Jun 1, 2012

6 Reasons to Try Writing Exercises

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:
  1. 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!).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


  1. I agree! I like your story, especially all the various music references. I think I might try out this prompt

  2. Very clever piece. Nice character study. Just one little niggling point. I would have liked you to paint the opening scene with him staring at the TV - perhaps while he is picking the crumbs out of his beard.

  3. I love writing exercises. My writing group regularly gets together to take part in them. Next week we're meeting at a coffee shop, drawing locations from a hat, then spreading out all over town to write in different locations while we observe people in our respective surroundings. Then we're meeting together after an hour and reading our work. It's a nice break to work on something shorter since we're all used to working on longer pieces.

  4. Favorite moment: When he jumps out of the chair and shocks her with a swift, simple and noisome, 'yes!'

    I enjoyed reading this, Charmaine.

  5. Excellent suggestions for how to improve in specific areas. Cheers.


  6. That was a short but it draws the reader in well. I love the narration. Thanks! I hope to read more from you

  7. Hi,

    Over from RFW.

    Good atmospheric piece, sense of angst, and contented character conclusion, and the reader left thinking the *man* is a total sh*t. ;)

    The RFW prompts are fun, and if nothing else 400 word count teaches one to hone work to the bone: she says, she who has gone over word count.


  8. This is very clever. It is enough at the beginning that he 'reaches for the remote' to give us a clue.

  9. Do blog posts count?
    And I'm not good at the romance stuff either.

  10. i really liked this, especially with all of the musical stuff in it!

  11. What a wonderful short. I love how he's trying to find things about the other person by their taste in music. Also, love the seven points.

  12. I struggle with certain genres as well, including romance. I joined RFW but didn't have even a faint idea for this prompt; I enjoyed what you did with it :-)

  13. Wow, thanks for all the responses!
    In reflection, I've removed his beard and given him a jumper instead - I think the beard made him sound a bit old (not everyone thinks they're a sexy as I do).

    I look forward to reading everyone's stories in RFW!

  14. Hi my friend. Love the post on writing exercises. You know I'm a big fan. RFW is at the very least a regular writing exercise to grow our writing muscle. Thanks so much for jumping into this prompt. I thought you'd done the romance very well at the end then you did that Aussie thing - the only thing some men get excited over is the gee-gees, lol!

    Lovely that you convinced Heather to give RFW a try.

    And I didn't miss the Kenny Rogers reference and I loved Demos bloody Russos, priceless. Beards with crumbs, not so much! Hubs used to have a beard and a mo' in the hippie 70s and he used to be called Jesus Christ. A lot to live up to, especially with the crumbs!


  15. I like the musical selections in your piece. :)

    Years ago I wouldn't do writing exercises. I was strictly novel writing. Now I don't mind working on flash fiction and other things. They enhance my writing skills and I learn new things.

  16. Good thoughts about why writing exercises can be helpful.

    I like the musical references. Some things can only be said with a song:

    I remember feeling very close to my mother when suddenly a clip of John Denver singing 'Annie's song' was aired on the TV. We both stopped to listen; my father didn't have a clue.

    Your story fits the theme well too.

    Best wishes,
    Anna's RFWers Challenge No 37 'Yes, No, oh, alright then.'

  17. Dear Charmaine,
    Great ending!!! I have to admit that I like all the singers you mentioned. Being a romantic, I can't help but like their style of music. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Awesome, unique take on a typical love relationship :) Why do I love him, why do I stay, does he really love me; what does he get out of it?

    All such normal questions to ask; yet each woman's experience is so unique to her. I liked all the ways she went back and forth to question him, then the simple thing that convinced her without any real change on his part.

    Women; why do men think we're so complicated :)

    Well done with the pacing, voice, and characterizations. You wrote engaging characters, developed them, and drew me in to see what would happen with this so one sided argument.

    Thanks for participating with RFW Charmaine.

    And that was a great lesson in prompt writing. I was nodding in agreement through the points - lots of reinforcement on my own thoughts. I'm not a "romance" writer either, but these prompts have helped me write romantic concepts into my novels and short stories.

    Thanks for a great excerpt, and for the writing advice. I enjoyed both.


  19. That was some twist at the end. I was just convinced that he really cared and then the clue of the horse race to burst the bubble.

    Well done.

    My entry has a similar feel, yet different. My heroine is questioning her decision whether to marry her guy.

  20. LOL. I had to laugh at the end. Very cleverly done, Charmaine.

    Welcome to RFW. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  21. All great advice and very important.
    Thank you for sharing with us.

  22. Lovely site. Saw you on linked in.

  23. Thanks for coming by my blog. If you wanted to hook up with my workshop hop, would love to have you! Especially if you like writing prompts....:)

  24. Thanks for all your tips ... I completely agree that getting out of your writing rut is very healthy! I made a personal goal a couple years ago of writing a story a week. I didn't actually pull it off for a whole year as I intended, but it was such good writing exercise for me!

    I loved your story, especially the twist at the end, which explains it all. :) ha ha!