Feeling stuck? Fed up feeling like this when you sit down to write?

Like so many things in life, taking one small step at a time can lead you to a better place. Here are some interesting – but short, easy and accessible – exercises you can play with to flex your creative muscles, either for fun or because you need something to jump-start your writing.

I originally wrote these for Litopia, and there are more great offerings there on the CraftChat thread, which has an abundance of information, advice and suggestions on writing. Litopians are great at adding their own experiences of what works for them, so all the threads are worth checking out.

So, if you’ve hit a wall in your WIP, or need something to break the boredom or the block,  try some of these ideas to rev up your creativity.

Some writing exercises can get you thinking in different ways. You can try different styles that can help you see the techniques other writers have been using to good effect. At Uni we had to write a chapter or short story in the style of one of our (preferably successful) favourite authors. It was fun. Because first, of course, we had to read and analyse their writing. Sometimes, it’s only once you try to consciously emulate a writer (as an exercise in creative writing, not as a way to rip them off or earn money from a style they’ve perfected), that you see the joins, or what specific words / phrases the writer uses to give the reader a hint of how smart, stupid, or charismatic a character is.

I wrote a short story and learned the importance of one piece of punctuation: the question mark. “Indeed, sir?” Versus “Indeed, sir” from clever Jeeves to not-so-clever Bertie Wooster gave me all the tone of voice I needed as a reader to make me smile and know exactly what P. G. Wodehouse was trying to convey about what was going on inside the valet’s head. I think that’s genius. A question mark.

And if you’re sitting there thinking, “Woah there, I’m no P.G. Wodehouse! Who’d want to read my book?” Here’s something just for you 🙂

Here are a few exercises I’ve learned about down the years. Please add your own in the comments over the next five days – the more we have, the more chance our members have of finding one they’d like to try. One of them (the First Line one, under) fired me up enough to write a short story, which grew from one of the first lines I came up with. You never know where small steps will lead you.

Write a scene where your protagonist is in emotional turmoil (anything from fury to grief, ecstasy to despair, terror to boredom, but the emotion must be strong). Describe it without telling us anything about what the character “felt” – or exactly what has happened to cause the emotion. You can allude to it, but absolutely no full-blown exposition. We don’t need it. We only want to know what this character doestheir actions.
Write a scene using only dialogue to let us know something has happened. Ideally, it should be something big. But sometimes even inane dialogue can make us laugh so, or betray a character’s true intentions – it’s up to you. A tip: read this out loud if you can. That helps you spot when it doesn’t sound natural.
Write ten first lines. These can be for stories you would like to write, or just first lines you think are good.
Now write another ten for books that have to be commercial.
There are two ways of doing this one. The first is specific. If you have access to any children around the ages of 4-10, ask them to choose five different things:
1) an animal
2) a ghost, a demon, Angel OR Vampire (or all four if you really want a challenge)
3) A meadow, a mountain, a river OR an underground world
4) What is the worst thing that could possibly happen in any world?
5) One character from TV or movies that you think is really silly / stupid

The second way is much looser. Choose:
1) An animal
2) A character (human or otherwise)
3) A place
4) A catastrophe
5) An idiot

Weave a story from the elements they choose.

Of course you can choose the elements yourself – there’s no rule that says you can’t. But your preferences are bound to affect your decisions, and it can stretch you more if someone else decides the elements you have to weave a story from. Besides, kids can come up with outrageous, funny, off-the-wall examples so it’s worth asking any you know.
A poem, prose, or letter to yourself about who is emerging from your personal story. It’s about celebrating who you are.
There are lots of creative writing exercises you can find by Googling that search term. One well-known one is to write a scene without including any adjectives or adverbs. Yeah yeah yeah. I challenge you to do both: write a scene without any adjectives and adverbs and then write a scene with adjectives and adverbs. The scene doesn’t have to be FULL of adjectives and adverbs, just include them.

