Beat Writer's Block: Play This Creative Writing Game

Updated on August 18, 2019
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and love helping my students improve their writing skills.

Are you at the top of your game? Choose a picture that interests and inspires you.
Are you at the top of your game? Choose a picture that interests and inspires you. | Source

1. Find a Good Picture

Choose an interesting picture to work with. This could be a picture postcard or a cartoon from a magazine. It could be a holiday snap or a photo you’ve seen in a newspaper. You could pick one of the photos in this article. The subject matter is immaterial, the key is to choose something that interests or intrigues you.

If you can't find a suitable picture, try searching online for Wikimedia Featured Pictures. Wikimedia has photos and paintings that are in the public domain so you can print them off or copy them as you wish. I always find something suitable for this writing game there. The pictures in this article were all found on Wikimedia or Unsplash which is another good site for free-to-use images.

A close-up picture will prompt you to think about small details.
A close-up picture will prompt you to think about small details. | Source

2. Imagine Yourself in the Scene

Take a good look at your picture. (I find it helpful to print off a copy, rather than staring at a computer screen for a long time.) Get comfy in your favorite armchair or go and sit in the garden so that you can concentrate on the photo.

Imagine yourself as part of that scene. Do you feel comfortable there? Is this somewhere familiar or is it new to you? How does it feel to be there, are you happy, sad, excited, worried? Are you a stranger or is this a home-coming? How did you get there?

Allow yourself 15 minutes of imagining time for this stage of the exercise … but no more! Now return to your writing desk and open your notebook.

For each of the remaining parts of this writing game, you must limit your thinking time to 5 minutes and your writing time to 7 minutes. I use a sand-glass timer. I can take it wherever I’m writing and it doesn't disturb anyone else.

Imagine the adrenalin rush of surfing.
Imagine the adrenalin rush of surfing. | Source

3. Change the Scale of Your Surroundings

You have 5 minutes to imagine that you have become very small or very large. Picture yourself inside your scene. How do you feel? Are you scared? Angry? Omnipotent?

Many famous books have been written with the hero changing relative size. One of the best-known is Alice in Wonderland. She finds messages to “Drink me” and “Eat me” attached to a bottle and some cake. These make her shrink to ten inches tall and then become a giant measuring more than nine feet high.

Another example is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift which is a satire on traveler’s tall tales. The hero experiences all kinds of extreme adventures including finding himself in a land where he is a giant compared to the miniature residents. In another place the reverse happens and he is dwarfed by enormous people and is the smallest person present.

Now write for 7 minutes (using a timer to limit your time) describing how your character feels.

Children play in giant shoes in Japan. This picture plays with scale.
Children play in giant shoes in Japan. This picture plays with scale. | Source

4. Use the Five Senses

Spend the next 5 minutes thinking about your character’s emotions. What are their feelings at being there? How are they interacting with the scene? Think about the five senses to bring your writing to life. These are sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. And don’t forget to include some similes and metaphors as they help paint a vivid picture for your reader.

The next seven minutes (and no longer) are for writing these thoughts down. If you want some inspiration about using similes and metaphors look at Skin Like Milk, Hair of Silk: What Are Similes and Metaphors? Although it’s a book aimed at children, it’s a fun, lighthearted read that explains the grammar point well.

The icy shores of Lake Michigan. This scene makes you shiver with cold.
The icy shores of Lake Michigan. This scene makes you shiver with cold. | Source

5. Introduce Someone Else Into the Story

So far, the scene you have been describing has just yourself (or a solitary character) in it. Now add some action by introducing someone or something into the picture. They could be a love interest or maybe the person is a stranger. It could be a fluffy pet animal or a dangerous wild creature. Whatever you choose, their arrival will spark a response from your original character.

Get your timer on. Ready, steady go! Five minutes thinking time and seven minutes writing time.

