The Usefulness of Writing Exercises
Most often, this fickleness applies to activities. Like cooking, for instance. I'll go on a kick where I'm interested in cooking. I buy cookbooks, I look up recipes, I watch the Food Network, I actually cook meals and occasionally even bake things. Then it all falls apart. My interest wanes, and it's back to cooking the simplest of dishes, buying dinner from the take-out counter at Whole Foods, or going out.
Same thing with knitting. I'll get inspired and suddenly I vow to be the best, most prolific knitter ever. I browse websites for patterns, visit the yarn store, start a million new projects. And then, poof. It's all gone. I set my knitting down and it may be months before I pick it up again.
I've gone through this with painting, and sewing (though I did sustain an interest in that long enough to actually design and sell clothes for awhile). I go through it regularly with gardening.
Honestly, the only thing that has ever sustained my interest over the long haul is writing. As I've often repeated to anyone who will listen to me, writing never gets boring because there is always something new to learn about it.
However, I will admit to some fickleness around my allegiance to certain aspects of the writing life. Writing exercises spring to mind.
I've been known to advocate for writing exercises at certain points in my writing life. And then, fickle me will abandon them. I'll get rolling on my latest project and convince myself I don't need writing exercises any more. I may even get a little snotty in my own brain and tell myself that writing exercises are for beginners.
Until the writing stalls. And then, fishing about for ways to get the words flowing again, I hit on writing exercises.
It's funny, because practitioners of other creative genres rely on exercises and warm-ups as an integral part of their practices–dancers and musicians spring readily to mind. Yet we writers (because I don't think I'm alone in my sometimes-disdain for them) are far too apt to dismiss them as irrelevant.
Last weekend, after not having written for a couple of weeks due to the fact I was in Louisville for the Spalding MFA spring residency and then had a gazillion things to catch up on, I cast about for a way to get started again. And remembered a handout I'd gotten during a workshop in Louisville that had a writing exercise on it. I resisted for awhile, convincing myself I could just launch in on my own. But that didn't happen. So I followed the writing exercise (it is a multi-part thing, semi-complicated, or I would reproduce it here).
And damned if that didn't do the trick.
So, I'm suddenly enamored of writing exercises again. I found an old book by Marge Piercy and Ira Wood called So You Want to Write, and discovered it has some good exercises at the end of each chapter. I'm looking through my library of writing books for more ideas.
We'll see how long this enthusiasm for writing exercises lasts.
Here's why I think they work: because they give you some structure to hang your words on. No longer are you facing the empty page (or screen). You've got somebody telling you what to do. Which is helpful when you don't exactly know what to do.
And here's my best tip for working with writing exercises: use them in relationship to your current project. This helps me to convince myself that I'm not wasting my time, since I'll be generating ideas and scenes for my WIP. The other thing I find is that while doing this, ideas for other projects come up. I just had a brilliant (she said modestly) image for a short story appear, for instance.
Over the years, I've put up a few pages and posts that contain writing exercises. Since I'm on a writing exercise high, I list them here:
That's enough about me and the writing exercises I like. What about you? Do you use writing exercises? Do you have a favorite one you would like to share?
Photo by brokenarts.