Thanks to all of you who wrote in with suggestions for writing exercises! I've accumulated a very diverse and interesting batch from online research and from your comments. I'm going to try them out. I've put together a list of what I think are ten promising exercises, some of which are adaptable to both poetry and fiction.
1. Choose a story or poem you wrote in the past and rewrite it from a different character or persona’s point of view.
2. Were you ever rushed to the hospital? Write about that, whether it be narrative or imagistic - it's a context rife with tension. Then write about it from the person who accompanied you and/or describe the waiting room experience.
3. Take one of your characters (or yourself) and write a scene of that person getting ready for their own 80th birthday. What are they thinking about? How do they feel about the situation? How do they feel physically? What age do they feel inside? (Thanks to Marnie for this one, it's worked well for me)
4. Pick an object, a found object, anything around you, and write about it for 20 minutes without stopping. (Thanks Todd)
5. Write about the most embarrassing thing that happened to you (or to a friend if you can't think of anything) in high school. Try it in first person, then third.
6. Write about everything you knew about sex and death at age 14. (Thanks Hugh! that sounds like a fun one)
7. Generate a list of 5 words (randomly from the dictionary if you want to be objective), then pick an emotional theme and write a scene or poem using the combination. I find this one inevitably effective.
8. Slow motion writing – pick an action (drowning, falling asleep, sweeping floor, catching a ball, etc.), slow down the description of it, write each moment by moment – good to get you focussed on sensory details. (credit to bloglily for this one)
9. Describe one of your character’s bedroom (or your own) – messy, neat, what does it say about them, activities, furniture, colours, fabrics, objects, etc. A good way to get to know a character.
10. Take the first and last line of a poem or story by someone else and write your own in between. When you're done, you can either keep or abandon the initial first and last line; I recommend omitting the recycled opening and closing lines. This is a popular exercise with poets, and thanks to Brenda for suggesting it.
Okay folks, I want everyone to try one of these every day! If only I could take my own advice...