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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Richardson

Concepts about Writing - Writing Exercises

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

What are writing exercises? Why should a writer use them? Are they useful?

The definition of a writing exercise is this: short improvisational, sometimes unstructured spurts of writing that help the writer in some way. The help can be personal to the writer, and can aid in learning writing flow, approaching a topic from a different perspective, or even loosening imagination. Sometimes called free-writing, or prompt writing, it is a useful tool in your writing toolkit if you are faltering, or need a boost.

No matter what you call them or how you use them, they have great merit for flexing and honing writing muscles, and sometimes give way to a much bigger idea. Doing a quick fifteen minute unstructured writing exercise can fuel creativity, and give way to feeling that writer’s high we all crave and search for!

There is argument out there that writing exercises should be done by hand, not on a keyboard, but my personal adage is to write your exercises how you are most comfortable. If I had to write by hand I wouldn’t write. I have arthritis. My hands hurt even thinking about it! However, the lure of a gorgeously-bound journal with crisp white pages and a smooth-flowing pen can be thrilling, right?

I don’t do writing exercises as much anymore, due to time limitations and a better-honed ability to dive into my current manuscript when I sit down to work. I just don’t need them as much as I did when I was still trying to figure out my method to get the draft done.

Finding A Prompt

Over the years, I have used many, many different ideas to move the pen and put my butt in the chair. Back before I read and kept everything online, I bought more books on writing than I care to admit to. Lots of Natalie Goldberg, writing prompt flip books, and journaling magazines are tucked away on my bookshelf, full of great mind-prodding ideas.

Nowadays, if you type “Writer’s Prompts” and “Writing Exercises” into Google, there are more sources than you can shake a ball-point pen at. Anything you could want, in your genre, is a mouse-click away. It can be overwhelming to decide, so my advice is to pick a site that looks promising and work through a few before you move onto somewhere else, if you need to.

Your intuition should help you find the right ones to push your writing muscle the right way!

However, here are a few good links to get you started with both your bookmark collection, and perhaps even a couple of physical books of your own. - So many good tools here. Plus some fun ones!

Barbara Demarco-Barrett - Pen on Fire - I own this book. Great advice and prompts.

Bonni Goldberg - Room to Write - You can work through this book, one page per day, and I compare it to sitting down with a good cup of tea. I loved this book not only for the prompts, but the techniques you learned along the way.

My Go-To Exercise

A few years ago, I used a writing exercise from some random website (which I cannot remember) called “What if...”. The idea was to create a short paragraph or blurb of writing with the words “What if” and the first thing that comes to mind, or add in the first thing you see when you write it. What if the apple wasn’t poisoned? What if he lost the election? What if dinner was burnt? What if they can’t save the ranch? What if she never found the paintings? What if he never found out about his real dad? On and on you go...

I have used that as a catalyst for book ideas, and is by far my most used writing prompt and exercise when I generate ideas.

One night, watching a Blue Jays game, I decided to play around with it. “What if I met a handsome baseball player in an airport?” was the first thing that was typed on the page as we watched JP Arencibia hit a home run.

Thus the idea for Josh and Gretchen’s story was born.

So what writing exercises do you love? What is your go-to place to find new ones? Do you find them helpful, or distracting? I want to know! ♥

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