Why Writers Should Exercise!
D. A. Ratliff
Before you start sweating, not that kind of exercise. After sitting at a computer writing for several hours, physical exercise might be prudent, but we will discuss that another day. This discussion is about writing exercises that help hone your creative writing skills and why they are essential.
If you belong to an internet or in-person writing group, take a writing class, or are inquisitive and search the internet for information, you are familiar with writing exercises. Let’s look at the myriad of activities created for improving your writing skills.
These are some skills necessary for writing.
- Character Development
- Plot Creation
- World Building
- Opening Sentence/Paragraph Hook
- Creating Tension
- Story Structure
- “Writer’s Block”
- Editing /Word Selection
- The “Elevator” Blurb
- Query Letters
- Covers/Cover Blurb
Exercises for Writers
The exercises to practice the skills listed above are numerous. You can do some exercises alone, and some benefit from group participation, all designed to improve the quality of your writing.
The exercises include:
- Character arc – Write a character at the beginning of a story and the end to show their development or lack of development.
- World Building – Interview a member of a society, asking questions about the geography and culture.
- Timed writing sprints – Setting a time limit on an exercise helps focus thoughts.
- Opening Sentence – From an image or writing prompt, create an opening sentence.
- Editing/Word Selection – Write a story based on a prompt with a word count limit which requires careful word selection, story structure, and editing of unnecessary content.
- Query Letters, Synopses, or Cover Blurbs – Writing any of these items from a prompt is helpful, as is offering one of these writing excerpts for peer critique, which also helps hone skills.
- “Writer’s Block” – There are conflicting opinions on the nature of writer’s block, but, at times, all writers hit an impasse, and writing is elusive. Suggestions include freewriting for a set timeframe, writing a scene further into the story, or writing from a prompt.
- Read the works of others and learn how they crafted their stories.
You can do many exercises, from focusing on one individual aspect of writing to practicing general writing. Finding writing exercises is as simple as checking with your favorite writing group or using a search engine on the internet.
The Benefits of Writing Exercises
Besides the obvious mechanical skills that writing exercises help improve, there are other reasons for doing these exercises.
Perhaps the most important benefit gained from writing exercises is the spark to your muse—your imagination. A common complaint from writers is “I don’t know what to write about” or “I’m stumped and don’t know where to take my story.” While imagination is not an acquired skill, you can stimulate it.
As with any profession or hobby, we can burn out or become weary of the task. When that happens professionally, we turn our attention to another project or take a vacation. A writer or hobbyist can do the same.
Writers can look to the word prompt exercises as a project change. Utilizing prompts to write something new can stimulate your imagination. Vacations are also necessary, and despite all the ‘experts’ telling you that you must write every day, you don’t have to do so. A break from a routine allows you to return with a fresher perspective.
There are basic tenets to writing. The story structure that we follow today is the same as the first stories told. As a society, we feel compelled to tell stories to pass on cultural and historical information to following generations and for entertainment.
Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Writing mechanics, sentence structure, grammar, character, plot development, and world-building have, for the most part, remained the same since storytelling began. Exercises that target these components help to reinforce the fundamental skills a writer needs to tell the story effectively. Knowing the fundamentals also allows writers to deviate from traditional structure and add a creative touch to their writing while keeping the story cohesive.
Do not forget one of the best ways to learn the fundaments is to read. Reading is one of the most fundamental exercises you can do. Learn structure, plot construction, character development, and more from other writers. Even writers who are not so skilled can teach us how not to do something.
An overactive imagination is a wonderful thing for a writer to have. However, too many story ideas can be overwhelming and cause a loss of focus.
There is nothing wrong with having several projects going simultaneously, but task focus is crucial to completing a story or novel. Timed-writing exercises are an effective way of learning to organize thoughts and keep story progression on target. A ten-minute sprint of freewriting or an hour of writing with an end goal in mind sharpens the focus, as does finishing a prompt with a specific word count limit.
Learning to focus as you write helps with the biggest disappointment many writers have—not completing the work they have started. Many novels are started but not finished because of the lack of focus on the goal.
You’ve heard about it, imposter syndrome. The belief is that, despite your success, you are not as capable as others think you are and that you don’t deserve any accolades. Nonsense. Self-doubt about your ability to succeed at writing or any endeavor you undertake is not a healthy attribute and will cascade into all facets of your life.
Participating in writing exercises is certainly not the panacea for imposter syndrome, but what it can do is validate that you have writing skills. The proverb, practice makes perfect is true. While perfection is difficult to achieve, practicing and mastering the skills to help you become a better writer will give you the confidence to be the best writer you can be and accept your success no matter how you measure it.
Writing is many things—fun, tedious, demanding, complex. Competition for readers is intense, and all we can do is offer the best storytelling we can to our readers. But as with any other art form, we do not achieve success without working for it. A dancer, musician, singer, or artist spends hours rehearsing their craft, honing moves, notes, or brushstrokes. A writer must do the same and put in the time to study, read, and embrace the practice—writing exercises. You will be a better writer for it.
Resources for Writing Exercises:
Grammar Exercises: Owl Online Writing Lab https://owl.purdue.edu/owl_exercises/index.html