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Archive for the ‘Writing Exercise’ Category

Becoming a writer is just that – a becoming. Like our 18th birthdays when we become an adult, we know that despite the fact that we are legally recognized as an adult, we are too young to drink and we don’t know anything about what it means to be an adult. It takes years of being of age and feeling the pride, the sting, the work that is required to truly become an adult. Despite all the years of practice, some people never become adults.

Writing is the same. We slowly grow into a writer by studying the craft, learning from successful writers, and practice.

Loads and loads of practice.


We write short stories, try our hand at poetry, launch into a novel. We stumble, fall, are rejected and hopefully, we try again.


Just as infants first roll over, then crawl, stand, and the finally walk, learning the craft of writing (or any craft) is the same. Start by watching others, reading the works of authors who have successfully published again and again. Make this first activity a goal:


Make a list of book you want to read this year. How many books can you read in a month?

Put the list into alphabetical order (or in order according to publication dates).

Start today.

Keep notes on what you read, reflect on why the stories are wonderful

(or not, and you scratch your head wondering why that dribble was published and not your own work?

…this comment based on personal experience ūüôā

books

In between reading, and working your other job, making meals, and finding time to exercise, you should find time to write. I suggest this next exercise with a little hesitation:

For a week, track how many words you write.

At the end of the week, reflect about what you did on the days when your word count was excellent.

What did you do on the days you didn’t write much at all?

Remember you are human and there are people in your life who need you.

This is the basic principle of NaNoWriMo.com. National Novel Writing Month (November for Novelist) is a month-long challenge that provides daily inspiration and motivation to write as much as possible – the goal being a 50,000 words. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this.

Benefit – this is a BICAW (butt in chair and write) challenge. It breaks through some of life’s distractions and focuses efforts into one thing – get the words on paper.

Drawback – The result of BICAW stories is more of a ‘diamond in the rough’ than a polished gem.

If you want to challenge yourself to write a much as possible in one day, one week, or one month, I highly recommend you invest the time beforehand to prepare your story as much as possible. Outline, brainstorm, collect snippets of ideas to have by your side before your BICAW adventure.

The purpose of this challenge is for you to go into writing prepared, but to also keep track of what prevents you from writing. It’s more of an exercise in scheduling and lifestyle; an intentional examination of what works and what doesn’t.

Find the balance to be a present human being and a prolific writer. Yeah‚Ķgood luck ūüôā


Take a break from the story you are working on and work on the query letter to an agent or publisher.

(For help with query letters, spend some time reading www.queryshark.com )

I discovered a hidden benefit when I work on a query letter Рit sharpens my purpose in writing that particular story. Every story need a purpose, a lesson, theme, moral, statement Рwhatever you wish Рbut it must be there. Many books on the shelves have less than desirable purposes and morals. That is up to you to decide if you are writing a social justice statement (i.e. To Kill a Mockingbird), a tale of to-die-for teenage lust (Twilight), or expressing Christian values (anything by C.S. Lewis, but particularly The Chronicles of Narnia).

When a story starts to fall flat or when I just need a break from writing, I switch gears to work on the query or the synopsis. It’s a nice break from writing scenes, it keeps me focused on the story, and quite often leads to a story break-through.

confidence

If there was a common, and yet thin, connection between these three exercises, it’s that writing does not always include writing. Reading, thinking and, people watching. Seek balance, seek mentors, seek to be successful. Oh, and don’t forget to exercise confidence!

 

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It’s March and we’ve long forgotten our New Year’s Resolutions. The fervor with which we planned the success of this year in January is probably frozen solid…we’ve certainly had the weather for that here in Michigan. (FYI – It was 14 below zero this morning…a temp so common now that school wasn’t cancelled despite the fact that it was when the temps were 10 below zero in January.)

Shake off those March doldrums, pour a glass of something you normally drink in the summer, and roll up your sleeves. It’s time to gear up and resurrect the goals for this year.

Speaking personally, this means that the novel I thought I could wrap up in December needs to be complete by the end of this month. I set an unrealistic deadline for myself during the Christmas season. It happens.

To keep myself on track, I did this for the month of February:

A Plan: Create an editorial calendar for the next month.¬†Write down 5-10 things you want to accomplish and schedule time to¬† complete those takes on a calendar. At the end of the month, be honest¬†with yourself and reflect on how you did. What worked? What didn’t? Repeat¬†for the next month.

Writing Time isn’t always spent writing. Much of the time, I stare¬†out the window as I need to first visualize a scene before I can write it. Although I appear to be day dreaming…well, that’s exactly what I’m doing, except I do need to come back to my desk to write down my day dreams. That’s where a plan is handy.

