Writing games

A piece of advice that comes up again and again for writer’s block is to try and write through it. Sitting down and putting words on paper is a great way to actually get the creative juices flowing again (it doesn’t help if your writer’s block is because you don’t know how to proceed with a particular story, but that’s a post for another day).

There was a writing group I was part of when I was at university and in the second half of each meeting, we would play writing games. These were fun exercises where everyone wrote for about twenty minutes – we didn’t put a timer on it, we just went by gut feel – and then we went round the room reading out what we’ve written. No one expected these little scribbles to be masterpieces in that time, but everyone was able to write at least something and everyone could have fun it.

Once in a while, you’d write a piece in a writing game and think, “This actually could be something good.” When that happened, you could take your scribble home and expand it/edit it into a proper story. When it didn’t happen, no one felt they’d wasted time because they’d only spent twenty minutes or so on their piece.

The games took the pressure off the act of writing and allowed everyone involved to write for the fun of it. I’ve listed a few of my favourite writing games below. Feel free to try these out with your own writing groups, or maybe take some of my examples and write on your own. Just have fun with them.

Time and a Place

In your group, everyone should take two scraps of paper. On one, write down a time. On the other, write down a place. You can be as vague or specific as your like. Here are a few examples.

Time :

  • The distant future
  • 3:22pm
  • Thursday afternoon
  • Midnight on Halloween
  • Christmas Eve 1914

Place:

  • The bottom of the ocean
  • A dusty attic
  • Glasgow
  • Under the bed
  • A secret lair inside a volcano

Once everyone has written their time and place down, make a pile of the time bits of paper and a second pile of the place papers (you can use hats if you have them). Everyone grabs a time and a place and then you have to write something set in that place at that time.

Five random words

Similar to the example above, but this time everyone should write down any five words they like. Throw all the bits of paper in a pile and grab any five words out of it. Your task is now to write a story that includes all five of the words.

The point of the exercise is to have fun with it, so there are no penalties for swapping words with others in the group if you don’t like the combination you end up with.

Line from a song

This time, everyone in the group should write down a line from a song. Mix them all up, and then try to write a story with the line you end up with. A variant is to use the long line specifically as the first line of your piece. If you’re trying these by yourself, here are a few lines you might want to start with, or just put an mp3 player on shuffle and pick a line from the first song you get.

  • The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
  • You’re growing on me just like mould
  • Save your breath, it’s far from over
  • Pour salt into the open wound
  • It’s a good day to die
  • From the fading light I fly

[Thing] and [Thing]

The time and place example can be extrapolated. Rather than using time and place, as a group come up with two categories. These could be anything you like: animal, building, article of clothing, food, item of furniture. Once you’ve come up with your categories, everyone writes down one example of each and you throw them in the piles like the game I started with. You draw out one item from each category and have to write your piece to include both.

By using this rather vague version of the game, you can have infinite variety. Half of the games we played in that writing group could probably be categorised as [Thing] and [Thing]. Come up with your own categories and just have fun.