Last week I talked about my writing business. I am the CEO of my writing business—along with everything else. I’ve noticed that many large corporations offer workout rooms for their executives. Physical exercise makes for good mental and physical health. I get it. I engage in physical exercise; but since I’m a part-time writer, I do the physical exercise on my “own time.”
I do, however, exercise my writing muscle on a regular basis. This is during my scheduled three-hour workday but apart from my big projects. Generally, I only go to one part of my writing gym each day to get my writing off to a good start. I refer to these exercises as time spent in my writing gym.
Benefits to Engaging in Writing Exercises Abound
So here is a little tour of my writing gym, the workout stations you’ll find and how each of these exercises benefit you as a writer. These work for me. Try them but feel free to explore other forms of writing exercises that meet your needs.
Station 1- Warm-Ups
These exercises put my brain in gear and get my creative juices flowing. In fact, there is abundant research to support the notion that people often think better when they put a pen or pencil to paper.
When I taught at the university, I would tell my students to never leave an essay question blank. I told them that even if they couldn’t remember ANYTHING about the topic to start by copying the key words in the essay question or to simply start writing “I’m not sure where to begin.” Anything to get the pencil on the paper. The very act of writing triggers the brain to access information we don’t know we know. Seriously. It opens the floodgates. Words will begin to pour out on paper and new ideas will take shape. My students learned this valuable lesson. Often, though their start was shaky, they “suddenly remembered” something about the topic. Even partial points were better than getting a zero.
I keep a list of what I need to write next on a project or topics I’d like to write about on this blog. Even if I feel clueless, I don’t sit and stare at a blank sheet of paper. I start writing. I may eventually throw out the first paragraph or the whole draft, but those first warm-up words get me started.
Station 2- Stretching
Exercises at this station are designed to stretch me as a writer. Here is an example. Flash fiction is a complete story (read characters and plot fully developed) in about 1500 words or less. I had never tried it, so I put it as a novelty in my exercise gym. I think of it as a kind of Pilates ball added to my aerobic routine. It strengthens my core. Here is an example:
I “exercised” using flash fiction for a week. First, I wrote a single sentence to try to capture the essence of my story. I spent the next few days “training.” Writing a fully developed story in 1500 words with a beginning, middle and end and making the characters people you can care about is a challenge. You have to make every word count. Never written flash fiction before? Try it. It is a great exercise. By the way, I put the story aside for a while, took it out later and exercised my revising and editing muscle.
Here is another one. Craft a tweet that captures the essence of your story in 280 characters…hey that’s up from 140 so I can squeeze in a lot more! When I am working on a novel, I stretch myself every once in a while this way. It helps me focus on my storyline and gives me fodder for an elevator pitch or twitter pitch when I’m ready to seek out a publisher.
There are other ways to stretch as a writer. You can try a new genre or move from fiction to nonfiction. You can try to write from a different perspective. Any of these strengthen you as a writer. Be creative at this station.
These are exercises with deadlines. With them, I have actually turned writing exercises into cash.
In my writing gym I keep a list of writing prompts from Chicken Soup for the Soul to use as writing exercises.I also note the date the story is due. When I have a story I think is good, I submit it. As a result of those exercises I have published threes stories to date in Chicken Soup for the Soulbooks. And they pay. Of course the money goes right back into my writing, but it’s fun to hold that book in your hand. It is a measure of success –an affirmation that you are indeed a writer.
You may want to pitch a story or article to magazine or journal. Read their guidelines, do a bit of research, draft your query letter, and exercise your writing muscle as a freelance writer. Freelance generally pays little but it helps you build your writing resume.
Station 4- Strength Through Team Building
Although writing may be done in isolation, publishing is usually a team effort. You may have an agent or an editor you work with on a regular basis. Or not. You shouldbelong to a group of writers. If you can’t find one near you, form a group or join an online group.
Team building helps each member build strength, grow as a writer, and remain consistent. Teams often meet on a regular basis. So how does this fit into my writing gym?
I’ll offer two suggestions here, both in my writing gym currently. They are part of one project. (It doesn’t always work that way.) I mentioned last week that I have a story being released soon that is part of an anthology. All nine stories in the book take place in Ohio.
Each author helped with editing and revisions for at least two stories aside from their own. This strengthens my own writing and gives me insight into how other writers build their craft.
The second is guest blogging. Bloggers like having a guest author on their posts from time-to-time. I am working on a blog post for Sandra Merville Hart’s blog, Historical Nibbles. It’s related to my entry in the anthology. I, in turn will be featuring some of the other authors on my blog as well. I have to write my post for Sandra’s blog according to her guidelines and she will need to write her post to fit my readers. These kinds of exercises help us grow as writers.
Those are the four stations in my writing gym. They are exercises that make me a stronger, more productive writer.
What do you do to build your writing muscle?