Your own writing style will dictate which you prefer. Write the scenes anyway. And don’t just chuck in any old adjective or adverb – choose the right ones. Take your time. Think about these words just as hard as you think about not using them.

Now, bearing in mind that everything is about balance, edit both scenes. Don’t just delete or cross out all offending adjectives and adverbs. You are Counsel for the Defence and Counsel for the Prosecution. Consciously tell yourself why these words deserve the death penalty, or why they deserve to live in that sentence. Be fair. Remember karma…

Remember what I said about small steps?

Have fun.

Kay Leitch
Author of Treasure This

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Baddies. Don’t you just love them? In so many films and books they often look as if they’re having all the fun while the poor protagonist is run ragged trying to outmanoeuvre, outfight and outwit them.

From archetypes to stereotypes, combinations of both, and just plain nasty people, there’s a lot to choose from. The Joker; Lex Luthor; Norman Bates; Professor Moriarty; Dracula; Hannibal Lecter; Abigail Williams in The Crucible; Snow White’s evil queen; Ragnarok from Thor. Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. They’re all so different, even if some are old tropes and stereotypes (more on that later). And they all worked. Mainly (most Lex Luthors were cardboard stereotypes, I think).

Add your own to the list. Hell, let’s add anthrax, diphtheria, Aids, cancer, covid… or further back… Remember blood poisoning? Some poor battle-weary soldier, seeing a fine red line rising from what he’d hoped was a flesh wound. Sorry, dude. Game over. Until superheroes Penicillin and Antibiotic flew in. Too late for our battle-weary warrior, sadly, but at least we can count on them in our modern world… yeah?

Your antagonist needs to be the wolf on top…

Well, the best baddies, like the worst bacteria, adapt. They find weaknesses you didn’t even know you had. They start to outmanoeuvre, outfight and outwit you. Enter Sepsis. Blood poisoning’s bigger and badder brother. Back in 2020, The Lancet claimed Sepsis was the world’s biggest killer, beating cancer and coronary disease. Kills millions of people every year and disables many more (and that was before it teamed up with its new bestie, covid, so it could, you know, take down a few more). Took a much-loved friend last year. She was forty-nine. Yeah. Baddies. Don’t you just love them.

The point of all that is your antagonist can be anyone and anything. You can even be your own worst enemy. (How many times have you heard that?) An antagonist can be anything inside you or outside you. A person, a mountain, a boat, a whale, a whole horrifying world of hungry vampires looking for lunch (you); a religious nutcase projecting her own insanity onto another character in the hope no one will notice; or a teeny-tiny-wee bacterium that’s going to surprise you, change tack and hit your weakest flank, just when you thought you were winning, and snuff you out. Just because.

Do bacteria feel anything when they rip the light and life from a beautiful soul and send it back into the circle? No. They don’t. Rage is a great motivating force, but indifference is much worse. Indifference is… nihilism. The emotion is all ours (the protagonist) as we deal with the loss. Bacteria (the antagonists) just look for the next host to devour. No hysteria, no drama, no emotion. Just intelligence, cunning, and an absolute determination to win.

Nurse Ratched, anyone? (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Google it. Study her. Learn.) Or Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. Thirty years apart, but they could have been soulmates. Or Cersei Lannister, acknowledged as one of the most complex characters in GoT – a veritable amalgam of protagonist and antagonist rolled into one, dipped in poison and sent out to flay the world.

Weak baddies make things uncomfortable for the protagonist and give them a hard time. Throw in a car chase, plane fight, starship battle or cutting-edge CGI animation and you’ll win fans. Sure. But we’ve all been there, seen that, bought the hype and (mainly) forgotten them.

Strong baddies have bigger arsenals, from the psychological to the atom-sized. They bring carnage, grief, change, horror… death. They’re seismic. They take what you love. What you love. Think about that. They rupture worlds, internal or external. They destabilise. They bring suffering on a nuclear scale. Whether a person or an event, they turn your world into a wasteland. We do not forget them. And we won’t forget the protagonist who (finally, after all that pain, struggle and loss) defeats them… Or is vanquished trying.

