My favorite writing exercise of all time is from Ray Bradbury, in Zen in the Art of Writing. It’s very simple: you generate a list of nouns, conjured from your life experiences, as if they were titles. Bradbury always did this exercise in all-caps, and so do I; it makes the results feel more title-like, therefore conjuring sensations rather than simply specific images. How ominous does THE BLACKENED TRUCK sound? How mysterious is THE GEM SHOP?
If this sounds intriguing, I highly recommend reading the entirety of Zen for yourself!
Despite all of the genius ideas locked away in those childhood nouns, I was recently very, very stuck. To call it writer’s block would be putting it mildly; it was more like writer’s constipation, a time of deep drought. I was sure I’d never come up with another good, heartfelt idea ever again.
So one day, I threw up my hands and put a twist on Bradbury’s exercise. And it worked. It got me past my mental block.
I call it Cool Things to Write About™.
It’s a self-explanatory exercise: You sit down with a piece of paper. You write “Cool Things to Write About™” at the top of the page. Underneath, you list cool things to write about.
Not cool as in people around the world love reading about these things cool. Cool to you. Cool because little you, the still-excited nerd child inside you, thinks they’re wicked cool. Thinks they’ll always be cool. Guess what? They are. To you. That’s all that matters. If you think it’s cool, I promise, there’s a way to sell it.
Don’t hold back. Write everything down that comes to mind as you stare at the title. When you’re done, the list of Cool Things to Write About™ should start to stir up your inspiration. Consider them in pairs. Contemplate the connections between them, the potential energy they bring to one another.
Dinosaurs and telepathy? Charmed objects and sailing into the unknown? Alien planets and practical magic?
Can’t you feel the possibilities already?