Play With Words…and Reignite Your Creative Fire

I debated several different ways of writing today’s post. Usually, I create a "Tuesday Ten" list of categories or techniques, but such a list would be academic. Academic doesn’t seem quite right for a post about play, you know? A post about play should be fun! It should encourage you to dilly-dally and fool around. It should invite you to stay awhile and enjoy.

So today’s post isn’t a list of how-to’s or a list of ways-to-play-with-words categories. Today’s post is more like a toy box.  A writer’s toy box, full of writer’s toys, so all of us writers can come out and play :).

B RosenPhoto courtesy of B Rosen on Flickr Creative Commons 

How It Works
  1. Pick something that speaks to you from each “toy box,” an image, a symbol, and an interesting turn of phrase.
  2. Pick a “playtime prompt”.
  3. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write—just for the fun of it.
imageErase Expectations!

It’s important that you write just for PLAY, not to produce or brainstorm or do anything else useful. The goal here is to invite the subconscious to make unexpected connections and leaps of insight. You might find that your freewrite inspires your work-in-progress, or sparks a story idea, but it might just be the opportunity for your muse to stretch her (or his) creative muscles and remember why this writing thing is fun.

Some of these Or dig around until you spot something that speaks to you, then give yourself 15 minutes—or more—to play around. As my friend Laura says, “The rules are set in play dough.” There’s only one rule that can’t be broken: No inner critics allowed!

Box 1: Pick an Image


Photo by h.koppdelaney 

Perry McKenna

Photo by Perry McKenna


Photo by h.koppdelaney


Illustration by PearlEden

Box 2: Pick a Symbol


Box 3: Pick a Phrase

curious constellation   

romantic comedies


invite pity






Pick a Prompt
  1. Using one item from each “box”, imagine a dream—and write it out.
  2. Imagine yourself in the image you chose, and imagine that you see a vision. The vision incorporates one or more of the symbols listed. Write what you see.
  3. Print out the symbols and phase list, cut them into pieces, shuffle, and choose six. Arrange them as desired and craft them into a story or poem or scene.

If you try this exercise, I’d love to hear about your experience—or read what you write, if you’re willing to share—in the comments. If you don’t try this exercise, I’d like to hear that, too. Enjoy!

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  1. says

    This is so fun! First off, I love the idea of a toy box instead of a tool box :) Second, what a fun way to generate ideas! It makes me want to start a collection of images, symbols and prompts for those days when the creative engine is having trouble revving. I think I will! :) Thanks Cheryl!

    • says

      Hi Susanna, I’m so glad! Did you try one of the exercises? I did–I’m going to share it below. I’m really happy with it, not because it provided some immense creative insight, but 1) it put me in a better mindset to write the chapter Im working on next, and 2) it actually felt like a mini-therapy session. Laura (a writing/dreamworker friend I’ve mentioned in earlier posts) says that freewrites and dreams come from the same place–and because of that, they can reveal the same sorts of insights into what’s going on in the rest of life. Does that make sense? I’ll share my freewrite below, and perhaps it will spark some conversation :)

  2. says

    I took my own advice with a 10 minute freewriting session today. I chose to write a dream, an exercise introduced to me by Laura K Deal ( that has worked well for me in the past.
    Image: river
    Symbol: clock
    Word: rhapsodizes

    I’m standing shin-deep in rushing water. It’s…singing. I can hear a silvery voice tangled in the water’s flow. The river tugs at me, trying to pull me off my feet, as the river’s voice rhapsodizes upon its beauty and wildness and freedom.

    I want to step farther into the river, but I fear it will wash me away. All I’m supposed to do is cross it. On the opposite bank gleams an enormous clock. Its face is white and an immense black pendulum swings below the face, back and forth. On the far bank, I also see that a bridge is going up. The people working on it look like ants from this distance, but they’re assembling beans and steel girders into a narrow, ugly structure that arches out over the water. They’re building this bridge toward me, I realize, so I can cross the river.

    I don’t want to go on the bridge. It feels like a cage, even while it’s so far away, so instead I step into deeper water, wading forward until I’m chest deep. The water’s song and sound drowns out everything else; I can’t hear the clock or the workmen anymore. I continue to push forward, step by step. The water’s mist now obscures the far bank. My steps slow.

    I lean back in the water until my hair spreads out behind me, and let the river carry me away.
    Your turn! What do you think? Do you have a quick freewrite to share?

  3. says

    Love yours! I didn’t have time today – it was a school visit day for me as are tomorrow and THursday – but When I get a chance to try it, I’ll let you know :)

    • says

      I’ll look forward to it! Meanwhile, happy school visits :)

  4. says

    Oh, what fun. I love the way a freewrite carries tension away.

    • says

      I know! Even when I don’t think it will…it’s always worth a try 😀

  5. says

    Wonderful prompts, Cheryl! I love the images and the way you set all this up. Always knew you were a quick study. 😉
    I’m so glad it’s helping you find inspiration!

  6. says

    I’m in a forest full of statues. White, greek-god kinds of statues. The ones that make you think they’ll start moving at any moment. I half expect them to turn on me and attack, half-expect them to break into a dance party. But that’s silly. They’re just statues.

    I walk between two of them. One of a tall woman in a flowing robe, gazing skyward. The other, a muscled man wrestling a lion. As I walk by, the herculean statue reaches over to pull a blade of grass from my hair. I pause and stare at the statue, who’s gone back to his one-on-one battle. He’s wrestling a lion and takes the time to fix my hair?

    Huh. I guess chivalry isn’t dead after all.

    • says

      Ooh, what awesome imagery. I love that the statues are frozen and yet you know, somehow that they’re alive. I wonder why you have a blade of grass in your hair?

      This setting begs for a story :)