be of concern to the object. For example, a toaster might be uncomfortable because its crumb tray is full. Think about what kind of personality this object would have if it were sentient and spend a few minutes cultivating a voice for this object by speaking aloud (into a recorder, if you have one) in the character of this object. Now that you’re warmed up, write a poem from this object’s perceptive. The main goal is to find the object’s voice and personality. This exercise is excellent for children’s poetry and humor.

2. Cross the Culture: Get inside the mindset of a culture other than your own. Choose a culture you’re not overly familiar with. This can be a sub-culture within your own region (maybe you’re a geek writing as a sports fanatic) or you can choose a culture from another nation or one from history. Give yourself one hour to read about this culture or watch a documentary about it, and then write a poem from your own perspective but from within the culture you’re writing about (a geek at a sporting event). Take a positive angle on the culture you’re writing about, even if you find it strange or if you don’t quite understand it.

3. My Own Worst Enemy: Now get inside the mind of your enemy. This could be someone who bullied you when you were a child. It could be a mean boss you once worked for. It could be someone you feel animosity toward because they’ve hurt you or a loved one or because they have an opposing worldview that you think is detrimental to society. It doesn’t even have to be a real person. You can make someone up! Choose a topic this person would care about (if it’s your childhood bully, maybe it’s about why this person picked on other children) and write about that topic from that person’s perspective. Explore why they do what they do, and if possible, try to find the positive. And remember: a villain is the hero of his or her own story.

Understanding “The Other”

Broadening your perspective to understand different points of view and different ideas is beneficial, especially if you’re a writer (or any type of artist, really). In the world today, which often seems wildly fragmented, a little understanding can go a long way. But these poetry writing exercises also encourage you to stretch your imagination and engage your creativity. You might find them slightly uncomfortable, but if you push through, you’ll learn something new and have a fresh poem to add to your repertoire.

If you try any of these poetry writing exercises, leave a comment and let us know how it worked out for you, and keep writing!

101 Creative Writing Exercises

Poetry Writing Exercises: Lost in Translation

Poetry writing exercises

Poetry writing exercises: blind translations.

Language is a funny thing, and translations are neither as simple nor as straightforward as we might want them to be.

Years ago, when I was learning Spanish (I never did master it), on an especially warm day, I wanted to say, “I’m hot,” which is a standard expression in English. But when I said the phrase, “Yo soy caliente” to my Spanish-speaking cousin, he laughed and warned me not to go around using that phrase. Apparently in Spanish, this expression has to do with lust, not the temperature.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: translation requires more than looking up words in a language dictionary.

Languages are filled with connotations and nuances. Technology has given us a host of tools that we can use to parse languages that we don’t know, but we can’t rely on these tools for proper translations because they are not capable of fully understanding the subtleties of language: especially colloquialisms, cliches, and other common expressions.

We can usually use translator tools to get the gist of some text that’s written in a foreign language, but as writers, we can also find ways to use these tools to hone our craft. Today we’ll use online translators to generate a poetry writing exercise.

Poetry Writing Exercise

The goal of this exercise is to use an online translator as a tool to get your raw material, a collection of words and phrases that you’ll use to build a new poem. For this exercise, you’ll need a poem written in a foreign language plus a professional translation of that poem in English.

Here are the steps:

  1. Find a poem that was written in a foreign language that you don’t speak, read, or understand. Make sure it’s a poem that has been professionally translated into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). You’ll need both the translation and native versions of the poem.
  2. Read the poem aloud in its native language. You don’t know this language, so don’t worry about comprehension or pronunciation. Just read it and see what it sound like. Does it have a rough, jagged feeling? Is it smooth and flowing?
  3. Paste the poem into an online translation tool and translate it into English (or another language in which you’re fluent). Do not use a published translation of the work. The key to this exercise is to take the original poem in its native language, and run it through an electronic translator.
  4. Read the translated copy. Does it make sense? Do any words or phrases feel odd or out of place?
  5. Now pull out words and phrases that interest you. Copy and paste them into a new document (or write them as a list in your notebook).
  6. Use the words and phrases you’ve harvested to write a new poem of your own. For an added twist, try to incorporate new words and phrases that are reminiscent of the native language of the poem. For example, if you’re using a poem written in Hawaiian, consider setting your poem on one of the Hawaiian islands.
  7. Now get the professional translation of the poem and read it. How similar is it to the online translation? How similar is it to the poem you wrote?


