1/13/16 – Writing Exercises
I’ve got a box in the top of my closet filled with what I like to call “the lost stories.” Some papers from high school, story notes jotted on scraps of paper, short stories, journal entries, nebulous scenes that never went anywhere, and possibly some old Buffy fanfiction I wrote in sixth grade. Most of it needs to be burned, but I save it for several reasons. Sentimental, partly, but also because it’s good every now and then to pull some of the old stuff out and see how I’ve grown as a writer. And also because there are certain story notes in there that WILL see the light of day at some point. Not all of it was crap.
You become a better writer by writing. Lots and lots of writing. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t scribbling some kind of story in the margins of my algebra notes. Even in art class, when I finished a painting project, I would whip out the notebook paper and scratch away on something aimless for a while. Every writer has a legacy of piecemeal writing in his or her closet. So if you decide you want to write a book, and feel overwhelmed, never fear. Nobody writes a novel the first time he puts pen to paper. Honing your craft takes practice.
I recommend journaling. Buy a pretty fresh notebook that inspires you to write, a brand new pen, and set yourself a goal of writing a small entry every day. You can keep a diary if that’s your thing – though I always found myself too boring to contemplate, so I liked to do practice exercises.
Prompts (all of these are exercises I was given in school):
Ø Describe the room in which you’re sitting.
Ø Describe an ideal room.
Ø Go for a walk and describe the experience.
Ø In a public place, eavesdrop on conversations (this is fun, but do it discreetly). Write down what you hear. The exact way people talk to one another. Do this again and again and again.
Ø Look across a coffee shop, and describe the other patrons. Their body language, the way their eyes move around the room, the energy they project.
Ø Describe the characters in a favorite movie.
Ø Observe stuff, and write about it. You’re simply practicing putting your impressions into words.
Ø Pick a name you like, jot it at the top of the page, and start listing personal details: DOB, height, eye color, favorite food, phobias, vocation, etc. Get in deep: lifelong dreams, best friend. List as many details as you can possibly come up with.
Ø Pick a name you don’t like and do the same thing.
Ø Then, take one of these newly created characters and write a scene in which he or she interacts with a character from one of your favorite books or movies.
Ø Create a detail profile for a character who is nothing like you.
Ø Create a detail profile for a character you don’t think you would like.
Ø Create a detail profile for an ideal hero.
Ø Take that ideal hero, and cut out the bits that seem over the top and too ridiculous, replace them with human flaws and traits.
Ø Write a reunion scene between two friends.
Ø Write that same scene, but in the rain.
Ø Write a kissing scene.
Ø Write an argument.
Ø Write a scene that makes you want to cry.
Ø Write a scene that frightens you.
Ø Write a scene between two friends, in which there is no dialogue, but meaning is clear through actions.
Ø Use your eavesdropping descriptive notes to complete a conversation between two people you overheard.
If you get in the habit of writing down observations and using your imagination, you’ll start to be more aware of the details of your surroundings, and you’ll start to think a little differently. Not just seeing your environment, but analyzing it.
Write entries for a week, then go back and read them with a critical eye. Is your writing easy to read? Choppy? Disjointed? Make some serious evaluations about your work, then the next week, seek to correct those habits as you write a new string of entries.
Eventually, you’ll have to let someone read some of your writing. This is going to be uncomfortable. But a word of advice – take your audience into account. When I was much younger, I showed a chapter of a story to my brother, and he completely dismissed it, and I was crushed. At first. Then I picked his brain. What didn’t he like about it? It was “girl stuff.” Ugh. Lord. (He’s gotten over that sort of thing, I’m glad to say. But note to self, don’t expect a twelve-year-old brother to give you the best evaluation.) Show your work to someone who likes to read and reads often. Asking someone who dislikes reading is invariably going to give you bad feedback, which will discourage you. Ask your reader for his or her impression. Does the piece stir emotion? Do they find it pleasurable to read? How does it compare to their normal reading material? Put your work in the hands of someone realistic, but kind, who will be honest without being cruel. Likewise, someone who will take your efforts seriously.
Keep at it. You will feel discouraged, tired, hopeless at times, and that will all be normal. The only way to become a better writer is to write. And just think, some of our most beloved and revered authors were rejected dozens of times by publishers. They kept working, and so can you.