1. Kyriel
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    Kyriel New Member

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    writing exercises?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Kyriel, Mar 15, 2010.

    I need to practice writing, but I don't know what to write. It's not that I have no ideas, I have plenty, it's just that whenever I think of something good I conclude that I lack the skill to write it properly.

    Are there any exercises I can go through to help me practice in general?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you convince yourself you don't have the skill, and allow that to stop you from trying, you'll never improve.

    Take the ideas and run with them. Write the story you come up with, then take it apart. Dig into it and decide what you did well, and what needs improvement. Then try making those improvements, and see how the new version looks.

    This is why our Review Room is a critiquing workshop. By learning the mindset for constructive critique, you have a strategy for finding weaknesses in your writing and making focused improvements.

    But you have to try. Tell the inner critic, the destructive one who tells you you can't write for crap, and tells you you'll never get any better, to shut the hell up.

    Challenge yourself!
     
  3. Kyriel
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    Kyriel New Member

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    ....damn...positive reinforcement.

    I guess I'll try writing something short, it'll be terrible though.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    STOP That!
     
    1 person likes this.
  5. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Every word you write counts toward improvement. Writing is a skill, and like every skill, the more you practice, the better you get. On the other hand, the less you practice, the worse you get. You will never magically strengthen your hold on English. The only way to improve is to start writing. Though it always helps to bolster the practical lessons with some bookwork. That is to say, start/keep reading. But don't use that as an excuse to read when you should be writing. Find a balance.

    And for God's sake, tell your inner pessimist to be quiet. He'll only get in the way and make everything look bad. :D
     
  6. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Cogito is probably going to get annoyed at me for this. (Oh, yes.) But.

    The first thing you write will probably be bad. You will write it, and look at it, and say "Holy crud, this doesn't look anything like what I see in published books," and you will be annoyed at yourself.

    You know what? The first things written by Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Michael Crichton were pretty bad too. (Sure, Heinlein liked to say that the first short story he wrote was good enough to sell. But he wrote a whole novel before he wrote that short story. And it was terrible. I know, I read the thing. Ugh.)

    The trick, as it were, is to keep writing. Finish that scene. If it isn't what you would like your writing to be, look it over and consider what you can fix. Spelling, homophone errors, a need for more detail when describing a plot-vital piece of armor, dialogue that doesn's sound quite right, point of view errors... they happen to all of us at one point or another, and we say, "Hmm, okay, when I revise it I'll fix that problem."

    Then write the next scene. Or, if you get tired of that one story, go on to the next and start writing that one.

    You asked, "Are there any exercises I can go through to help me practice in general?" Fortunately, the answer is yes. Every paragraph, every scene, every short story no matter how flawed -- or awesome, if you already have some practice under your belt -- will help you to improve your writing. It might take a long slog to get there, but it's worth it to keep practicing, to read your stuff from six months ago and see how much you've improved in so short a time.

    Furthermore, try to remember that many writers have a particular author or scene that we loved, and want to reproduce. And it bugs us when we put words down on a page and discover that they aren't quite as good as a vaguely similar scene from Watership Down or Dies the Fire or The Five People You Meet In Heaven. But just by comparing your work to a published author's, you start setting yourself up to do better the next time you write.

    Sorry, Cogito. *apologetic grin* It's just that there are people out there who say, "I'm going to write this book," and then a week later they get discouraged and say, "Nothing I write is as good as INSERT AUTHOR OF CHOICE HERE. I'll never be a writer." I think it's pretty important to remind people that if they wouldn't expect to paint a masterpiece the first time, or sing a song perfectly that they've never practiced before, then they shouldn't get discouraged when their first efforts aren't stellar. That's what practice is for.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not annoyed at all, HeinleinFan. All I was saying is to kick that paralyzing fear in the teeth. Self-critique is a tool for improvement, but self-criticism is wholly destructive.

    It's the difference between saying, "I stink. Give it up." and "This is awful. How can I make it better?"
     