A good way to find poems for this exercise is to search for famous poets from other countries or pick up a book of poems that are published in both their native languages and English translations.

Lost in Translation

I studied French for four years in junior high and high school plus two semesters in college. I never did become fluent because I was unable to experience immersion. But what surprised me the most about learning French was how much it taught me about my native language, English. We writers can learn a lot about writing by studying various languages.

Are you bilingual? Have you ever studied or mastered a foreign language? How has your understanding of language influenced your poetry? Do you have any poetry writing exercises to share? Leave a comment!

101 Creative Writing Exercises

Writing Exercises with Metaphors

writing exercises with metaphors

Writing exercises using metaphors. Creative Commons License photo credit: franzi ♥ PHOTOS on Flickr.

A while back, I wrote a post that had nothing to do with food, but food became a running metaphor while I was revising. The food metaphor was so delicious (or maybe I was so hungry) that I rewrote the entire post with food on the brain.

The blog posts that I write with metaphors always get a lot of positive feedback and everyone seems to embrace them. So I thought why not make writing exercises out of metaphors?

So, what makes metaphors work?

The most effective metaphors trigger our senses by connecting an otherwise intangible subject to sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste. If you can engage any of these senses through metaphor, your writing will take on new life. Not only will it become more entertaining and more memorable, it will be easier for readers to relate to what you’re saying.

Writing exercises that focus on metaphors present a great challenge for learning how to use one of the most effective literary devices at our disposal. And using metaphors in our writing helps us engage readers’ senses. Metaphors are a lot of fun because tickling the senses is…well…sensual. So let’s try it, shall we?

Exercise #1: Thread the Metaphor

Step One: Choose a Topic

Just about any topic will do, but keep in mind that some topics don’t need the help of a metaphor. Subjects like sex, food, music, and anything else that intrinsically affects the senses might not benefit from a metaphor the way more abstract topics will. Think about subjects you’ve explored recently in your writing. Were there any topics that felt flat or dry? You can revisit those topics and see how a metaphor adds dimension and makes a piece more compelling.

Step Two: Choose a Metaphor

Choose one of the five senses and come up with something that affects that particular sense. Here are some examples:

  • Sight: the bold colors of a Picasso painting, anything with motion (traffic, trains, the sea), scenic landscapes
  • Touch: the warmth of velvet, the hard cool of steel, or the scratchy texture of wool
  • Taste: foods or flavors — sweet, spicy, rich, or tart
  • Sound: city sounds, nature (birds tweeting), music, a roaring engine, or absolute quiet
  • Scent: spring showers, shampoo and soaps, swimming pools, a wet dog

Also, be on the lookout for metaphors that work and metaphors that don’t. Some metaphors are tired and have become clichés (stopping to smell the roses comes to mind). Look for unique and original metaphors and notice which ones don’t quite make the grade.

Step Three: Write

Write a short essay about your topic, threading the metaphor through the piece. For example, if you’re going to use the bold colors of a Picasso painting as your metaphor, you can play off your metaphor by mixing in new metaphors about canvasses, paintbrushes, color, and light. You can even get into museums, history, and just about any other area where art is part of the context.

Metaphors work well in almost any type of writing, so you can use this exercise to draft a blog post, a poem, or a short story

Exercise #2: Metaphor Refresh

Go through your journal or files where you store pieces you’ve written and see if there’s anything that could be reworked and made more enticing through the use of a metaphor. For example, metaphors often work well in place of lengthy descriptions. Instead of trying to describe how complex and mysterious life is, we can simply say life is a puzzle.

Exercise #3: Metaphor Mash-Up

Review the first exercise above (“Thread the Metaphor”) and then make a list of twenty-five things. They can be people, places, objects, and topics for discussion. For each item on the list, come up with a single metaphor that could represent it. Be open minded as you work through the list. For example, one of your items might be child. If you come up with munchkin as a metaphor, you’ll discover that the child has taken on personality and specific features. Let the items on your list inspire the metaphors, but then let the metaphors influence the items in return.

Use Metaphors Wisely!

If you decide to tackle any of these writing exercises, come back here and tell us about it!

Have writing exercises like these helped you improve your writing? Have they inspired new ideas? How have metaphors served your writing? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment.

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 Creative Writing Exercises


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