Steal someone else’s line.
Grab the nearest book. Doesn’t matter if it’s fiction. Open the book at random, close your eyes, point. Your finger should now be on a line (unless you ended up in the margins, in which case try again). Read it. This line is now yours. Write a short piece that incorporates it without changing it at all. Be strict.
When I did this exercise, the line I stole was, “So you believe your Order’s demented creeds?” I ended up writing about a cult that shows its devotion to their deity by removing their limbs. The more enlightened you are, the fewer appendages you have.
Steal someone else’s reviews.
Grab the nearest book. This one should probably be fiction. It should also have those one-line reviews they put on book covers, like, “A dazzling journey” – The Whatever Times. Pick a one-line review. What sort of story would you expect/want from such a review? Write that story.
When I did this exercise, the review I stole was “Lose yourself in a world of incredible scope, originality and imaginative brilliance.” It prompted me to write with detailed poetic attention to landscape, something I don’t generally do.
If you want, here are some example reviews (and I’m not gonna tell you where they’re from):
“An extraordinary imagination – witty, light-footed, realistic, yet with shooting insights into the nature of personality and love.”
“Whimsically devastating. Playful, humorous, serious, profoundly clever and profoundly affecting.”
“Reminds us with uncommon understanding what it is to be young and idealistic, in pursuit of true love and in love with books and ideas.”
“A work of high modernist playfulness and deep pathos.”
“An engaging, endlessly stimulating chuckle-out-loud read.”
Steal someone else’s style.
I’m not talking about the line-for-line imitation exercise that some writers swear by. I’m talking about sitting down with your notebook with only your own brain for reference. Describe your living room as if you were Virginia Woolf. Write about a walk in your city/town as if you were Margaret Atwood. Fill a page about your workplace as if you were writing lyrics for Modest Mouse. Write about a character waiting for the bus as if they were Nick Carraway, or someone going grocery shopping as if they were April Wheeler.
Read Weird/Offbeat News
Human beings are endlessly creative. When you run out of ideas, boost creativity by reading about the strange, amazing, and unlikely things people are doing in real life.
Read Unwritten Books
There’s a project called the Library of Unwritten Books – a collection of interviews in which people describe the book they’d like to write but never have.
Best not to steal someone’s unwritten idea (or seek permission first), but it’s an enjoyable collection and a fun jumping off point.
Write to Music
I happen to do really awesome playlists.