When you have a manuscript you're working on, it can be easy to assume writing exercises will just take away valuable time from that WIP. Why waste a thousand words on random things when you really need to get that scene down with the alligator and the microwave?
There's lots of reasons to try writing exercises:
- Perfect one aspect of your writing. Especially when you are starting out, you can separate each learning tool and perfect it until you move on. This mastering method works well with school children and can be good for us too. For example, dialogue was something I struggled with at first and so I didn't have a lot in my work. I've done so many workshops on it now that I feel a lot more confident (but still find new ways to tighten it!).
- Free your mind up to explore new ideas for your WIP. Writers are usually not short of ideas, because we a strong on the imagination side, but sometimes weak on the structure jobs. Ideas are great but they can be a big jumbled mess. By trying different exercises you can clarify those ideas and develop a complete plot (or maybe come up with a great sub-plot for your WIP). Free writing is a good one for this, or clustering.
- Find out the true motivation of your characters (they're sneaky, sometimes they lie to you at first). We have our story idea, we know what happens, but sometimes there are parts where our characters perform a necessary act for the story, but lack an appropriate motivation. By trying exercises and using your character in them, you can get a feel for why they do the things they do, and again might come up with more material for your WIP.
- Give yourself a break from your WIP. It can get draining working on the same thing, especially if your piece is something that requires a lot of research or hits an emotional nerve. If you're writing about a tragedy, you might just need to try a short comic piece to pull you through the slump.
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try a different genre or writing style. I've taken courses on genres I don't write. I even signed up for a class to write sizzling sex scenes - and I never use those. It doesn't matter, it helps me see things from a different angle (which could be quite disturbing in a sex scene). I freely admit I suck at romance. So what if I never write a romance novel? Some of my characters are teens and romance is still an important element. I intend to try and learn more about that genre to help me in my genre.
- Connect with other writers. Blog challenges are a great way to try something new and see how different writers approach the same prompt. Why not sign up to try a Haiku or flash fiction? There's always plenty of exercises online to try.
So wether you sign up for a class, try a blog challenge, read a book on writing exercises or just sit down to write in your journal, it all helps, nothing is wasted. Today, I'm having a go at romance! Want to have a go? Go sign up at Romantic Friday Writers here's the prompt:
And here is my piece:
The Tune of Love
Country ballads? He shrugs. What about Kenny Rogers? He picks biscuit crumbs from his polo shirt.
Sinatra, or Elvis, older Elvis? His only reaction a cringe.
Meatloaf then? Demis bloody Roussos? His figure leans forward, but only to reach the remote.
His CD collection gives her no clue. An almost random compilation of artists, common only by the fact that they are all gifts. Each one revealing something about the giver but not the receiver. She remembers crying and yearning to so many different ballads over the years. Has he never felt that passion?
She accuses him of not liking love songs. He answers that he doesn't not like them. She thinks he never really wanted to get married, he just didn't not want to. Maybe he just doesn't not love her. She puts this to him, but he doesn't react. She suddenly realises, after all these years, she can't remember seeing him cry or yell or belt out a really hearty laugh.
She asks if he likes any songs from The Carpenters. This is a trick. He says he doesn't know. She reminds him that he sang Close to You on their first date. It was as a joke, but it should still matter. He is quiet and she thinks he won't remember ever loving her. She gasps when he jumps out of his chair and yells, "Yes!"
He dances her around the living room, lifting her feet from the ground and kisses her forehead many times. She smiles. She is loved. Elation as she leaves the room, he is hers. Close to You will be their song.
He sits back down deep into the sofa, still grinning as he watches the horse he backed in a trifecta being led to the winner's circle.