Writing, like any other skill, is all about practice. Many writers only ever work on their writing by writing or editing their stories or poems. And although this is great, they may be cheating themselves out of some extra depth in their storywell.
This weekend, I participated in a short, but sweet, creative writing seminar with author Helen Gordon. She likened writers doing writing exercises to pianists doing finger exercises. This comparison holds up very well!
The same way a pianist’s performance will sound better as the pianist’s fingers become quicker, more nimble and able to run across the piano more smoothly, your masterpiece will benefit from your brain’s ability to navigate words, sounds and rhythms with increased ease.
It doesn’t have to take long! One 10-minute drilling session a day, or even a week, can help open some unexpected and inspiring doors in your mind. By restricting the vocabulary, format or word order you are allowed to use, your brain is forced to dig deeper into its creative reservoir to find solutions. By using writing prompts, you train your brain to find stories everywhere. Many great novel ideas have sprung out of simple exercises!
The trick is to keep it casual. Don’t strive for perfection or take yourself too seriously, just stick to the rules of the exercise and see what you come up with.
Here are a few drills to get you started – come back soon for more!
Easy: The other side of the story
Find the lyrics to your favourite song that features the word “you”. Imagine being the person the song is directed towards and write a reply to the singer. If you want to challenge yourself further, keep to the same rhythm and rhyme scheme as the original song, so that it could have been sung on the same melody.
Medium: Dictionary dictator
Open a dictionary to a random page. Write a short text where the first word on this page and on the following 20 pages appear in the same order as they do in the dictionary. You are welcome to write sentences in between, but you can’t use word number 3 before you’ve used word number 2. And don’t flip over to look at the word on the next page before you’ve used the one you’re on! Having to constantly change your story to incorporate new twists and turns is the core of this exercise.
Not hard enough? Use the first 3 words on each page. Often, they may be very similar, and making them appear naturally can be quite the challenge!
Hard: Waxing and waning words
Write a story extract or flash fiction of a minimum of 10 sentences, following this rule:
The first sentence starts with a 1 or 2-letter word. Each word following it must be 1 letter longer than the previous word. You can make the sentence as long or short as you’d like. Sentence number 2 starts with whatever word you want (preferably 5 letters or longer), and each word following it must be 1 letter shorter than the previous word. The third sentence starts with a 1 or 2-letter word again and grows by 1 letter per word, and so on.
Online scrabble dictionaries are your friend with this one!
Want to make it even harder? Make each sentence contain the same number of words (for example, 7) and go from 2 to 7, then 7 to 2, then 2 to 7, and so on.
Photo credit: iStock.com/bowie15