Antagonists and protagonists need strengths, weaknesses, and secrets

For me, the worst baddie of all (or the best, depending on your tastes) is one that makes your blood run cold. Makes you feel visceral anger and fear that this loveable protagonist, who you thought invincible, might not be up to the job. That this, this – no, I’m not going to swear; trying to give it up – that this baddie might just have the power to outmanoeuvre, outfight and outwit our protagonist, after all. Our beloved protagonist who we’ve followed so far in this great story, cheering for them all the way. This baddie might actually defeat them. The antagonist might win. And, as we know, sometimes they do.

Stereotype antagonists tend not to win. Those stories of heroes and heroines winning the day, saving the world without any real loss, are all great – we need them the way we need comfort food when we’re feeling low. I’m not saying don’t write these kinds of stories – I love them – but know what you’re doing. Know why you’re writing the Lex Luthor or Snow Queen / stereotype, instead of a Nurse Ratched or Anton Chigurh / sepsis. Is it easier? Of course, it is. Old tropes follow well-worn paths for us all to travel (and they work, too. I’m not saying disregard them). But it’s the brave writer who steps off the path and cuts a new trail with only their trusty – but magical, remember – nib to show the way.

Good people / characters have flaws and bad traits. Bad people / characters often do good things. As Rachel has mentioned, if you understand your antagonist’s history and motivations, you can create a more nuanced character. Often, the reader may not need to know the antagonist’s bad history, past abuse etc – but you, the writer, need to. Drip feed it to the reader if you want, but only if absolutely necessary. Remember, what a character does is who the character is. No one knew exactly why Hitler did what he did, back then. But good people all thought the same thing: we have to stop this. That meant fighting. Losing battles and loved ones. Lives and dreams shattered. Still had to do it. Because the alternative was unbearable. Not acceptable to civilised people. That Alternative was a big mf of an Antagonist. (mf: mountain of fury… 🙂 )

Returning for a moment to the characters we don’t forget: how many people do you think read Anne Frank’s story, and the antagonist she faced, and then forgot about her (or her antagonist)? Life didn’t throw that lass any easy boulders, easily batted off. She didn’t get a contrived family drama or car chase. She got sepsis with a capital H.

But, if you want to give us a happy ending, where good triumphs over all evil (yeah, right. In which parallel universe?) at least give us realistic misery before we get there. Real adversity (not a plot device), and sharper antagonists (who cause your main character serious pain and loss) can hone clever protagonists into the sharpest of blades, finest of lasers, or the stardust of old planets, if that’s where you want the story to go… and give you real pleasure in writing them, and your reader real pleasure in reading them – and coming back for more.

Antagonists can be daft, but not too daft. Paradoxically, it can weaken your protagonist. Unless you’re writing a comedy, of course

The best characters – protagonists and antagonists – like real people, go on journeys, inner and outer, over and over. They lose as well as win. Often, the best ones lose a lot. Because, guess, what? Your reader has probably lost a lot in their life, too, and so they empathise with that realistic, damaged, heart-broken, on-her-knees-but-still-fighting protagonist, just as they recognise the realistic, cold-hearted s.o.b. nasty antagonist, and get immersed in your story, because they know bad things happen to good people. (And good things happen to bad people, dammit.) Life isn’t easy. The best stories teach us that. Don’t short-change your protagonist by giving them an easy ride with a stereotypical antagonist who is too easily defeated, and a plot you’ve twisted into a pretzel so everything looks bad… but isn’t really. Frighten your protagonist – and your readers. Horrify them. Make your baddies bad. Really bad.

Like that nurse Ratched. And pray she never teams up with Anton, or Cersei. They’d make Sauron and all his armies look like over-dressed drama queens out for Halloween.

