I use a variety of writing exercises to help trigger ideas for stories though a lot of these are also useful for generating thoughts for articles.
How come? Well, an exercise involving writing to an opening or closing line can usually be adapted to suit an article. For example:-
The way the wall was built grabbed Harry’s attention.
Now that can be used to tell a story about the fictional Harry and why the wall grabbed his attention. A wall is usually just a wall after all. So the promise from the opening line here is there is something different about the wall, Harry, or both and hopefully a reader’s curiosity will be piqued enough for them to want to find out more.
But you could change it to:-
The way the wall was built grabbed my attention.
You could then lead into a non-fiction piece about which wall you are talking about and its construction method or why it grabbed your attention.
(When I drafted this, I was thinking of a model of Salisbury Cathedral housed within the cathedral which shows how it was built with lots of ladders lashed together as the builders moved higher up. Generations of families worked here. Yes, there were accidents and deaths. Here you could write a fictional account of a family who worked on the building. Equally you could do a non-fiction “straight” piece about that same family and their involvement). But the opening line makes a great lead-in to this.
Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or both, there has to be a hook to draw the reader into reading more.
Betty was thankful it was all over.
The story here is an obvious one as you will need to show your reader who Betty is, what the “it” is, and why she is thankful if that isn’t implied by whatever the “it” was. For example, if you had Betty grateful her haircut was now over and done with you would need to explain that. Most people don’t have issues about going to the hairdressers.
(Indeed due to the lockdowns, going to the hairdressers, when we were able to go back to them, meant a great deal to many of us, and even more so to the hairdressers themselves!).
Again you could change the line to read:-
I was thankful it was all over.
For a non-fiction post, this kind of closing line could be a great way to end a personal experience type of story.
The Benefits of Writing Exercises
Writing exercises encourage you to think outside of your usual writing box. That keeps you on your toes, encourages you to develop your imaginative muscles, and of course it helps you develop different ways of approaching writing. No chance of getting bored then!
I sometimes use writing prompts from my writer’s diary or from websites which share these regularly. And then there are competitions too. There are many which give you an opening or closing line to write to and the advantage here is you don’t set the line. You can’t know what the line setter will come up with in advance either so again another way to keep you alert.
You can use your own photos for this or take, as I know one writer does, the first image you see on a favourite social media channel, and create a story around what you see. I find landscapes work best for this funnily enough. I then work out who could live in this landscape and what the area means to them.
For non-fiction writing, you can think about the history of the landscape, its geographical make up, the type of people who have lived (or still do) in the landscape and so on.
Pertinent Question Time
The idea of any kind of writing exercise is to make you start wondering and asking questions. Your first draft of your story or non-fiction article will come from trying to answer those questions.
But this is where I think writing is good for you, regardless of whether you seek publication or not. That idea of stretching yourself, asking and answering questions keeps the old brain active. That has to be a good thing.
If you do seek publication, the process of submitting work, taking rejections on the chin, but still polishing work and getting it out there, accepting the fact it takes time, persistence, and some luck, all of that keeps the brain active too. And even when publication has been achieved, there is still the wish to keep on improving on what you do. You were published once, can you do it again and again?
It also pays to get used to different types of writing exercise. If you go to conferences (online or in person), you can guarantee that these will be set. Practicing having a go at the most common types means you won’t be floored by being set such thing at an event. It also helps to know nobody is expecting a perfect piece of prose.
The idea of the exercises is to get you used to thinking on your feet and coming up with something you can work up into an improved piece of work in your own time later on.
Often with writing it is the getting started that can prove to be a stumbling block so using exercises is a good way of getting around that.
The Best Thing of All?
Nobody but you ever has to see that first draft! (Nobody but me ever sees mine!).
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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