I used to be one of those writers that thought that I knew too much already, that I didn’t need exercises in order to become a better writer.
I used to be the one that would think that all I needed to do was just sit my butt down on the chair and write. That it was all a matter of practice and if I sat down and wrote every day I would get better by some magic or something. That my mistakes would go away just by the repetition of putting one word after the other. That I would absorb the knowledge by just listening to techniques and that when I sat down to work on my novel, they would simply melt into my writing, no extra effort required.
Boy, was I wrong!
I had never taken a creative writing class until now. The exercises my professor introduced us to and the way she is teaching us to use our readings as resources not only for techniques but also for inspiration for new ideas of our own are just marvelous. It has changed my life. It has even changed my writing style in just one week, making it better. It is almost scary to see how much my writing has improved by doing some writing exercises and, especially, by analyzing how short stories work.
The stories I’ve read have not been read only for the pleasure of reading them, but with the objective of revising how the point of view (POV) worked for that story (a.k.a. understanding why that story couldn’t have worked if it had been written in any other POV), how the authors showed theme without actually telling you, how the authors brought the characters or settings to life with just a few details.
With new understanding of how others have done it, I have been able to bring new life into my work, making it more vivid and real. And isn’t that exactly what we want in our writing?
Two of the exercises I have been introduced to in my class are the following:
- Write a scene trying to convey an emotion (e.g.
Awed, Terrified, Grief-stricken, Jealous, Overwhelmed, Relieved, Infatuated, Cheerful, Guilty, Frustrated, Exhausted, Remorseful, Repulsed, Agitated, Exasperated, Elated, Impatient, Shy), but do not, by any means, mention the emotion or a synonym in the scene. As my professor said: show the emotion, don’t tell it.
- Make a list of firsts and lasts (e.g. first time I kiss him, last time I smoked a cigarette…) that are true or false, then pick one. If it is true, write about it but add a fictional element. If it is false, try introducing a true element of your life.
Just this two exercises have given my two brand new ideas for stories that I wouldn’t have thought of. For example, if I hadn’t tried exercise 2, I would have never thought that my life would have interesting moments worth exploring and maybe turned into story.
These ideas I present are nothing new. They are recommended almost daily by very accomplished writers, but most of us are too proud to admit we need to apply them. We think we can do it without listening to the experience of others, that we are different somehow.
We are not. We can all improve our writing even more. Exercises help with this. And we don’t need to do them every single day to improve. Once a week, once a month… whatever is better for your schedule.
This class I’m taking has changed me, but I know that knowing about other people’s experiences doesn’t make you actually make you a believer.
So I challenge you to try.
Try to read novels and short stories with the vision of a writer, searching for what works and what doesn’t, for what inspires you and what you hate.
Try some exercises and you’ll be surprised.
Some resources for exercises:
- Your closest college class as it gives you no excuse not to do the exercises (if you are still in college or are willing to sign up for one)
- Writing Excuses (excellent podcast!)
- Books with writing exercises:
The breakout novelist by Donald Maas.
3 AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley
and as many you can find. There are so many!