I’ve been trying to figure out why writing exercises bore me. The writer’s group I belong to used to assign them on a regular basis as homework but few people did them. The lack of response made me realize why I find exercises boring. Most don’t seem geared toward teaching writing. They seem more like writing prompts to help someone blocked. Think about it. The most common writing exercises sound like this. Write about an attic. Write about your first friend. Well, personally I don’t learn much from those. I want to improve my craft, not come up with new subjects to write about. That I can do on my own.
A few exercises though, do help. Ones that say, for instance, to take a work in progress and write a portion of it from a different point of view. Those challenge me because it forces me to try something outside my normal safe boundaries. But somehow even that type of exercise doesn’t feel like enough.
I’m not saying this because I think I have nothing to learn about the craft. It’s the opposite. The problem is finding out what works for me. I’m sorry, but the creative writing instructor who told me to write about a peanut didn’t teach me anything.
In contrast, I’ve learned a lot from books like Jessica Morrell’s ‘Between the Lines’. Her section, for example, on prologues, when they work, why they fail, and when they should be used, taught me a lot. And that’s how I learn. Show me why something works or doesn’t, and send me away to play. I learn, too, from having my work edited. If someone suggests looking at how the work changes by flipping the order of a sentence, or by using a more active word, I’ll go away with my pages, play with the words, and learn.
Which doesn’t really sound like an exercise in writing any more than a list of prompts. Exercise is supposed to make us work though so I suppose in the long run what’s important isn’t how you define an exercise in writing but what the end result is for the writer.
So what constitutes exercise in your writing? How do you learn and challenge your ability? How do you make sure you continue to grow as a writer?
4 thoughts on “Daily Exercise”
Hi Lisa! I like this post. I find those exercises boring, too. I’m currently writing about my childhood which were recommended in the book, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and also Writing for Children by Pamela Cleaver. I think that when there’s more description in the writing exercise challenge, if it’s taken from the work of someone, then my imagination works better. Thanks for sharing this, Lisa! 🙂
Hello Len. You might just be right, that more description aids in making the exercise more challening. Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg are such great authors. Do any particular exercises come to mind?
I just came over from Len’s blog.
Writing exercises bore me. I read Page After Page, which was a good book, but I didn’t do even one writing prompt. The only one I found fun was at a conference, during a dialogue workshop, we had to write ten things about our protagonist. Then we traded lists and had to write a monologue in the voice of another writer’s character. I got really into it. From that, we took our monologues and made them into dialogues. It taught me I could write in the voice of a very young person.
Writing, especially a first draft, should not feel like homework!
Hi Theresa. That’s an interesting exercise regarding writing about your protagonist. Sounds kind of like filling out those character dossiers. It also sounds like something productive in that you’d be working on building a character or learning about the character. And writing the monologue sounds productive, too. Those are so much more interesting than reading lists of writing prompts. I think I’ll give them a try. So what’s making your first draft feel like homework?