Abstract Exercises – for Creative Writing

Book cover - Practical Creative Writing Exercises by Grace Jolliffe illustrating an article with free abstract exercises for creative writersAbstract exercises are an intriguing way to stimulate your writing mind. They do this by triggering ideas in a visual way.

Some are reluctant to try exercises.

They associate writing exercises with the essays they were forced to do in school.

There are two big differences:

1. You have a much wider choice of subjects and ideas than you had in school, so there is no more ‘write about what you did at the weekend.’

2. You are choosing to do these exercises yourself and can change and adapt them to suit yourself.


The interesting thing about creativity and imagination is that both can be stimulated by restraint.

Invention is born of need.

So, for example, a prisoner in a cell with no television or radio might write on their toilet roll.

When you have limited resources you are forced to get more creative about the resources you do have.

It may seem somewhat contradictory but, there is something liberating about having restraints placed on our imagination.

Our imagination is vast but it is easier to work with when you respond to a specific idea or initiative, rather than spend fruitless hours searching for ‘the perfect idea.’


By the way, there is no perfect idea, but there are plenty of ideas that will stimulate and excite you.

Restrictions aid concentration. 

This probably explains why I found that many of my creative writing students not only responded very well to these exercises but also why the exercises enabled them to write faster and with more focus.

Book cover - Practical Creative Writing Exercises by Grace Jolliffe illustrating an article with free abstract exercises for creative writers

Abstract writing exercises offer both restraint and freedom.

There is far less information to draw on than other exercises. This way your imagination is given more freedom. Yet there are still limits imposed by the vagueness of the initial trigger sentence.

These exercises offer a hint of unfolding drama as a starting point. Take the following sentence: ‘The scraping sound got louder.’

First, try to hear the scraping sound in your mind. Then when you have got a clear idea of that sound follow it in your imagination to where you imagine it originated.


Ask yourself questions about the sound:

Who, or what is making the noise?

Where are they?

What can it mean?

Don’t dwell on, or mentally edit your thoughts – write down your answers as soon as they spring to mind.

Nobody is checking this – you are as free as you allow yourself to be.

If you apply yourself to these exercises thoughtfully you will soon see the seed of a story beginning to emerge.


Apply this same process to the following sentences:

  1. The painting was familiar.
  2. The stone was covered in a fine green moss.
  3. A small mound of stones.
  4. The outline of a small building
  5. The liquid was dark.
  6. The fine sand stuck between his/her toes.
  7. The coat was shabby.
  8. The light shone directly on to the boat.
  9. The pavement was cracked.
  10. The buildings were tall.
  11. Rain.
  12. A slow blink.
  13. The scent of rosemary.
  14. The bottles clanked.
  15. The white daisies were outlined in black.
  16. His hand was freckled.
  17. The tree was bare, black against the orange sky.
  18. She took a deep breath.
  19.  The seat was warm.
  20. The wind blew directly into his face.
  21. The mug was stained.
  22. Just an ordinary toothbrush.
  23. The corners of her mouth turned down a little.
  24. A torn coat.
  25. A dead dog.
  26. A bare tree.
  27. Old files.
  28. A chipped cup.
  29. Freshly cut grass.
  30. The colour orange.

I hope these abstract writing exercises have helped you. If you find yourself compelled to keep writing – keep going.

Many writers find it is a lot easier to start working from an exercise than from a completely blank page.

Best of luck with your writing and don’t forget, let me know how you get on.


My book, Practical Creative Writing Exercises has helped many writers start great stories. It is packed full of information and exercises and will be priced at less than the price of a cup of coffee for a short time only.


Book cover - Practical Creative Writing Exercises by Grace Jolliffe illustrating an article with free abstract exercises for creative writers





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15 Responses to Abstract Exercises – for Creative Writing

  1. Karen Liedel September 22, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Thank you so much for the exercises in writing.

    • Grace September 25, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

      You are welcome.
      Best wishes

  2. Karen Liedel September 25, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    I have a vivid imagination and your exercises help me put them in perspective. I block out time to do the exercises everyday.

    • Grace September 26, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      Hi Karen, so glad the exercises help. Taking time to write each day is a key to successful writing.
      Best wishes.

  3. Karen Liedel October 3, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    I started doing the exercises for 10 minutes with my characters. 1 hour later I am still writing putting my characters in different situations. I hope this is the direction I am suppose to go.

    • Grace October 8, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

      Hi Karen,
      The trick is to go in which ever direction is the most enjoyable for you to write. If you are still putting your characters in different situations that is good. You are learning skills as you do this. Writing regularly, as you are doing is what counts the most.
      Best of luck

  4. Matt October 11, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    Hi Grace,

    Thank you so much for sharing these great exercises and triggers. They are definitely helpful. I do have an odd question I was hoping you may have an answer to, if you wouldn’t mind:

    I often find myself, as a creative writer, stuck with ideas that I have seen in movies or television, or read in other writings, and my imagination feels limited by these ideas. For example, trigger exercises bring about memories of television shows or movies that I have seen, and I feel that my own ideas are just, for lack of a better term, “spinning-off” of these memories. I have never heard of this being an issue from other writers – any ideas?

    Thanks so much again, Grace! You have put together a great site!

    • Grace October 12, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

      Hi Matt, this is a great question. I think many writers share the fear that we are simply regurgitating ideas we have absorbed from the many forms of media which surround us.
      The thing to remember is that we are influenced by everything we have experienced in our lives and many of us have experienced similar things.
      Your ideas may bring memories of movies but that is okay. You can change everything about the idea and allow your own creativity loose. This will make it yours.
      The great thing about ideas is that they are free. We can throw them out if they are just too similar to a movie we have seen or we can take the theme or part of the idea and work with that. The best thing to do is write the best story you can. Once you focus on that you will be fine.
      Best of luck, Matt.

  5. Karen Liedel October 13, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Thank you for your encouragement.

  6. Kate February 24, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

    I love all your writing exercises. They’re exactly what I need to get me unstuck!

    • Grace February 24, 2015 at 8:16 pm #

      Great to hear and I hope you stay unstuck.
      All the best

  7. Candise September 15, 2015 at 9:02 pm #

    I really enjoy these, I’d forgotten about doing writing exercises, or was too lazy. I do them nearly every day now. Thanks very much for the info and website.

    • Grace September 18, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

      So glad you are back doing your exercises – it will help.
      Best wishes

  8. Diane October 9, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

    I am growing fond of your website as a beginning writer, these are helpful exercises. My question is: Of those that are listed above, can you use them as a first liner in a story? or is there a specific place for them?

    • Grace October 9, 2017 at 8:58 pm #

      Hi Diane,
      You can use them wherever you like. You can also change them. Actually there are no rules. If you find yourself writing a story based on one of the ideas – you can do what ever you like.
      Best of luck

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