One of the things I’ve been working on is refining my writing and working on ways to get past writer’s block. Almost every writer get writer’s block and so I’ve decided to put up some writing exercises that I’ve been using. If they’re popular enough I might continue to put more up so if you like this make sure to click the ‘Like’ button down the bottom of the page.
This writing exercise is called The Rambler.
I made up this writing exercise years ago now and have only recently dug it back out. Now, when I say I made this up I mean just that I thought of a way of trying to bestw riter’s block and this is one of the ideas I came up with. I’m sure that other people both more famous and more eloquent than I have come up with this exercise before I did. Others will after. I don’t think anyone can claim true ownership of these exercises and I don’t think anyone should. Share them freely, I say. The more writers support one another the better everyone will write.
So let’s get into it.
Writing Exercise: The Rambler
This exercise is very simple and it’s not particularly directed so if you’re the sort of writer that resents exercises that have exceedingly specific criteria this could be a good one for you.
First, a disclaimer.
As a basic, undirected writing exercise this is not meant to produce a story. It’s not a tool for good writing, it’s a tool to get you writing. It can be fantastic for character development as well but the aim is to stimulate your creative mind by sheer dint of tenacity. If it’s not working for you, put it down. Restart it. Abandon it completely. There’s no pressure and there’s no need to take this in any particular direction.
Because this exercise is not meant to produce a story be aware that if you’re after story-building tools this isn’t one. There are plenty of those out there and I might even post a couple here at some point but for right now this is a exercise meant to loosen the creative mind from whatever bindings have caused your writer’s block.
And, of course, it will work better for some people than others.
Got all that? Good stuff.
Sit yourself down. Do whatever it is that you normally do when preparing to write. Get a coffee, sharpen a pencil, make sure you’re comfortably warm or comfortably cool.
- Your first step is to think of a character.
It doesn’t matter who the character is. It doesn’t even matter what the character is. They can be any species, any race, any sex, any gender identity. it doesn’t matter what their hobbies are, where their political interests lie, what they like to spread on toast. They can be from any point in history. They can be any age, any height – you get the idea. Anything goes… well, almost anything.
There are two restrictions to the character that you make. They’re very simple restrictions.
- The character must be sentient. They don’t need to be smart, they just need to be able to form coherent thoughts.
- The character must be a rambler. They must have an extensive, well-developed tendency to ramble on and on about whatever it is they’re thinking or doing.
Of these two restrictions the first is required to facilitate the second. The second is the really important one. The character must be a rambler. Now, rambling can mean running on at the mouth or it can mean someone who wanders about aimlessly. I’m obviously talking about the first definition (though of course you can write in the second definition as well if you care to). All other considerations about the character are secondary (but it can help a lot to have some idea of how to answer those questions).
Your character is now ready.
- Your second step is to think of a setting.
This step doesn’t require too much thought. Set it in modern-day times, your own home town, if you can’t think of anything else. Where you set the scene isn’t actually particularly important. All you need to do is place the character somewhere and have some idea of the sorts of things that are probably likely to occur in that setting (maybe you choose a well-known setting like the Shire from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; perhaps you’d prefer a futuristic cyberpunk dystopia).
An entirely valid options is to place the scene in a world you’ve already invented and need inspiration for; say you’ve made a world for a future novel and don’t know what to do with it, or just want to explore it from a character’s perspective without the added pressure of having to write the plot of a story.
Once you’ve chosen a setting (at random if need be) you can move on to the next step.
- Start an internal monologue.
It doesn’t matter how you start it, only that it’s internal, it’s a monologue and it’s from your character’s perspective. If you want to work on the character’s reactions and motives then keep to first person perspective (writing from that character’s point of view) all the way through the exercise. If you’re looking for something more free-form then swap perspectives however you need to.
Should you be in trouble thinking of an open line go with something like this:
It’s just stupid. How did I get into this mess? I had no idea. But it was a heck of a mess, let me tell you.
Phrase it however fits your setting.
Now that you have a start you can go in a direction. It doesn’t matter what direction. Have the character describe their location, their situation, the weather, their clothes – anything. And then let it flow wherever it wants to go.
Forget a script. Forget impressing people. Pay no heed to throwing in plot points. It doesn’t even need to be interesting, it just needs to be ramble. You never need to show this to anyone. It’s not designed to make a story or to inspire you to great heights. All it’s for is to ramble and see where it takes you.
This is pantsing (flying by the seat of your pants) at its most raw. You don’t have a word count goal. You don’t have an end-point. There’s no set genre and there are no rules other than rambling. You don’t need to stick to internal monologue; that’s just a starting point. So you can exit internal monologue immediately if you want to, or you can stay in that form for the entirety of the ramble.
- Keep going…
…Until you stop or you otherwise run out of things to write. That might be five lines in, it might be five thousand words, it might be fifty thousand (though it’s unlikely).
If you get stuck but you’re not ready to stop writing throw in some random event (anything from the character stubbing their toe – or equivalent extremity – to their world suddenly being invaded by a swarm of intelligent half-robotic bee-goat hybrids) and keep going. Have the character meet someone else. Have the character die and continue from another character’s perspective (or the same character in the afterlife). Swap the tone of the ramble as often as possible (romantic one moment, violent the next, suddenly a war story, unexpectedly a drama, weirdly erotic). Anything. It really doesn’t matter. You’re flexing your writing muscles, not trying to set down a book or win an award.
- Stop and read back.
At some point you’ll run out of steam (or, more likely, interest). It doesn’t matter when that happens because you can always come back and ramble more. but when you do stop have a read of what you’ve written. Sure, it might be pointless. Yes, it might go nowhere. But there could also be really interesting gems in there – plot twists you can adapt to fit into a story, background characters that have popped up for no particular reason, cultural hints that you can refine to make a city or a nation feel more rich.
And if nothing else it got you writing. Even if what you wrote was crap – and it very likely could have been.
- Don’t bother editing (unless you really want to) – take what’s good and move on.
This isn’t a piece you need to bother editing but there might be turns of phrase, plot twists, character development or even lines of snappy dialogue that you take a shine to. Cut them out of the ramble and put them aside. Make notes. Use them however you want to. Even if the ramble looks like it’s turning into something ‘story-shaped’ (as Neil Gaiman has phrased it) you’re probably better off starting from scratch and incorporating the elements your ramble has produced than trying to hammer the ramble into a more cohesive story of its own.
But if you do want to edit it, if you’d prefer to hammer, then go for it! It’s your ramble, after all.
Your ramble is done. Or maybe it’s only part way through. Rambles generally don’t bother with an end point so if you get stuck and feel like rambling again, make a new one or continue an old one! They’re handy little things to hang onto.
And don’t forget – have fun with it. Creating art should be a release, not a chore.