In February, I did well planning my journaling and blogging, but novel writing took a back seat.¬†I’m going to work on that this month by spending my¬†Wednesday writing time making notes for scenes. Thursday is my big writing day. Thursday is the day my husband is home in the afternoon, giving me from 1:00 – 9:00 PM to write. I do take breaks, but I’ve set a goal to have close to 3,000 well-written words every Thursday. Lofty, I know.

I’ve taken this exercise a step further and I encourage you do to the same. We’ve all heard that if we want to be a writer, we must write every day. It’s common sense that holds true for anything a person might want to accomplish: runners must run,¬†athletes¬†must practice, students must go to school.¬†My obstacle has always been finding balance with my writing and my family.¬†The solution that is working (for now) is to focus on one thing each day¬†based on how much time I can devote to writing and reading.

Here’s the breakdown:

Mondays are the days I crank out my blog posts for the week. I don’t publish them all on that Monday, but schedule them for later in the week. Each day, I return to the posts to re-read, edit and revise them. By the time they are published,¬†my posts¬†have improved. In order to keep the blog posts as fresh as possible, I keep a notebook on my dining room table to collect ideas.

Tuesdays are reading days.¬†No writing except in the form of notes, comments,¬†and ideas that stem from what I’ve read.

Wednesday are scene plot days in prep for…

Thursdays. As I mentioned, this is my big day each week when I really make progress.

Fridays are too crazy with homeschooling¬†groups to even think about writing. It’s my “Day of Rest”.

Weekends must be spent with families, but I coordinate with my husband to set aside a few hours a weekend to read or write.

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A Pro: Spend time reading Joel Friedlander’s¬†blog/website.

Joel’s website is a treasure trove of information. Set the timer, otherwise your entire day will be spent on his blog and you’ll starve.

A Genre-Mash: Just for fun, re-imagine your novel as a picture book –¬†or your picture book as a novel. Write a few scenes and see what happens.

I’ve done this a few times during my weekend writing hours. It’s refreshing to simply puzzle out a story in a different format. Writing styles, patterns, and techniques mature with exercises like this. What may seem a simple exercise will soon become your power yoga.

Why?

Because my favorite children’s books have quirky characters, surprising plot elements, and very often, rhythmic & rhyming verse. Stretching my thinking muscles to write in such a different format allows me the time to play with words. Instead of formatting sentences and paragraphs to show the story, I can pattern the story into rhythm patterns. Not much I do with this exercise is publishing-quality work – but that’s not the point. Trying something new…that is.

It’s very easy to feel that the success a writer creates is determined by the number of words written. That’s a trap. Don’t fall in! Writing success rides on the back of every unpublished word. The stories that don’t hold up, the sentences that fail, the characters so flat that they can slide under a door – those are the obstacles in writing we must overcome before we publish.

Writing exercises that specifically work on something we have no intention (or pressure) to polish and publish are necessary.

Enjoy the writing fun! Please let me know how these exercises work out for you.

Peace,

Jessica

Other Writing Exercises:

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3

Vol. 4

Vol. 5

 

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How did last week’s exercise feel? Are your creative muscles sore? Shouldn’t be too bad, you watched a movie! ūüôā

This week’s exercise might feel a little, well, it will remind you of the good ol’ days of high school English. What? Those weren’t riveting classes where you devoured the book that was assigned to you? Yeah, me neither.

Exercise 1:

Of all the books you had to read in high school, what was your favorite? No favorite? Well, you’re older now. Go pick the first book you remember being assigned to¬†read and re-read it. (Or read it for the first time.)

For me, the first book I read in high school was A Separate Piece by John Knowles. I enjoyed it… a little. I think I read the entire book, but that was…let’s just say it was a few years ago.¬†I have the book on hold at the library. Apparently, people are still reading it. I’m on a list and should have it sometime in April.

Now, the book that really turned me on to reading was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. A great part of falling in love with this book had to do with the excellent teacher I had in high school. The other part was obviously Dumas’ superior story-telling.

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Exercise 2:

Make a brainstorming graphic organizer (think bubbles, boxes, and lines) for your current¬†story, or a story you are thinking about. Reflect on how this¬†exercise did or did not (because, let’s be honest, it might not work for everyone)¬† help you think about deeper layers for the story.

This is how I start every story – with a gigantic sheet of paper on the dining room table, a stack of colorful pens, and an idea. In the center, I’ll start with whatever idea I have. It could a simple scene, an over-arching theme, or an idea for a setting. As I brainstorm, I write everything down, connect ideas with common color-lines, and just have fun with it. In the background I play fairly loud music…that part is optional.

