Doing writing exercises on a regular basis will help writers discover what aspects of writing they’re good at and help them to break poor writing habits.
They also help both emerging and experienced writers discover their own style and increase their word power.
Writing Exercises are also a great way of generating ideas and material. And just as a runner might swim and a swimmer might run, they wouldn’t let cross-training take over the main game. The runner wouldn’t spend more time in the pool than on the road and the swimmer wouldn’t run more than he swam. Writing exercises shouldn’t be the main activity just a complimentary one.
Here’s just a few suggestions.
Free writing is writing from a prompt, say a single word (horse, leaf, ice-cream) for a pre-determined length of time, say 15 minutes. This is done without the restriction of having to make it sound good. There is no revising, editing or back tracking. In fact it’s a no-no. The idea is to just splash it all down on paper. No stopping either, even if that means having to write ‘I can’t think of anything to write”. The purpose of such an exercise is to get the writer away from their normal ways of thinking, and write from a more intuitive place.
Restrictive exercises, as the name suggested, has some kind of restriction placed on them. It may be the word count eg exactly 100 words (not 99 or 101) or not using a particular letter eg ‘e’, or the restrictions may be to do with the subject matter you’re writing about eg describing a holiday without mentioning the name of the place you’ve visited.
These types of exercises take a lot more mental energy.
Personal exercises require the writer to think about who they are, their opinions, likes and dislikes, beliefs, history. They ask the writers questions that they may have never been asked before and in doing so can dredge up all manner of memories and emotions. It’s up to the writer as to how detailed the answers are and how deeply they delve.
These types of exercises are also excellent to ask characters to answer. It is a great way of getting to know them better and of discovering things about them that may not have otherwise been revealed.
A Paragraph or Two
Writing a paragraph or two is usually although not always an observation of some kind. It can be a description of someone in the street, a reaction to something that appeared in a newspaper or magazine or even an overheard conversation. It could be a description of a moment of inspiration or emotional upset, something to be ashamed or guilty about, a long-held regret.
It doesn’t need to be a 2000 word essay with footnotes just a paragraph or two, about 300 – 400 words.
Invention and Imagination
Invention and Imagination exercises are not about reflection on a writer’s own experience but rather taking that raw material and turning it into the basis for a story. It may be describing what it is like to be beached on a deserted island after a storm. It may be automatic to imagine a tropic island with white sandy beaches and palm trees. Perhaps instead think of being washed up on a rocky inhospitable beach in the cold Southern Ocean. The writer flexes their imagination to describe the event.