And if there are any budding medical geniuses reading this over a cup of coffee: put that cup down and stop wasting time. Away and find a cure for sepsis.

Kay Leitch

Taken from full Craft Chat BUILDING YOUR ANTAGONIST on Litopia.com covering How to Build an Antagonist

Posted in advice for writers, Best-selling authors secrets, clearing writer's block, creative writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


New Year, new writing resolutions, yeah? Yeah, me too. My first one is to sit down at the computer regularly and just write. Shocker, isn’t it! Well, the Muse won’t find me if I’m not writing…

And if one of your resolutions for 2022 is to hone your writing skills, check out the new Litopia forum: CraftChats. They chose SHOW -v- TELL as their first subject, with lots of information, opinions, civilised discussion and links for further reading or watching.

For the procrastinators among us, it’s a great way to spend a few hours, and then you can get back to writing again and use the advice and information gleaned from the Craft Chat to strengthen your writing. It’s well worth a read. And yes, I’m biased. Full disclosure: I helped put this great resource together. And there’s more coming in February, so keep checking back in to see what other gems Litopia has in store for you.

Here’s a meme for 2022, just for you:

Set your intention to write that paragraph, that chapter, that character, that book… Whatever it is you want to do. INTEND to do it. Now.

Good luck!

Author of Treasure This
Founding member of Electricink

Posted in advice for writers, creative writing, editing and publishing, Litopia, Litopia for writers, Show Don't Tell advice for writers, Storytelling, writing, writing tips, writing tips for children's authors | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Whatever you’re writing, it’s going to need a title…


So, before you do anything – here’s another gem of a writing seminar from Litopia.com.  Writing Killer Titles is now up and ready for you to take notes.

The wealth of information and advice for professional and amateur writers on Litopia is vast and growing daily. Well worth checking out, so I thought I’d pass this on. There will be more seminars too. Enjoy and learn!

I’ve found everyone on the site friendly and professional, so if you have any ideas for any other seminars you’d like to see, put them up on the Litopia Colony. Peter Cox, the agent and publisher who runs the site is a constant presence, so he’s bound to see them. The more we share, the better it is for all of us.

Keep writing!

Kay Leitch
Author of Treasure This
Founder member of Electrik Inc

Posted in advice for writers, editing and publishing, great sites for writers, How to Write a Bestseller, independent publishing, Kay Leitch, Kay Leitch, Litopia, Litopia, Litopia for writers, podcast creative writing, secrets of writing a best seller, Storytelling, writing, Writing Killer Titles, writing tips, writing tips for children's authors | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


Stephen King knows what he’s talking about when he’s talking about writing, yeah? So, here are some guidelines he has for writers. I’m deliberately not using the word rules, cos, you know, me and rules…

I thought I’d share these because they’re all worth reading. Good common sense advice with a healthy dose of creativity in every one. Number fifteen is my favourite. That and read, read, read, write, write, write. Oh, wait — that’s one I made up.

Here are 14 extra tips in the attached meme. No more excuses, now. Sit down and…

keep writing!

More great tips from Stephen King

Author of Treasure This
Founder member of Electrik Inc



Posted in clearing writer's block, creative writing, Kay Leitch, Rules of Writing, Uncategorized, writing, writing as a career, writing tips, writing tips for children's authors | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Want a Publisher to Read Your Work?

Another door opens for writers to get their work seen by an award-winning independent publisher. This fantastic alliance between Litopia Pop-Up Submissions and Head of Zeus publishing house gives writers a direct route to the person they want to read their work – the publisher.

This exciting news comes from BookBrunch (12th July 2021):

Check out Youtube.com/litopia and Pop-Up Submissions every Sunday evening (5pm UK time). And have a look at Litopia – one of the best forums around for professional and amateur writers alike. And then start honing that novel. Good luck!

