Writers‒novelists, essayists, poets, anyone with a keyboard‒will attest that writing can be a wonderful activity for escaping the pressures of the day and allowing your mind to indulge in more creative problem-solving. There is an incredible difference between working under a deadline and working at your leisure, and by the same token, there is a similar difference between leisure that is completely inert and leisure that is still active. As an example, one of America’s most influential poets of the 20th century, Frank O’Hara, has a collection of work (well worth checking out) called Lunch Poems. The title isn’t an indication that the poems inside are odes to a great soup-and-sandwich combo but that they were, so the legend goes, written down during breaks from O’Hara’s workday. Supposedly, “John Ashbery says he witnessed O’Hara ‘Dashing the poems off at odd moments – in his office at the Museum of Modern Art, in the street at lunchtime or even in a room full of people – he would then put them away in drawers and cartons and half forget them.’” Some of these scraps went on to be parts of published work, but all of them, in some way, let O’Hara keep his creativity going and experiment with new ideas.

This is of course not to suggest that the secret to being a published author is to embrace distraction, but actually a suggestion that the act of writing can be a fun pursuit, one that lets you blow off steam or indulge in a sort of hyper-daydreaming. Even if you wouldn’t dream of ever trying to put together a novel or set of poems, here are a few exercises that you might let your imagination loose on whether you are writing them out on your phone on the bus or scribbling them down on a napkin.

  • This is what is known as a de Copia (“of plenty”) exercise in which you take an already written sentence and rephrase and reword it so that it is a new line that expresses the same idea as before but in a new way. The purpose of this exercise is to make yourself get creative once you are past the first couple ways that you would normally express a thought—the point is to write as many as possible until you “exhaust” the idea. Some of the line may remain the same but try to have each rewriting emphasize something new or present the idea with a new twist. Not every single word must be rewritten by swapping words in and out, so “The two cats gazed up at me hoping I would announce dinner time” could be changed to “Their next meal was clearly on my cats’ greedy minds as they gazed up at me.” As you write, think about how the different modulations of your sentences stress different parts of each idea. You could take any old sentence you come across, but here are three samples you could work with:

The green lawns of Life University, where I went to school, always bring back many memories.

Spring was coming, and that meant the students became more lively and pleasant.

The warm dark flavor of coffee and its warmth in my hand are two of my favorite things in the world.

  • Imagine that you are killing time in Socrates Café at Life U and your phone has died, so you are just fidgeting and people watching. The place is mostly empty, but you see a pair of students across the room and can’t hear them, but you end up watching them for a bit. Something happens between them, and it is up to you to describe a quick scene but only using body language rather than dialogue. You decide what they look like and describe what you see them do. Do you see what you expect is a first kiss? A breakup? Are they sharing a joke until one of them takes it too far? Really try to emphasize that this scene is an exchange. This means you need to develop some sense of back-and-forth as one person responds to the other’s words, actions or body language.
  • I have a fascination with how the development of technology influences trends and developments in art. This prompt asks you to think about what happened to drama (i.e., the concept of writing or acting in a play, musical, etc.) once the video camera made early movies possible. What sorts of scenes or scenarios could you as a director create using a camera and footage that would have been impossible or at least very awkward for a staged play? List as many scenarios as you can think of.

For an example, think of any scene on a boat. If you are staging a live play and characters are supposed to pretend to be in a boat, it is super hard to give the audience any illusion that they are not watching people standing on dry land. With a camera, however, you can suddenly just have your actors in a real boat bobbing up and down on real water. NOTE – Let’s say you are bound to the 1920s, so you don’t have access to computerized special effects or much in the way of film editing techniques.

  • While college will undoubtedly leave you with many memories of friends met, challenges overcome and personal growth, it is also a time in many peoples’ lives where they are getting out of their family home and carving out a day-to-day routine of their own in a space that they finally get to decorate and furnish. In 15 years, what do you think you will remember about your day-to-day life from this year in college? Focus more on the “normal” things rather than big memorable moments; focus on daily habits, sounds and smells of campus, and other parts of your regular routine. What are the little things around you that are so ingrained in your regular routine that they will come to be your memories of the “texture” or day-to-day life?