  8. chiank
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    chiank Member

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    Starting writing journal everyday atleast half an hour or more if you wish
     
  9. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    In addition to all of the excellent advice and observtions above, consider a writers' guild in your area. Make sure it's a serious group you can relate to and not a group of sharp-shooters out to take pot shots at newbies. If, after a meeting or three it feels like they are more interested in pointing out what your are doing wrong instead of helping you identify your own strengths and weaknesses, or unconcerned with your writing and only interested in their own, you might want to shop around for another group - one that fits your needs, personality, and style. Critiquing others' works is also a great way to learn about your own writing. Seeing problems and high points in someone else's work can help you identify yours, too. One important thing to remember with writers' groups, however, is the same as a virtual group like this. No one else truly knows what your target or intent is in a particular manuscript so you can only allow so much creedence in each critique you receive.

    Oh yeah. And when it comes to brow beating yourself over your work ... what Cogito said,

    STOP That!
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My [​IMG]


    Sometimes, without realizing it or giving a conscious acknowledgment to the fact, we get it in our heads that if we write something crappily, then that's it.

    It's done.

    Carved in stone for all time.

    There is no second chance.

    The truth if the matter is that of all the arts, writing is one of the most forgiving in that you can go at the same piece of work until your last living breath expires. You can always work on it, mould it, reshape it, restructure it, start again from scratch, even.

    Always, always, always you can improve.

    So, knowing that, you need to give yourself permission to be crappy on the first pass. That why it's called a rough draft. Just ask Maia, our resident member with a background in the business of editing and publishing, that there are uncounted steps between that first draft and the end piece of work.

    ~ Rewrites to be done.

    ~ Calls from your editor concerned that you have lost you mind as to what is happening to Jenny in chapter 2 because it makes no sense with what happens in chapter 31.

    ~ Trim it down.

    ~ Beef it up.

    ~ Redo the beginning. (Yes, I am well aware that that is your favorite part, but it reeks!)

    ~ Don't call me until you have written an ending that doesn't make me barf.

    All of this and an infinity of other things take place before you hand over your $7.95 USD for the paperback version of the novel.

    Give yourself permission to participate in the process.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have some standard exercises i use when teaching mentees... feel free to email me if you're brave enough to submit to my bluntly honest, unsugarcoated tutoring method... ;-)

    love and hugs, maia
     
  12. Kyriel
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    Kyriel New Member

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    FMK: Well, I am an artist, so I'm well aware how important practice is and my inner pessimist helps me improve, because it's always telling me I need to get better.

    HeinleinFan: If I gave up quickly I wouldn't be an artist. Like art, writing isn't something you can just be instantly good at, so when I say I suck it's not so much a negative outlook as much as it is just thinking realistically.

    Cogito: Oh don't worry about that, as I said before, the fact that I'm pessimistic about everything just makes me want to improve more.

    thewordsmith: Haha...might smack me for this but, "I don't think I'm good enough for that yet". Maybe once I've got more of a grip on the basics, though.

    Wreybies: I actually do that a lot with music. Every time I sit down I usually write a melody but don't finish the song, then every so often I come back to something I composed a long time ago and finish it.

    mammamaia: Heh, thanks, but before I consider anything like that I think I should see what level I'm actually at. I need to write a short story to post something here.

    Anyhow, thanks for all the responses and advice, I'll get back to trying to write something.
     
  13. MsMyth71
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    MsMyth71 Senior Member

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    The 3AM epiphany is a great little book with writing prompts/exercises. I love writing exercises when I'm stuck.

    Stop second guessing yourself, btw. People do it for one of two reasons:

    fishing for compliments
    to beat themselves up

    neither is cool. :) So stop that!

    Just write. Do it for yourself. Forget the world. It's a muscle that gets bigger with use. Use and be happy. The world has enough EMO artists in the world. Enjoy it and thrive. To hell with the rest of us.
     
  14. myron
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    myron New Member

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    I like that and i am going to start paying attention to spelling and grammar.

    I feel i am more of a philosopher than a writer.

    Questions Philosophers dont have the best spelling and grammar abilities?
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Maybe we don't read the same philosophers, but the ones I've read are the most anal about spelling and grammar. Grammar especially. It's almost more important to have good writing ability as a philosopher than as a novelist; there's more at stake.
     
  16. Garibaldi
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    Garibaldi New Member

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    Hello all, just joined and looking forward to learning and contributing!

    I've always had problems with my inner critic as well, Kyriel. I know I can write well and yet there's always that small voice saying 'ohhh, be careful!' and it frequently squashes any energy or zest in my work.

