In Training for Writing: A Dozen Ideas


RansomnoteEvery night after dinner, I do a little work and then by 8 PM you'll find me cozied up on the couch beneath my favorite quilt, ready to watch the Olympics.   The Winter Olympics are my absolute favorite, so I've been in heaven since they started last week.

These athletes inspire me.    Ski jumpers, snowboarders, downhill racers, figure skaters–I watch them contort their bodies and think, I'll never know what it feels like to move like that, but it sure is fun to watch someone else do it. 

The other huge benefit is that it makes my job look easy.  Really easy.  (And it is, something we'd do well to remember on those days when the words aren't flowing so well and we're wringing our hands over writer's block.)

On the surface, we writers have little in common with Olympic athletes.  (Stop laughing–I know even the comparison is funny.)  They exercise their bodies, we exercise our minds.  They are super-fit and we are…well, I'll speak for myself here, but let's just say sitting at the computer all day is not the best recipe for fitness.

However, there is one arena in which we can compare ourselves and that is with our training regimen.  Olympians train hard for months out of the year, and when they aren't training in their specific sport, they are lifting weights, running, and keeping themselves fit.  And we writers train, too.


Um, maybe not.  Because who has time for training when there's real writing to be done?  When there's only one hour in the busy day in which to find time to write  that hour, by necessity, must be devoted to one's beloved WIP.

Well, hold on a minute.  Training for writers is not such a bad idea.  Just as Olympians rely on it to create muscle memory in their bodies, so, too, can we utilize the idea of training to facilitate ease and flow in our writing.  (And, if you are a beginning writer, you might focus solely on training until you have a few gazillion words under your belt.)  Think of training for writing as warm-up exercises, or practicing scales, or hitting a tennis ball against the wall five thousand times, or…you get the idea.

What follows are my suggestions for training.   Train for 5-15 minutes a day and see if it's helpful to you. If so, keep doing it.  If not, ditch it.  The idea here is to loosen up and have fun, get your fingers flying across the keyboard or page.  Train first thing in the morning, before your writing session, when you have a few minutes to spare, on your coffee break. Do what works, is my motto.  

1.  Free Writing.  The classic.  Set a timer for 10-20 minutes and move your hand across the page without stopping.   Don't worry about following any particular train of thought, just write. To engage in free writing, the following are useful:

2.  Prompts.  These are one-line starters that are either random sentences (Snow fell, covering the shoulders of her green coat), or sentences that make you think (Write about a time your character felt sorrow).  Write your prompt at the top of the page and have at it.  You can find prompts  under the Punch for Prompt tab, or by asking the Google.

3. Use your thesaurus or dictionary.  Open to a random page and choose a word.   See how many different ways you can use it in a sentence.  Or combine it with another word, make it into a sentence, and use as a prompt.  

4.  Write morning pages.  First thing in the morning (okay, you can get coffee) write three pages.  It's free writing on steroids.  Just write.  Get your yayas out.

5.  Write poetry.  Write bad poetry.  Write good poetry.  Play with images and symbolism in the poetic microcosm.   Even if you don't consider yourself a poet, you can learn much from arranging words this way.

6.  Write flash fiction.  300-1000 words, a complete story with all the usual elements.   Keep it loose, keep it easy, keep it fun.

7.  Keep a stash of writing exercises handy.  There's some on this blog–just scroll down and look in the left column under "Pages."  And you can also ask the Google for help with finding more. Here's a page that has some interesting ones.

8.  A to Z.  Start at the top, with A.  Write as many words that begin with A that you can think of in five minutes.  Then choose a couple of those words, make sentences, and write.  Or just use the word itself as a prompt.  Add to your list as you go throughout your business. The next day, move onto B.  (If you like to be contrary, you can start with Z and work backwards.)

9.  Make ransom notes.  Recycle old manuscripts by cutting them up into sentences and words and pasting those together.    Make these into a story or use them to kidnap your neighbor's dog or rob a bank.  Kidding!  

10.  Keep a God box.  I don't know where the name for this came from, but it's a box full of stuff. Like cool things you pick up in your travels–ephemera from trips or a night on the town, fun little things, found objects, bits of jewelry.  Open the box, pick an object, and write about what the object evokes.

11. Practice description.  Grab your journal, or your computer.  Close your eyes.  Now open them.  What's the first thing you see?  Write about it as if you're describing it to an alien from another planet who has none of the same references you do.

