10 Exercises To Make You a Better Writer

or Get You Out of a Rut*

1. Read a chapter of your WIP aloud to someone other than your spouse, your children, or your cat. Invite feedback, if you’re brave. But mostly, just listen as you read. Do the words flow easily, roll nicely off the tongue? Do you stumble anywhere? Anything sound awkward? How’s the dialogue? Option: Record yourself reading it aloud, then listen to the recording.

2. Write a short story featuring one of your minor characters, something taking place outside the scope of your book. What did you learn about that character?

3. Get really good at people-watching. Listen closely to conversations of those around you, observe details of body language and facial expressions. Keep a notebook or Word file of your observations.

4. Imagine your main characters in dramatic situations and see what they would do. Your character is on an airplane that has just lost both engines and is plummeting toward the earth; a gun-wielding madman bursts into your character’s home during a family game night; an alien spacecraft lands in the character’s back yard. How do they respond? Do you know how your characters tick? Write it down.

5. Guess what? All your major characters just got laid off and need to look for new jobs. Create resumes for each of them. What kind of jobs might they look for? Are they ready for a career change?

6. While at one of your favorite places – Starbucks, a ski slope, the gym, your couch – have an imaginary conversation with your main character. Would they like it here? What would they want to talk about?

7. Record a conversation with a friend or spouse or child. Transcribe that conversation exactly as-is. Then rewrite the conversation so it sounds good on the page. What kinds of things do you have to cut, add, or revise to make it work?

8. Stop using a thesaurus. Writing by thesaurus usually comes across as stilted and inorganic. Instead, read lots of great books – especially those that send you to the dictionary to find the meaning of unfamiliar words. Grow your vocabulary naturally so you can write using the words in your head as much as possible.

9. Change your writing routine. If you usually write on your computer, grab a pen and notebook for a day. If you usually sit in your den, go out to a coffee shop. If you usually write in the morning, try a midnight writing spree. Forcing your brain to work differently can sometimes spark a new way of thinking.

10. Write a review of your book. Pretend you’re working for Publisher’s Weekly or Booklist or the New York Times and write as honest a review as you can about your WIP. Then heed your own advice to fix the things you noted that were weak.

*P.S. These exercises can also help overcome writer’s block, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Jabbertype on December 11, 2011 at 2:13 AM


    Fantastic blog post, saw on…

  2. Melanie Avila on January 19, 2009 at 12:39 PM

    >These are great suggestions! I especially like the different ways to “get to know” the MCs.

  3. Jean on January 15, 2009 at 10:23 PM

    >I love the idea of writing down ticks/gestures and other things I might ‘spy’ while people watching. I always try tucking it away in my memory, but creating a file is golden! (And I just saw this guy making all these yucky social faux pas while he was out on a date–I was people watching in a restaurant. So I’ve just built a file. I think he’ll go under ‘gross’ or something.

  4. Janna Qualman on January 15, 2009 at 4:56 PM

    >It’s a great list of things to try! Thanks.

  5. Teri D. Smith on January 15, 2009 at 3:05 PM

    >Funny! Nice to laugh at some of this!

  6. Sheryl Tuttle on January 15, 2009 at 2:31 PM

    >We just had a workshop in my writers group on developing strong characters. Your suggestions are outstanding for getting to know a character and add depth. Another exercise my group discussed was having the protagonist write a letter to the antagonist, or have each write a letter of introduction to the reader. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for more good information!

  7. Yvonne on January 15, 2009 at 11:43 AM

    >Great ideas, Rachelle.

    My hubby teases me about always liking to sit in a restaurant so I can face the room. I like to make up senarios of the people that come in….sometimes outloud, but that can be dangerous!

    Those midnight writing sprees are usually planned. Sometimes I wake up and can’t get back to sleep until I write down the story that’s playing in my head.

    I love your blog. Keep it up!

  8. Chatty Kelly on January 15, 2009 at 11:17 AM

    >I really do love visiting here, because your advice is valuable. I learn almost every time I visit, and that is a great feeling.

    I already do #1 and #7…and I also use that Thesaurus…probably too much! So thanks for the tips.

  9. Rachel on January 15, 2009 at 11:14 AM

    >I’m out of my rut just reading the list. Great!

  10. The Rejection Queen on January 15, 2009 at 10:41 AM

    >Cool! I actually already do all these things.

  11. Lady Glamis on January 15, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    >This is great advice. Thank you so much!

    Might I add one?

    In one or two pages, write the story from every character’s POV… even if their POV doesn’t exist in the story. It will look somewhat like a journal entry of their experience.

    I have found this very helpful for me.

  12. Dara on January 15, 2009 at 10:35 AM

    >I think I ought to try #2. There are a lot of side stories that I’d like to explore for my characters.

  13. Kat Harris on January 15, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    >Before I left work for Christmas vacation, I allowed my MC to take over my blog for a day.

    It was kind of fun to “see what kind of dirt she would deliver on me.”

    Thanks for the tips. I needed something to get me out of the rut I’ve been in.

  14. Stina Rose on January 15, 2009 at 9:43 AM

    >Great ideas, Rachelle! Thanks for sharing them with us.

  15. Mindy Obenhaus on January 15, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    >Those are great ideas, Rachelle! Thanks.

  16. Inspire on January 15, 2009 at 9:09 AM

    >I try to be positive minded, so instead of calling it Writer’s Block, I call it Writer’s Pause. A couple things help me. I’ll go back into my manuscript and work on edits. I listen to classical music or historical movie soundtraks. Since I write about the area I live in, my husband and I will go for a drive in the country to see places where my wip is set.

  17. lynnrush on January 15, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >Great tips, Rachelle. Reading aloud has really helped me….even having someone ELSE read it aloud TO me has been helpful. I catch things I’ve missed….along with the reader. It’s great.

    Thanks, have a good day!

  18. Jessica on January 15, 2009 at 7:20 AM

    I don’t believe in block but I definitely know I can be lazy or just tired. Thanks for the tips!

  19. Anne L.B. on January 15, 2009 at 6:56 AM

    >Fantastic suggestions! With these exercies to stay in shape, I can’t imagine encountering that writer’s block I hear about.

    I wish this was a re-run. Then I would have had these great tips a year or so ago.

    Thanks Rachelle.

  20. Kerry on January 15, 2009 at 5:44 AM

    >I’m a fan of #3. It’s, like, *stalking* but it’s OK because it’s for ART! Fabulous. 😉