I’m not a huge fan of blog posts that offer suggestions for writing exercises (“Imagine you have just one wish” or “Pretend you’ve found some treasure”). And I don’t like books that offer writing prompts (“You’ve just woken up in a place where you can’t speak the language, write for 5 minutes on what you would do next”). I just don’t see the point. 50% of the attraction of writing is because you think you have something to say that comes from your head. Why waste precious writing time on an unoriginal thought?
That said, I do think you can work on the other half… the writing. There’s probably a reason why journalists become writers (or writers have been journalists); they’re used to writing, every day, to complete a specific task, with a finished result. So whilst I’m not sure if you can teach or learn good writing (and that definitely includes me!) I do think that you can probably improve upon whatever talent you do have with a great deal of practice.
So, here are a few exercises you can do (with your own ideas) that might make you a better writer, and may even lead to some bigger ideas. You never know, they might even fill a whole book:
1) Write a (good) blog. It’s great practice to write to a fixed schedule, and it will certainly make you a bit more speedy. Try to think of original ideas; maybe steer clear of Top Ten lists? (Possible exceptions might include a “Top Ten list of everything that’s unoriginal about Top Ten lists…”)
2) Jot down your dreams. Lots of authors love to use their dreams as part of their writing process and there is a ton of blogs on the subject (including top ten lists on writing prompts involving dreams… obviously). Some people even wake themselves up at 4 in the morning to make sure they remember their dreams and there are many successful books that started this way. You can find titbits here and here. For the really committed; keep a notebook by your bed, set an alarm clock and away you go…
3) Write 100 word stories. Mark Twain famously said that he “didn’t have time to write a short story so he wrote a long one instead” Use the same principle and practice your writing by trying to write a short story in no more than 100 words. Post it on 100 word story. It’s really hard to write a good one, but it might help you hone your writing.
4) Write book reviews. Follow Stephen King’s advice; he says that “writing is reading” and suggests writers should read widely across lots of genres. Why not get more out of your reading by finishing each book off with a short blog post? I love reading book reviews from a select group of bloggers, particularly if I don’t know the book or if they’re coming at their reviews from a different angle. Don’t rewrite the plot or synopsis (aaargh, boring) but give your opinion, relate it to real life, relate it to other books out there. Make it relevant.
Then of course, the only thing left to do, is to write the book itself… one small day at a time.
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