Friday, July 25, 2008

Making A Literary Life: Writing Exercises

In keeping with Lisa's post about it taking 10,000 hours to become proficient at writing fiction, we should all probably be exercising more. Do you regularly get into the rhythm of writing or do you skip your routine as fast as you can say the word treadmill?

Some of us use writing exercises to jumpstart our writing and some of us don't. But each of us at the Writers' Group writes regularly. What do you do to keep yourself in flow? If you've come across any good resources for writing exercises, please share.

I read good writing before I prop my fingers on the keyboard. A paragraph. Maybe a page. I choose a writer whose prose makes me shake my head in wonder; how are some people so clever? At the Muse & the Marketplace this past spring, I was surprised to hear Lois Lowry say she always starts a writing session by reading poetry. I am convinced it jump starts that language part of my brain.

Amy MacKinnon
When I think of flow, I think of yoga. Not only does it help my body, it's crucial to my writing. A series of sun salutations to quiet the mind and then the ideas flow too.

There are so many stages to writing, I don't use specific exercises as there is always something new in front of me. For example, with my revisions, I put all comments onto one copy, and now am nearly done writing out changes to make, a bit in keeping with Hallie Ephron's High-Low approach. Today or tomorrow, the actual edits start, and oh, yes, there's a story coming into my head captured thus far both on notecards and on the computer -- angles on character, plot, backstory, lines that make me laugh and with luck, will do the same for others! A little George Harrison music as I prepare to sit to write doesn't hurt.

One of my favorite writing exercises came from one of my Grub Street instructors, Stace Budzko. I still use his setting exercise from time to time. I really enjoy dipping in and out of Brett Anthony Johnston's Naming the World: And other exercises for the creative writer. In it you'll find ideas from Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Bausch, and Ann Packer to name a few. And my daughter is quite fond of Judy Reeves's (no relation), A Writer's Book of Days; it's a lovely book which includes writing prompts for every day.


Lisa said...

Every time I take a class with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, we always start with at least one 10 minute free write and I'm amazed at what frequently comes from the exercises. You just motivated me to order a book that I've noticed has some very useful prompts: THE 3 A.M. EPIPHANY, by Brian Kiteley. I've got a couple of books with prompts, but I've noticed that the best results come from those prompts that are especially designed to force me into writing in a specific way -- as opposed to prompts that are merely ideas to begin writing a paragraph or story. I find the timed freewrite with very focused instructions really helps me to improve and I'm going to incorporate one of these into each of my writing sessions from now on, so thanks for the great idea.

Joanne said...

I def need a transition time between the busy-ness of life and my writing hours. A quiet coffee, and like Lisa, reading others' good writing; sometimes a walk changes the gears too. And sometimes checking in with blog friends, too, gets the writing started ;) Have a nice wknd.

Hallie Ephron said...

One of the best writing exercises ever is one Nancy Pickard gave us at a class she taught for New England Sisters in Crime. I call it the “Go to Your Darkest Place” exercise. Use it to prepare for writing the most difficult and emotionally wrought scenes and making them truly powerful.

It involves remembering some painful moment from your own past when you felt that emotion (grief, fear, hatred, envy, lust…) that you want your character to convey. Close your eyes and remember fully--what happened, what you saw, what you felt. Then write it.

After you finish, you’re ready to write the scene in your novel—it’s amazing what you can get in touch with as a writer and how much better the scene comes out.

Patry Francis said...

As for me, I just read the Writer's Group Blog. You always inspire me!

I love Hallie's suggestion, too.

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