Writing exercises have a major benefit: they can fix bad habits you’ve developed. We talked about the bad habit of leaving novels unfinished, for example.
If you’re concerned that you have no time to do pesky exercises:
- You always have more time than you think you do; and
- These exercises will help you to be consistently productive.
They’re especially useful if you suffer from anxiety about writing. Anxiety leads to procrastination, which is a career killer.
Why do writing exercises work?
Writing exercises: why they work (my theory)
Firstly, exercises will get you writing, if you’re procrastinating, or not writing as much as you could.
My own theory is that we get into a rut with our writing. I often say that no word you write is ever wasted. We often (I include myself) spend too much time thinking, instead of writing. The result of all this thinking is staid, prim, writing-by-rote.
Try these exercises. They work for my students, and they’ll work for you.
1. Get into the mood to write, right now
First, write down exactly how you’re feeling, with the date and the time.
Write for ten minutes. Then write down how you’re feeling again.
This simple exercise will convince you that you don’t need to be in the mood to write: the act of writing creates a “writing” mood.
2. Be spontaneous: you don’t need to know everything
Can you write without judging yourself, just for today?
Write. Accept whatever you write.
I know it’s difficult. I used to be the Queen of Judgment. I can remember starting my first novel — the memory lingers, decades later.
I spent weeks (literally) on the first couple of paragraphs. Then I edited them out – in fact, I deleted the first two chapters completely. So all that effort was wasted.
I was trying to write a great first paragraph, and that’s impossible. You’ll find that as you keep on writing, you’re much less judgmental. You’ll realize that your writing is what it is, on any given day.
Always, the writing you thought of as “rubbish” writing, has a reason for existence. It either creates inspiration for better ideas, or it’s a lot better than you thought it was.
Today, just let your writing be, and write.
3. Make a little list: lists are easy, fun, and you’ll write more
Lists are wonderful.
Try creating a little list before you start writing today.
Let’s say you’re writing a scene in your novel.
Without thinking, make a list of ten nouns: morning, sun, argument, temper, gun, fireman, surprise, chair, foot, paper.
You don’t need to use the words on the list in your writing. On the other hand, you may find that one of the nouns kicks off a new train of thought, and takes your scene into a different direction.
Use lists. They inspire creativity, and elimination procrastination.
4. “Once upon a time…” Retell a fairy tale
This site has a list of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.
Choose one of the tales, and retell it in your own words. You can make it as short or as long as you please.
This exercise has a weird effect; you’ll be surprised.
Tip: imagine yourself as one of the characters in the tale, and tell it from that character’s point of view.
5. Conquer writers’ anxiety: allow and breathe
When my three sons were tiny, I was running a business, and developing my writing career as well. Suddenly, I got panic attacks.
Panic attacks are horrible, you’re convinced that you’re having a heart attack, and because they usually occur in a public place (I got them in the supermarket,) the sensation that you need to STOP what’s happening makes the attacks worse.
My panic attacks occurred less often as soon as I started telling myself: “OK, it’s fine. I’ll have a heart attack right here, right now, and in the meantime, I’ll just focus on my breathing…”
Finally, after a few weeks of my new “I don’t care what’s happening…” attitude, the attacks just went away.
I don’t recommend waiting until you get panic attacks to manage anxiety. 🙂
When you feel overwhelmingly anxious, say to yourself: “OK, I completely accept this, whatever it is.” Breathe. Focus on your breathing.
Be aware of the tightness in your chest, or your trembling knees, and breathe. Within minutes, your anxiety will crest, and then dissipate.
Then start writing. Whenever you feel anxious again, remind yourself to breathe.
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