Tag Archives: Writer Resources

Nuts ‘N’ Bolts: Writing Exercises

writing notebook Firstly, an apology.  Observant readers will note that today is Thursday.  Yes, I am a day late in posting.  Sorry.  Life got in the way, in the shape of a migraine, and it’s not funny trying to write with tunnel vision and the pain equivalent of a knitting needle stuck through your eyeball.  I figured I might sound somewhat distracted (as indeed I was), so in the spirit of demonstrating how important self care is, I bugged off and went to bed.  Today’s post is something of a restart.

For a while I have been feeling the itch to get back to writing original fiction.  I’ve been working on fanfiction almost exclusively for a couple of years now, and while it has been hugely instructive in terms of both technique and confidence, I feel like it is time to start making some personal headway again.  Hence the restart.

Getting back to basics is one way to do this if, like me, you are feeling a little at sea when it comes to what to write about.  And one of the best basics to get back to is the marvellous tool that is the writing exercise.

Writing exercises are based on the idea of stream-of-consciousness and free association.  You sit down with your notebook and write for a set amount of time, without judgement or criticism.  You are free to make mistakes, try stuff out, experiment with new words, phrases, images, metaphors.  This is a free-form space where there are no mistakes, only ideas tried on for fit and comfort.

What you need:

  • An allowance of time (10 minutes, 15, half an hour if you have it, or the luxury of more.)
  • A notebook (maybe your writing notebook, or one you keep specially for exercises).
  • A good pen that you can write easily with.
  • A timer.
  • A quiet space to work.
  • A prompt.

What to do:

Maybe you sit down to write at your desk, and your brain goes blank, or worse, is crowded with too many ideas that are too big to fit into 10 minutes or whoever long you have got, and you freeze.

Say hello to your little friend, the prompt.

A prompt is a word, sentence or idea that you use to start you off.  Write it in your notebook.  You may like to start a fresh page, thus allowing yourself a psychological fresh start.  Set your timer to your allotted amount of time, and off you go.

You start writing whatever comes into your head.  You might be writing about yourself, the way you would in your journal, or you might be writing about a character, or from a character’s point of view.  You might describe a scene or an experience.  Keep writing.  Whatever appears on the movie screen of your brain, write it down. And the next thing.  And the next thing.  Keep going until the bell rings and your time is up.

This is a great way of generating material, especially if you are the kind of writer who finds building up words a process of torture.  It is also good for exploring the backstory of your characters, finding out what makes them tick.  And of course, you will occasionally find yourself coming back to reality in the middle of a short story that you didn’t even know you had in you, as I often do.

I like to do two or three 15 minute exercises at one sitting, which allows me to really get into the groove.  You may not have time for that, and that’s okay.  The important thing is that you do the exercises.  And do one daily.  Limber up.  Get into the Habit of Art.

If you find it hard to get yourself into the mood, or to make time, writing exercises are a great tool to use with others.  Arrange to meet up with a writing pal at the local café, and do a few prompts together.  You don’t have to share what you have written if you don’t want to, but if you make an appointment with someone else, you are more likely to show up at the page and do the work.

Where to find prompts:

Ah! I hear you cry.  But where am I supposed to find these fabled prompts?

Well, there are plenty of books around that offer just these kinds of starting grounds.  I am very fond of the following:

‘A Writer’s Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves

‘The Writer’s Block’ by Jason Rekulak

‘The Writer’s Idea Book’ by Jack Heffron.

Search the internet for ‘writers prompts’, or check out http://creativewritingprompts.com/, which is a delight.

In the meantime, here are a few to get you started:

  • What does your character carry in their pockets and why?
  • I woke with a start…
  • Heat
  • My first pet
  • A favourite meal

Happy Writing!


There’s No Time to Write! (Part 2 – in which the author comes clean about what being a writer is really like)

So today, according to my editorial calendar, you were supposed to be reading a detailed and amusing essay on why writing exercises are a great way to get yourself writing, even when there is little time.

And then life got in the way.

It does that, doesn’t it?

I am a big devotee of those home interiors and lifestyle blogs that tell you all about how to organise your cleaning equipment, how to update that hideous credenza with a quick lick of paint (here’s one I did earlier), and offer funky downloadable printouts of chore lists and records for when you last took the dog for his shots.  You know the ones?  The ones that are supposed to make you feel like your life is amazing and completely within your control, but actually make you feel like one of those weird hoarding people who live on indoor garbage heaps in documentaries.

Reading this blog, you might feel just that way too.  You may think I’ve got it all together.  That I write oodles of books and I’m so productive.  Well, I’ll let you into a dirty little secret – I’m not.

Just like the lovely ladies who write those amazing lifestyle and organising blogs, I have mess, and piles of dirty laundry, and weeds in the garden.  I get up in the morning and really don’t feel like writing.  Or there is just no time.  Like today.  I seriously did not feel like doing my Morning Pages today.  I felt ill and all I wanted to do was sleep.  I wanted to scream at anybody who came near me, and then get under the duvet and have the world just GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!

(I’m sure you are familiar with those kinds of days.)

Sometimes it happens.  It probably even happened to Dickens.  What the hell.

I didn’t beat myself up about it.  Instead, I wrote my Morning Pages.  I scribbled three pages of growls and groans about how I have no time to do the things I want to do because I’m faffing about doing a bunch of other stuff that is urgent but not important.  In the course of those three pages, I realised that the reason why I am so crabby today is that I haven’t written a story in weeks.

I’m crabby because I am not writing.


At this point, it becomes profoundly obvious that even a fifteen minute writing exercise has to be fitted in to today.  Otherwise I will be up before the beak for homicide!

This is why you have to make time to write:  because if you are a writer, you need to write in the same way as you need to eat your greens and take exercise.  Writing makes you sane.

The distance between sanity and insanity is the width of a pen nib.

(I wrote that years ago, it’s good isn’t it?!)

And you’d better believe it.

So join me in stopping the grumps.  Get out your writers notebook and try the following exercise.  I guarantee it will make you feel better.

Writing Exercise:

Get a timer and set it for fifteen minutes – ten, if you are really pushed.  Write down the following phrase and then finish it as a sentence.

I haven’t written anything lately because….

Let your mind tumble onto the page.  It doesn’t matter if it is a list of reasons, like that your husband ought to put the kids to bed a bit more often so that you can have some time to yourself, or that you’ve got the finish that damned presentation to give at work first thing tomorrow.  Maybe it’s that you have a character rumbling about in your head but you are having trouble with some aspect of him or her, in which case, write that down too, and expand on the problem.  If you keep on writing until the pinger goes, you may just have found the edge of a solution.

Write whatever comes to mind.  Complain, moan, plan, get excited, drone, create, wonder what subjects you are interested in.  Whatever you need to get down.   At the end of fifteen minutes, I guarantee you will have either worked out what is stopping you (and if you are anything like me, it may turn out to be that YOU are what is stopping you), or you may have come up with a plan of how to carve out some time to write, or you may even have come up with a new story idea or scene.

Whatever.  The important thing is that you just spent fifteen minutes writing.  Hooray!  Now do it again.  Maybe today.  Maybe tomorrow.  But do it.