Truman Capote might have been scoffing at Jack Kerouac’s writing style but to write well, one must first type.
While I don’t believe in writer’s block, I do believe in using writing exercises to get the words flowing.
Whenever I’m stuck or having trouble expressing myself through words, I turn to my favourite writing exercises. The way I see it, my writing doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to be spell checked or published or even read. It just needs to be written.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration or simply want to get the crappy writing out of the way so you can get to the good stuff, these writing exercises are an excellent place to start.
Writing prompts have been around since the first cry of writer’s block. Prompts don’t clear a block. They hone a skill. They give you a reason to write.
Websites like oneword.com are extremely popular and effective. One word, 60 seconds. Nothing like a prompt and a timer to get your fingers typing.
If you’ve been using prompts trying to produce works of art then you’re probably failing spectacularly. Prompts can give you a start but they can’t give you polished prose.
Using writing prompts is a great way to exercise your skills. It’s a break from the norm and gets your creative juices flowing.
2. Write free style
Free style writing usually means writing about whatever comes to your mind. It doesn’t have to be work and it doesn’t have to be fiction. Writing freely is more of a brain dump. You write down all the extra stuff that’s in your head so that there’s only room for thinking about what you want to write.
Somehow, this technique has never worked for me. The idea of a brain dump seems so unpractical. How do I decide what to dump and what not to? And there’s a part of me that keeps thinking it won’t solve anything. I’ll be wasting precious time writing crap. Time, that will be better spent on writing what I need to write.
So now, instead of writing about anything that pops in my head, I write down all my jumbled thoughts and ideas about the topic I need to be writing about. Works wonders and I get to go back and pick and choose the stuff I want to include in the final write-up.
3. Jot conversations
Sometimes it’s all about working the kinks out of your fingers. If you find yourself writing in fits and starts then it’s probably because your brain can’t seem to connect with your fingers. What you’re trying to say isn’t being translated on the keyboard. There’s a handy exercise to fix it.
Head out to a cafe or turn on the TV if you can’t. Start writing what you hear. If you’re in a cafe, concentrate on any one of the conversations happening around you and start typing it down. The same for TV.
Eventually it will become mindless typing and a part of your brain will go back to focusing on what you were writing before. But since you’re not actively focusing on it, there won’t be any pressure to write. And once you feel like your fingers have warmed (so to speak), you’ll find writing easier.
One good thing about writing conversations you hear on TV is that you’ll learn to recognize action words. And how to write dialogues that show instead of tell. Nice side benefit eh?
4. Comment on blogs
Every one talks about commenting on blogs as a way to network, increase traffic and getting your name out there. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that commenting on blogs can be used as a writing exercise too.
Reading blogs and posting thoughtful comments puts your brain in the ‘zone’. You’re concentrating on someone else’s work for a chance. More importantly, you’re thinking like a reader.
So not only does leaving comments on blogs give you a writing exercise, it also gives you a fresh perspective. Once you’ve commented on a few blogs, you might find that your thoughts are more streamlined and connected – which will naturally translate in your own writing.
5. Stop the clock
Setting a timer and writing works for many writers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t for me. What does work is not looking at the clock or worrying about the time. Doing that allows me to simply write. I’m not ruled by deadlines or my own idea of how long it should take me to write something.
Once I take the time pressure out of the equation, I find that getting stuck writing isn’t as stressful. And since there’s no clock telling me I’ve been toying with a single paragraph for almost an hour, there’s nothing stopping me from doing so!
Sometimes all you need is the freedom to play around with your writing – even if t means rewriting a sentence more than a dozen times.
Have you tried writing exercises? Do they work for you?