Sunday, 10 April 2011

Keep-Fit for Writers:

Work those muscles with Anne Stormont

I have been asked to contribute the first item in a new ‘Words with Jam’ feature, which will offer writers, at all stages of their writing careers, some writing exercises and prompts.

Writing exercises serve several purposes. They can be done as a warm-up session for writers wanting to ‘get in the zone’ for developing their work-in-progress. They can be done to provide variety to the writing experience, or to take a writer out of their comfort zone. Sometimes they serve as useful prompts when an author has got a bit stuck, or to kick start a sluggish imagination. Exercises can be set up to provide a training regime in a particular genre or in different ways to approach writing. They can also prove to be valuable sources of inspiration for longer, fully developed pieces of work.

But most of all, writing exercises ensure that a writer, who may be very busy with ‘real’ life demands, does at least some sort of training almost every day. They keep the writing muscle healthy – short jogs and sprints that prepare you for the marathon that is a short story collection, a book of poems or a novel.

And as with gym or jogging time, it’s a good idea to diary in a time when you do a burst of writing exercise – first thing in the morning, or in your lunch hour, on the train… It doesn’t matter as long as you make that appointment with your personal muse.

You may want to buy a new notebook and pen for your exercises or you may prefer a word processor. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you write.

I would recommend giving yourself a set time – ten minutes or twenty – again whatever suits you - and try to write continuously for that time. Also don’t edit or censor – really go with the flow.

I thought I’d start us all off with some short exercises which are suitable for beginners, but may well be useful to folks who are further along the writing career path.

‘I Remember’
Lots of little memories or one big one, or your earliest one. A chance for some sensory exploration here.

‘The Place I Love the Most in the World’
Honeymoon island, mountain top, your bed, childhood home…Be as detailed and vivid as you can.

‘My Biggest Challenge’ 
Explore your feelings of – fear, gratitude, grief, disbelief, anger, achievement…

‘Night Sky’
Recall an experience of a starry night, of how you felt in relation to the universe.

‘Steal a Sentence’ 
Open any book you have to hand. Pick a page number and write down the first complete sentence from that page. Now develop a story from that sentence. (Taking the first line of a poem works well too).

Good luck with your workouts. And remember be direct and write from the heart.


(I’d like to acknowledge Natalie Goldman’s book Writing down the Bones which has often come to my aid when I’ve needed an authorly workout. Some of the above ideas are adapted from her suggestions).

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