This is a great way to set the story ideas down on paper without fussing for sentence structure or feeling the need to organize things too quickly. Let the ideas fall where they will. Once it’s on paper, you can’t lose it.

Exercise 3:

Write a one-page synopsis for your story. Don’t hide the ending. Tell all in a short and interesting way.

Why do this? Many publishers and agents will ask for a synopsis and they are darn tough to write. As much effort as you put into writing your story, almost as much will go into hacking your story into a one-page synopsis. Hint: Don’t look at this as hacking. Make the one page synopsis fun to read. If you can’t shine up your writing to keep a potential agent or publisher interested through one page, they likely won’t ask for an entire manuscript.

Starting next week, I will be interviewing authors who are self-published or published by smaller houses. It’s been fun to read their work as I prepare questions for each of them. There are still a few spots left, so if you are published and are looking for a fresh and fun way to market your work as well as the books of other authors, check out Pay-It-Forward for details.

Did you miss the other writing exercises?

Writing Exercises Vol. 1

Writing Exercises Vol. 2

Writing Exercises Vol. 3

Writing Exercises Vol. 4

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I have only two writing exercises for you this week. I’ve tried these out over the past several months, and have enjoyed it immensely. I’ve also used these techniques with great success with my home-schooled children. Once you read the exercises, you’ll understand why these are such a hit.

Exercise 1:

Watch a movie. Outline the scenes into the following categories:

When the main character is the: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr

The Orphan stage of the story is when the main character is either an actual orphan (Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, Will of Ranger’s Apprentice) or in a state of living or mentality that screams ‘Orphan’ (Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz). This is when the author sets the stage, hints at the conflict, and brings the¬†main character to life with several short vignettes that allow you to sample the character’s every day life.

The Wanderer stage occurs when the character is forced or accepts a challenge that will ultimately lead to change. (Harry leaves for Hogwarts, Will starts his apprenticeship as a Ranger). There is much to learn for the character to learn, great opportunities for trial and errors scenes. In this stage, the antagonist makes a stronger appearance. Hints toward the final conflict are strategically placed. As a wanderer, the main character will sometimes succeed in slipping away from trouble, but more often, he or she falls into it. The Wanderer stage ends with a highly tense scene that forever changes the character. At this point, the main character must give in and die or become a Warrior.

The Warrior stage is the result of that scene. Now the main character is angry, vengeful, or struggling to live. Now is the time to learn, perfect, journey, and prepare for the final battle. The antagonist is more visible, formidable, and success is unlikely for the main character. Although success seems impossible, your character is learning and growing, becoming more resolute in his or her plight. No longer is he wandering from situation to situation, but has an end goal in mind.

The Martyr Stage is the final stage, which includes the climax of the story. Here, the main character is prepared to die in order to prevent the antagonist from winning. This doesn’t mean death in a literal sense, but can mean that he will forever lose that great career (think of the movie, The Firm or Anna in My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult) or lose something else of great value to them.

After practice in identifying these four stages in a movie, take a look at your own story. Do you have these in your plot? Are they each about 25% of your story?

If these four stages are new to you, I highly recommend The Story Template by Amy Deardon. It’s a good read, breaks down the parts of a story in clear language, and gives you a basic structure in which to frame your own story.

Exercise 2:

Listen to an audio book. How is it different from reading?

Record your story/novel/poem and listen to it. Does it have the same ‘ring’?

This exercise takes far less explanation and is great for road trips, during dinner prep, and while exercising. One of my favorite books to listen to is The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowry. If you haven’t listened to this yet, rent it from the library. It’s hysterical!

I cannot stress enough how important it is to ‘hear’ your story.

Reading it aloud to yourself is only step one. You’ll make changes and are ready for…

Step two: Read it into a recorder then listen. Make edits, switch scenes around, revise weak areas of your story. Then you are ready for…

Step three: Have someone else read it to you. This will showcase areas of your writing that don’t flow well. While you do need to take into consideration the natural ability of the narrator, if two people both stumble over a section, it indicates that it isn’t ready. Also watch their expression; frowns and a decline in the pace of reading¬†are bad.

When you are finished with both of these exercises, you will never see a movie in the same way again. And the way you write your first drafts will be challenged by the need to write the scenes smoothly. Don’t shy away from that challenge. While the common encouragement for writers is to write now, edit later,¬†don’t¬†believe that your three hour word-dump on your latest story means it’s ready to submit.

Writing is an art – make it beautiful.

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