Full disclosure: am I connected with Litopia? Yes, definitely. I’m delighted to be one of the readers for the great submissions we receive from writers of all kinds, from astonishingly talented teenagers (god knows I wasn’t so talented at that age) to more seasoned writers — we get all kinds. It’s great fun, and always enlightening.

Litopia Pop-Up Submissions can take you from the bottom rung,
to the top… 🙂

Keep writing.

Kay Leitch
Author of Treasure This

Posted in advice for writers, Best-selling authors secrets, creative writing, editing and publishing, great sites for writers, Head of Zeus and Litopia Pop-Up submissions, how to promote your books, how to use social media to promote your writing, How to Write a Bestseller, Kay Leitch, Litopia, Litopia, Litopia for writers, Litopia Pop-Up Submissions, Publishers and submissions, Publishers looking for submissions, Publishers submissions, Uncategorized, writing, writing as a career, writing tips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I like reading about successful writers, don’t you? I also like writers who buck the trends. There are so many “trends” in writing, and so much advice from so many people, most writers could be forgiven for sticking their heads out of the window and screaming into the night…

But now and then you find something worth sharing. We all know the Writing is about rewriting advice, and the Gotta show, don’t tell school of thought. I’ve always liked: Be Yourself, who else is better qualified? That one works for me.

Here’s Dean Wesley Smith giving his thoughts on writing after a successful career in the business. It’s from 2019, but all still useful today. You may not agree with everything he says, but it’s certainly worth listening to. I first saw this shared on Litopia – a great writers’ forum – and thought I’d pass it on.

Author of Treasure This
Co-founder of Electrik Inc

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THIS is what I was talking about – check out Litopia.com and see what you think. This is the kind of creative connection and advice I wish I’d had years ago. Great place for meeting writers of all kinds, making contacts, finding out how to improve your writing, and just generally having a good time being creative.

Author of Treasure This
Founder member of Electrikinc

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment


Not sure if the beginning of your novel is working? There are ways you can get professional industry advice on this —free. I’ve mentioned Litopia here before – a professional site where writers of all kinds (and abilities) gather to discuss the craft, moan in general about the state of publishing and post work for critiques. Literary agent Peter Cox, of Redhammer, runs it. It’s a fantastic hub of writerly advice and activity, with excellent facilities, including the Huddle (bring your publishing questions and worries) and Pop-Up Submissions (see more under). And there are a few friendly Guardians who make sure no one spams members, tries to turn the site into a forum for selling handbags (!) or turns into a screaming fiend if someone says, “This is lovely writing, but I think perhaps it needs a little more work…” 

Don’t be like this…

One of the best things about Litopia – and there are lots – is Sunday evening Pop-Up Submissions on YouTube, where you get the chance to have your first 700 words read out and commented on not just by Litopians, but by literary agent Pete and TWO publishing industry guests, who can be from anywhere in the world. Arianne Tex Thompson and TheTexFiles is fab, funny and, most importantly, incisive when it comes to spotting what writers need to do to up their game. All the guests are great, but Tex makes me laugh, so she’s a favourite. I’m all for having fun while I’m learning.

Pop-Up Submissions is an invaluable resource for any writer, especially if you keep getting rejections and don’t know why. We all know how vital it is to get those first few pages right, so anything that helps with that is worth it. Check out Pop-Ups on Sunday evenings from 5pm (BST) til about 7.15, or watch them any time on YouTube.

Have Fun!

Author of Treasure This
Founder member of ElectrikInc

Posted in advice for writers, creative writing, editing and publishing, free things to do in lockdown, great sites for writers, how to use social media to promote your writing, independent publishing, Kay Leitch, Litopia, Litopia for writers, marketing your novel, Storytelling, Uncategorized, writing | Leave a comment

Another Free Writing Course

As promised, here’s another free writing course. And this one leads to a competition. Go on, flex your creativity.

Kay Leitch
Author of Treasure This
co-founder of Electrik Inc

Posted in advice for writers, creative writing, free things to do in lockdown, free writing courses | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment