Anyone who loves creative writing and wants to write well can tell you that it’s hard work. I can sweat, open a vein, and/or pound my head against the monitor with the best of them. But like anything worth doing, the more you practice writing, the easier it gets.
In one of the great writing books, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg talks a lot about daily writing practice. Pick a word or phrase and just write what comes to mind. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dialogue, scenes, or poetry. You can write from your own memory, from a weird dream, or your neighbor’s soap-opera life. Just not my life – that’s my own story fodder!
I know, I know. Daily writing practice sounds tedious. But it’s actually the chance to write just for the joy of writing. You get to play with words – how they sound, how they go together – without the pressure of writing for publication. Make up your own words. Change a nice word to a naughty one and see where your writing takes you. Get fanciful, without worrying about a scene being to sappy to fit into a story. Let out your inner horror writer.
Note: while your practice writing isn’t for publication, the long-term effect will be to increase your skills and therefore your chances of getting published. Consider yourself warned!
Do you start a story or scene with words tumbling in your head? Does the scene play in your mind visually, like a movie? Is translating it into words on paper as gut-wrenching for you as it is for me? Hmmm . . . on second thought, don’t answer that.
Anyway, the effect of each practice writing exercise is that I you get better at saying what you want to say, better at recording the thoughts or movies in your head. That doesn’t mean your future writing won’t need editing, just that the act of getting the first draft down will become easier. And the more you write, the more your own style of writing begins to come through.
Writing practice doesn’t need to be long. Ten to fifteen minutes on an exercise can be plenty, or you can stretch it out longer if you’re on a roll. But do it every day, and set a timer – you want to stop while it’s still fresh and fun, or you’ll get intimidated and won’t come back for a second time.
Now, you know I like to give writing prompts. But before I get to the list, here’s how the word Thunderstorm might trigger your writing:
- What does a thunderstorm mean to you? Excitement, while you’re safe inside? Clammy fear? Worry about a tornado? Massive flooding?
- Write the inner thoughts of a person watching a thunderstorm.
- Write a scene between two people fighting, with the storm interrupting or accenting their fight.
- Make a list of vivid, concrete words about thunderstorms and people/objects affected by them.
- Write a childhood memory of being caught in a thunderstorm.
Now use similar ideas for the following words and phrases. Get your pen and paper, find a comfy chair, set a timer, and . . . GO!
- Lavender (mentioned in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones)
- Sand and Surf
- Planting a vegetable garden
- Sharpening pencils
- Shopping with your sister
- Losing weight
- “He who laughs last . . .”
- Favorite uncle
- Moonlight walks
Anything and everything is fair game for practice writing. Create your own list of prompts:
- Type a double- or triple-spaced list of your own, cut it up, and draw one out of a jar each day.
- Read Let Characters Reveal Themselves to see how a fiction workshop did practice writing with dialogue only.
- Find other writing prompts here (check the category cloud in the right sidebar) or on the internet, but feel free to take only the main concept if you don’t like the complete assignment.
After you’ve done a practice-writing session or two, pop back here and let us know how it was!