Your imagination is full of surprises. I spy a giant at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall
Your imagination is full of surprises. I spy a giant at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall | Source

6. The 5 W’s (Who, What, Why, Where, When) and How of Storytelling

An essential technique in storytelling is to craft the drama around six key questions. These are known as the 5 W’s and How.

  1. Who is the story about; who are the people at the center of the tale? Who are the principle characters?
  2. What is the issue at the heart of the story? What is the problem that needs to be addressed? What is the dilemma facing the characters?
  3. Why do the characters act in the way they do; what motivates them? Why is it necessary to report this event or action?
  4. Where is the story located; where geographically is the action?
  5. When do the events take place; is it today, sometime in history, or a futuristic vision of what may happen?
  6. How is the issue resolved? Is there a definite conclusion or is the reader given a range of possible outcomes? Is there a moral to the story? Is there a unexpected twist to the tale?

Ask the five W's and How questions about each element of your story. By doing this, you will build three dimensional characters and make your plot believable.

Remember you only have 5 minutes thinking time and 7 minutes writing time for this part of the exercise. Hopefully, by this stage of the game, your writing muscles are starting to work and you are finding words are easily spilling onto that (previously) blank page.

For example, a story sparked by the picture below could be created by asking the following questions. Who put the bike there? What are the people doing? Why are they doing it? Where are they? When was the bike made?

It takes three to ride a giant's bike. Who? What? Why? Where? When?
It takes three to ride a giant's bike. Who? What? Why? Where? When? | Source

7. The Rest is Up to You

The final part of this exercise can go one of three ways.

1. You have been successful at overcoming your writer’s block. You put aside the story you’ve created by doing this exercise.

You return with renewed enthusiasm to the piece of writing you were originally working on.

2. You love what you have written in this game. These notes now become the start of a whole new story or plotline that you can’t stop thinking about.

You get started on your new novel, short story etc. without delay.

3. You’ve struggled with this task. It hasn’t helped fire your imagination at all. In fact, you think the whole thing has been a complete waste of time.

You need to seriously consider whether being a writer is the right path for you.

Creativity is a mixture of hard work and inspiration.
Creativity is a mixture of hard work and inspiration. | Source

Be Sociable And Learn About People

Non-writers sometimes assume that authors lead isolated lonely lives. Of course, some do but most live in the real world and use their personal experiences to enhance their writing. Don't be shy, staying at home will not improve your creativity. Socializing is a great way to understand how people interact.

If you are a bit quiet and reserved, try joining a class and make mew friends while learning a new skill. Meeting new people will put you in touch with what matters in your community. You may find like-minded authors who can share tips with you on how they put words on the blank page.

Being a writer is a great excuse to socialize, but don't overdo it! Once you have some new ideas for topics to write about, you must get them down on paper. Successful writers have clear goals and are disciplined in how much time they spend at their craft.

Creative Thoughts And Eureka Moments

Creativity is not something that only happens when you put your mind to it. Some of my best ideas for articles have appeared out of nowhere. Of course, that is not strictly true. I will have been mulling over various topics for several days. Generating new ideas takes place unconsciously whilst busy with everyday life.

Allow your thoughts to wander as you complete your daily chores. Be kind to yourself and you too will have a “lightbulb moment”. Have a few notepads and pens dotted around the house and when that winning idea for a surefire article arrives you can jot it down right away.

And don't forget the value of reading. Good writers are almost always avid readers.


Submit a Comment
  • annart profile image

    Ann Carr 

    2 years ago from SW England

    Great ideas and really inspiring, Beth. I haven't suffered yet as I have a wealth of photos in my own library. I agree with you regarding wikipedia photos as I always go there first if I don't have something of my own to fit. I also respond best to photos as I'm a visual learner and thinker. Other prompts work well but I'm more comfortable with visual. I guess you go with what suits you best.

    This is such a useful hub, not only for the ideas but also for the enthusiasm you convey.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    2 years ago from The Caribbean

    I totally like this writing game. Thank you verymuch for sharing your creativity and instructions.


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