12.  The sentence game.  Write a sentence.  Now use the last word of that sentence to start the next sentence.  See how long you can keep this going.  You can also do this with first words of sentences.

Okay, these ought to keep you going for awhile.  Do you train for writing?  What are your favorite training routines?  Please share.

Photo by theloneconspirator.

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14 Responses to In Training for Writing: A Dozen Ideas

  1. J.D. 02/13/2014 at 04:46 #

    Hi Charlotte,
    In number two you wrote “a time your character felt.” That started me thinking I can do these exercises using characters from my WIP. I know you like the pages, maybe the prompts, maybe all of it to be spontaneous. Yet it seems like a great way to explore my characters. Most everything on your list can be used in that way. I know we need to step away sometimes, but still using my characters in these exercises might be a good thing when I’m beginning a work or stuck. Take care.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 02/13/2014 at 05:47 #

    Oh, J.D., that is a fabulous idea!  It is great because sometimes people are so wrapped up in their WIPs they don't want to break away–but still need to do some training.  Thanks for the idea!

  3. Don Williams 02/13/2014 at 07:42 #

    I love all of these points, but I would also like to add one more: READING!

    I find that reading as much as I can, on as many different subjects as I can really helps to get the old inspirational brain moving. It, more-or-less, falls somewhere in the ‘prompt’ area, but reading helps my mind train to look out for new ideas, because you never know, you know, where the next great idea will pop up?

  4. Charlotte Dixon 02/13/2014 at 08:10 #

    Reading is always good for writers!  I am sometimes alarmed when writers tell me they don't read–then why do they want to write?  Thanks for chiming in, Don.

  5. Sara 02/13/2014 at 10:41 #

    I loved these ideas. I do prompt/online challenges, which give me a work-out, especially since I find word limits very difficult. I just did one for exactly 33 words. It took me forever to get it done, but I did enjoy the challenge of it.

    From your list, my favorites to try are “the sentence game,” the “God box,” and “practice description.” The most challenging for me is to write three pages every morning:~)

    Exercise, exercise, exercise. Even thinking about these suggestions makes me feel my finger muscles growing bigger:~) Thank you.

  6. Zan Marie 02/13/2014 at 12:34 #

    Wonderful list, Charlotte. I use the A to Z to explore characters. Let them tell you one word for each letter and then why it’s important. They will surprise you and usually are the kernels for good scenes.

  7. Charlotte Dixon 02/13/2014 at 14:39 #

    Thank you for reading and commenting, Sara!  I hope these suggestions do indeed end up being helpful.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 02/13/2014 at 14:40 #

    Oooh, I love that way of using A to Z, Zan Marie, thank you!

  9. Patty 02/13/2014 at 16:16 #

    All brilliant ideas Charlotte! I’ve been away from your blog for awhile (missed you) and it’s so cool to come back and find these. I would love doing any of these activities especially with a group of writer friends. Creating in community feeds my soul and it doesn’t really matter what it is: writing, painting, sewing, collaging, art journaling. And I believe that the creating we do in community transfers to our solo work and enhances it tenfold. Here’s an interesting thing that I just heard that I think is related: I finished my last class (!) and the teacher mentioned that regularly consulting with our peers is a form of ongoing training. I’d never thought of it that way. Of course he was talking about therapists but don’t you think it applies to anything we do? And now that I think of it, these Olympians are on a team, often in training *together*, hanging out with each other, practicing at the rink, comparing notes on the slopes. Constant consulting with their peers!

  10. Charlotte Dixon 02/13/2014 at 17:13 #

    Hi Patty, I've missed you, too!  I love the connection you made about training and how the Olympic teams train together.  And how fun it would be to get a group together and do some of these!  Your description of creating together made me hungry for it.  Glad to have you back!

  11. Zan Marie 02/14/2014 at 05:46 #

    It’s the brainchild of Ron Wodaski.

  12. Charlotte Dixon 02/14/2014 at 05:56 #

    I’m not familiar with him, will have to check him out.

  13. Maryse 02/23/2014 at 07:24 #

    Great ideas, Charlotte. I let myself be inspired these days, following the joy. Prompts may not work but “afternoon pages” will. Or reading. Or sharing online. The key is to keep the words flowing. ♥

  14. Charlotte Dixon 02/23/2014 at 13:38 #

    Love the phrase "following the joy."  And yeah, I agree, the point is to keep the words flowing.  I think that sometimes we get so fixated on one specific idea that we forget that.

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