Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
I set writing exercises for a flash fiction group I lead online for the Association of Christian Writers. I base these on topic. For example, I have led a session on titles so the exercises there were to brainstorm title ideas, following tips I shared on how to do that.
I am often set writing exercises in workshops I go to as a delegate.
I remember being so nervous when I was first set a writing exercise. Your mind can go blank. You think you can’t do this. Well, you can and you do. You do come up with something. The more you practice writing exercises, the better you get at being able to respond to them.
The great thing is nobody expects perfection. As I mentioned in a recent post, that isn’t the idea. Just as well too. Nobody comes up with a perfect first draft. What matters is getting something down in response to the prompt. You can then work on it further later at home if you wish. (I normally do and have ended up with published work as a result).
The Benefits of Writing Exercises
What writing exercises do is to get you to put into practice something your course tutor has just shared. There is nothing like having a go at something yourself. You can’t go wrong here either. What matters is giving it a go.
Regularly producing work as a result of writing exercises is a win-win for the writer because it triggers your creativity. I have come up with stories I would not have thought of in any other way. So I see these as a way to increase productivity, improve creativity, and have fun with words.
Inevitably there are some writing exercises I look back at later and realise I’m not doing anything with these. That’s fine too. The work was written in the heat of the moment to a specific prompt and I cannot at the time I look at it again see an obvious use for it. Sometimes I do come back later still because a competition has come up and I realise my draft could fit the theme set. Sometimes I will take the hub of an idea I have had as a result of a prompt and put it into another story altogether. That’s fine too.
Above all exercises get you writing. The more you write, the more ideas will come to you. Writing exercises have sparked further ideas for stories for me and as I write the short form, I am always looking for ideas for fresh material.
Another benefit is they can be a great warm up for your main writing work. I’ve read many interviews with writers who will start their sessions writing a couple of hundred of words on something which is not their main work. Why? They’re giving their creativity a workout here.
I’ve found by writing something, I end up going on to write more. For example, before I drafted this post, I’d drafted a couple of shorter pieces which I will submit elsewhere in due time. Then I came into this piece ready to “hit the ground running”. Why? Simply because I had “warmed up” by writing something else first. It does help. You’re not starting “cold” which can be off-putting when you face a blank screen.
Many writing competitions have set themes. Practicing writing to common themes is a good ideas as certain topics (love, justice, revenge etc) always come up. It may well be a draft you’ve written for an exercise could be worked up into a submittable story for a competition.
The competitions, even if you don’t enter them, can act as a form of useful writing exercise to help boost your creativity. I find that boost spills into all forms of writing I do. There’s nothing to dislike here.
Popular forms of competition/writing exercises include:-
Opening lines – the first line is set for you.
Closing lines – the last line is set for you.
Titles – only the title is given and it is a question of seeing what you can do with this.
Themes – often set. You can expect love theme stories to be set in the run up to St. Valentine’s Day, for example.
Seasonal – you can expect call outs for stories with a Christmas theme, for example.
“Words” competition – you are given two or three words which have to appear in your story. You can usually choose where to place them.
Picture based competition – you write a story inspired by the picture they’ve given you.
“Open” competitions – you choose the topic. What is usually set here is only the word count.
All dialogue competitions – these work best when kept short so are popular with flash fiction writers. Often the word count limit here is 300 to 500 words.
This is not an exhaustive list but are some of the most popular I’ve come across. The lovely thing with writing competitions is they give you a focus, a deadline to work to, and if you are shortlisted or win, you have something useful to add to any query letter you might send to publishers/agents for longer pieces of work. You can also share the news on your social media/website. This is kudos earned!
Over To You
I thought I would finish this post by setting a couple of writing exercises for you to try. If you end up polishing your drafts and submitting them somewhere, do let us know in the comments how you get on. Above all, just have fun with these. I do with writing exercises I’m set. I then work out if I’m going to do anything with the finished pieces later. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t.
Writing Exercise 1 – Opening Line
The downpour was not going to get in her way.
Writing Exercise 2 – Words to Place in a Story – Try to use all of them.
I’ve used a random word generator for this. The words generated are thick, definition, mine. A nice touch is to use them in the same order as they’re generated but the main thing is to get them all into your story.
Writing Exercise 3 – An All Dialogue Story
To quote the old Ronseal advert, this one does what it says on the tin! Try and write 300 words maximum which is all dialogue and nothing else. You will need to show us your characters via what they say to each other. That in turn will show their attitudes.
Tip: minimise how many characters you have here. For this word count, I would suggest you only have two but they can refer to others. I see this as characters who are “off stage”. An example of what can be done here is from me below.
Letting It All Out by Allison Symes
‘I’m not holding back, Vera, you have to know. Best coming from me, that’s all.’
‘Do you have to be so dramatic, Donna? I can’t think of any big secret you could possibly tell me. I know my Don is faithful. And my David and his Sandra are all okay. What has got you so wound up?’
‘The neighbours aren’t happy with you, Vera. They haven’t wanted to say anything but…’
‘I was chatting to several of them over the park only this morning when I walked my Mabel. They were happy enough then. Doris and Sally both gave Mabel a dog treat.’
‘That’s as maybe but they’re not happy, I tell you. Look, it’s not the easiest of subjects to bring up, Vera, but we have standards in this street and you’re letting us all down.’
‘What have I done? What have I not done?’
‘You know our street is in contention for Best Kept Street in our town, right?’
‘Yes. Think we’re in with a chance too. Everyone keeps their place nice and tidy including me so what are you trying to say, Donna?’
‘Everyone else in this street has scented tea roses in their front garden. What have you got? Michaelmas daisies! Really, Vera!’
‘And that’s your problem, Donna?’
‘Yes. Why couldn’t you just fit in with the rest of us?’
‘Two reasons. I like Michaelmas daisies. And I think you need to get out more. See you later, Donna.’
Word Count: 243 words excluding title. (Most competitions don’t include the title as part of their word count. Some do. Just check the rules but I’m definitely not including it here).
You can see from the above example the dialogue doesn’t necessarily have to be “dramatic” but you do want a starting point, a middle/tipping point (here it’s where Donna mentions the Best Kept Street award), and the finale where Vera makes it clear she’s not going to be put out by anything Donna says. Story is resolved for Vera. Her Michaelmas daisies are staying, regardless.
I hope you have fun with the writing exercises above. Short forms of writing can be a great warm up ahead of working on a longer project. They’re also great when you want to write but want a break from longer work. Here I’ve got a new story out of a writing exercise which I will probably put towards a future collection. For any writing exercise, you do need understanding of your characters. For my example, I am Team Vera!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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