Do you do writing exercises? Most writers, once they get paid to write, stop doing exercises. However, the more I watch my own writing process, and work with students, the more I’m convinced that exercises aren’t just valuable, they’re essential.
I’ve used Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages as a crutch for a couple of decades. I did them consistently for a few years after The Artist’s Way was first published. Whenever I start to feel burned out I fall back on Morning Pages. Within a few days, my writing slump lifts.
Looking back, Morning Pages helped me to get a lot of writing blocks out of my way. I had some unconscious beliefs about writing which limited me. Morning Pages made those limiting beliefs conscious, so that I was able to release them. If you’re suffering from blocks, and doubts, I commend Morning Pages to you.
I’m sure you’re wondering: why do exercises? You know you’ve got more than enough writing to do. Who has time for exercises?
In a word: YOU… if you want to write more and sell more of your writing.
Consider that at any one time, you’re limited by your brain, and how it works. You can’t hold more than around seven units of information in your short-term memory at any one time:
This cognitive process is called digit span, or alternatively, sequential processing. It measures how many digits can be taken in through the eyes or ears and repeated in correct order. The test offers insight into attention span and organization of information.
Annoying, right? Just seven units of information at a time. Luckily, your brain works via associations, so it’s not a big deal for writers, as long as you’re aware of how your brain works...
One of my students, David, is an amazing writer. He’s roaring through the copywriting master class doing great work, and has several clients already. However, David keeps blocking. He has days when he “can’t” write.
My view on that has always been: if you can talk, you can write, so I asked David to get an extension on a pressing deadline, and just do the exercises I gave him for a week.
Of course, once the pressure was off, and David was doing his exercises, he zoomed through his client projects as well. Against my advice… (grin…)
Writing Exercises Support Your Writing.
Why did simple writing exercises work for David? FWIW, I asked David to do the Gold Mining and Doodle Therapy exercises in How To Write, Even If You Think You Can’t.
They worked because they helped David’s brain to work without going blank: he started to associate. Once he relaxed and stopped making demands, his creativity took over, and his writing flowed.
Your writing exercises will multiply your writing time, as David found. Although he resented “wasting” time on exercises, he soon discovered that that time wasn’t wasted. It allowed him to write faster, with more authority and confidence. Suddenly he wasn’t hunting for ideas and words: they were there when he needed them.
David’s now a true believer in the power of writing exercises.
Try a writing exercise yourself. Doodle Therapy is fast and easy.
Easy Exercise: Doodle, and Write About Your Doodle.
Doodles are all done by hand, so grab a piece of paper and a pencil, or pen, and without thinking about it too much, allow yourself to doodle. Let your hand go. When your doodle seems complete, stop. You can doodle for a set period too. Set a timer for two or more minutes, and doodle.
Next, write about your doodle for five minutes. As with the doodle, accept whatever you write. There’s no “wrong” way to do this.
Try some writing exercises yourself. Create your own, and tap into the power of your brain. You’ll find that your exercises make a huge difference to the quality and quantity of your writing.
Easy Exercise: Pick a Word. Any Word.
I’ve found Gabriele Rico’s clustering concept immensely useful. Clustering works much as your brain does, by associations. Start with a word, and circle it in the center of your page.
You can see that the seed word in the cluster on the left is “turn”. You can choose any word you like. I use clustering to develop characters in fiction; my seed word is the character’s name.
Keep adding arrows to other words, and more arrows out to yet more words.
Within a few minutes, you’ll come up with an inspiration, and you can start writing. I do my clusters on blank A4 pads, then photograph them into Evernote.
Try clustering for a project you’re working on. Choose a word, circle it, and start adding arrows and more words. Before you know it, you’ll be inspired.
Updated: July 24, 2014, with the clustering exercise.
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