    For the past week I've been trying the 'morning pages' exercise by Dorothea Brande ( more widely attributed to Julia Cameron but she shamelessly nicked it ). This basically involves waking up half an hour or an hour before your usual time and writing for half an hour or so. You write anything you can think of; your worries for the day, examinations of long term goals, problems you have with other people.

    It's horrible! I've never known such inner resistance, my inner critic must have become very powerful indeed because he's screaming at me to stop as I type down all this mewling, self-pitying and meandering stuff. You start writhing on the chair, you even feel like you might be sick, but somehow you reach the end ( about three pages ) and breathe a huge sigh of relief until it starts again the next morning.

    The ultimate goal is to rob your critic of power by writing when you're still half-conscious, you're barely out of dreams so your creativity is at the most powerful, whereas the opposite is true for that doubting voice. I can't say this exercise has gotten any easier for me. I still hate it with a passion that's irrational, I'd give anything to stop. While it hasn't yielded any practical results yet ( as in spontaneous writing ) I do somehow feel calmer and more peaceful without all that bile and anger churning under the surface, I think this may be the ultimate idea - that when you do get a surge of creativity it can reach you unmolested by a dozen different worries and fears.

    Plus anything that makes me react this strongly has to be a good thing because it threatens change! That's what I keep telling myself anyway.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    arron's nailed it!...

    and i'm a full time, practicing philosopher/writer who, as any who know me here can tell you, is a nit-picking, virgoan pain in the tush when it comes to writing perfection... ;-)
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    While it's true that philosophers are good with spelling and grammar, many of them are not good writers. I think part of the reason is that they get so wrapped up in the idea that they forget that other people don't think like they do. That's probably why philosophy can be so difficult to understand at times :rolleyes:.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not 'bad' writing, per se, just too fancified for most readers... which is why i write what i call 'philosophy for ordinary folks' or 'for everyday use'... check out the work on my site and you'll see what i mean...
     
  20. Centurion
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    Just start writing. That is how I got better. I just started to write a story, not mattering where it went, and in a year I have gone from someone who did not know what a comma was used for, to quite a good amateur writer (so some say). Just write, and read others writing as well. Then you start to pick up certain skills (like proof reading) and how to better your own writing.
     
  21. Kyriel
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    Kyriel New Member

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    I always try to write for practice, but I always get stuck on something. One of my main problems is finding ways to explain things in detail. For instance, if you showed me a red curtain and told me to describe it in detail, I'd write,

    "A long red curtain hangs by the window, softly dancing in the wind."

    It took me like 10 minutes to decide how to word that, I added things and revised it like 13 times, and it gets even worse when I try to describe more complicated things. If there were a character laying in the grass beneath a tree, I'd just think,

    "Hmm, cool breeze all around, grass blowing the wind, rustling of leaves, blue sky, clouds, fresh air"

    But I would spend forever trying to figure out a good way to put it all together, and in the end I just can't seem to get anything in my writing to flow well. Plus, since I can't find much to say about things, everything moves too fast when you read it.

    Also, I already want to change something else about the sentence about the curtain..
     
  22. Garibaldi
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    Garibaldi New Member

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    It may help you to know that I had a breakthrough with the morning pages.

    That giant sense of anger I had at them has now largely subsided, replaced with a surprising feeling of calm and strength. It feels like I've weeded a garden which has been lurking in the background for years, nagging away at me and distracting me, getting between me and my writing. Now I won't say this has been followed by a huge, creative surge, but I feel much easier and freer, as though there's actually space to move around now rather than bumping into 'worry x' or 'worry y' and getting sidetracked by them.

    I've started this exercise so many times in the past and given up after a few days as it just ate up so much energy, but old habits do have a lot of energy to resist, they're anchored so you'll need to wrestle a bit, and I am so glad I managed to push through that barrier of resistance.

    I'd definitely recommend you give them a try Kyriel, just persevere if you find yourself really, really hating them at first, the effort really does pay off in the end.
     
  23. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    I find that when I get stuck it helps to write things out on paper rather than the computer. The reason I think is that I personally feel that I can make mistakes, however when I write on the computer I must always contend with those ominous green and red squiggles pointing them out (yes I am aware that you can turn them off but I’m not that strong willed).
     
  24. Kyriel
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    Kyriel New Member

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    I don't actually have to worry about that too much, I use a simple text editor for writing and it doesn't have spell check (or a UI, for that matter).
     

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