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Creative Writing Activities for College Students

In their academic career, every student will need to employ creative writing at one point or another. Creative writing, by definition, is any writing that is not academic or technical. Essentially, everything that is considered literature, in the narrow sense, is creative writing – even nonfiction.

Though you might not be planning to become a professional writer, creative writing is an important skill to hone if you’re planning to have any occupation that requires you to think – which is pretty much all of them. It’s a muscle that can and should be developed with the right exercises. Going to the gym, as we all know, is no fun, but creative writing doesn’t have to be a chore – treat it as an opportunity to show off your creativity and inventiveness. So with that said, let’s delve into some writing exercises that are sure to get those creative juices flowing.

1. Write a Personal Essay

When you‘re just starting to develop as a writer, you’re faced with a tough choice: what do you want to write? Will it be a novel? A screenplay? A poem? Well, novels are a little too much even for experienced writers, so try writing something short to start off. An essay, for instance. Essays are a great place to start, since, in terms of literary genre, they are essentially “everything that’s not something else”, so the pressure is off to adhere to some vague standard of form, structure, etc.

Try writing a personal essay. Everyone, as they say, has a story to tell. Why not mine your life for writing material? You’re sure to have experienced or witnessed something worth writing about. If you’re still miffed, try writing about a “first time”. First kiss, first time you went on an airplane, first time you were disappointed at a gift and had to pretend you liked it in front of your family; they all make for great stories. If you’re worried about being boring, don’t be – every story can be a good story if it’s told well.

2. Take a Short Story and Turn It Into a Screenplay

Is there a particular short story that you’ve read in the past and loved? A great writing exercise is turning one form of literature into another, and the short story into screenplay is one of the easiest conversions. The screenplay doesn’t have to be very long to be a “proper screenplay” and since you’re a beginner who doesn’t have to show the work to anyone, you can ditch the standard formatting and stick to writing what you want.

One thing to remember about screenplays is that they’re not meant to be read, they’re meant to be performed. This frame of mind will be useful to any upstart writer, since it forces you to think how it will sound, and don’t be afraid of sounding it out yourself. In fact, get up and perform to an empty room if you have to, it’ll make your characters sound all the more real.

For an extra challenge, think about how your characters talk and whether it matches their personality. Accents and affectations are obvious, but would a princess actually talk like that? What does a waitress say after she’s been stiffed on a tip? How does she say it?

3. Go To a Public Place and Listen To Conversations

There’s nothing like listening to real people talk to inspire characters. Go into a park or a bar, somewhere you’re sure to overhear someone’s conversations, and write down snippets from it. You don’t have to listen from start to end, just write down whatever strikes you as interesting.
After collecting a few (pages of) notes, go home and review them. Pick one that strikes your fancy, and write a dialogue around it – treat it either as a beginning or something in the middle.

Here’s the important part, though: the dialogue shouldn’t be aimless, and that goes for all your writing. Every character, at all times, must want something – that’s what compels them to action and what moves the story further. So when you’re inventing that dialogue, try to envision characters that both want something from each other.

What do they want? That’s up to you to decide. With this exercise, try and establish the following for both characters in a single dialogue: what they want, why they want it, what they’re willing to do to get it, their relationship to each other. It must have a beginning, middle and end, have stakes, motivation, and, finally, conflict. If it seems like a lot of work, it’s because it is. Any good writer knows to include all of these seamlessly. Let’s hope you will one day, too.