Writing Exercises? Just Ducky.

Writing Exercises? Just Ducky.

Some of the writers’ sites you’ve seen on the Internet include writing exercises. Most of these look pretty silly to you–“Pretend you’re a duck” and so forth. What’s the rationale behind them?

Some writers are blessed with immediate expertise and a never-ending supply of creative energy. Most of us, however, are not. Most of us become writers through patience and practice, and writing exercises are, for many, a favorite form of practice.

Popular with both beginning writers who lack experience and experienced writers who like the occasional tune-up, writing exercises come in many forms. But a good exercise typically offers the following:

  • a mildly structured task without the pressures of “real” work. The assignment encourages the writer to be relaxed, exploratory, and playful–to be less concerned with getting things right and more in tune with creative rhythms.
  • a challenge to conventional habits of thought. The assignment invites the writer to move beyond his or her usual ways of seeing the world. It stretches the mind in new directions.
  • an opportunity to learn more about what the writer wants to write. The assignment allows the writer to test a new subject or approach or personality without a major investment of time and energy. In a brief space, it offers the chance to discover an unexpected source of writing pleasure.

In short, good writing exercises can keep those creative juices flowing. They can lift us out of the humdrum and reveal our best writerly selves. But even the not-so-good exercise–the one that seems unbearably silly, for example–has something to offer:

  • the opportunity to repeat the act of writing, which, like all physical acts, must be repeated in order to be mastered.

All writing exercises are a form of physical exercise. All of them help strengthen and refine that mysterious neuromuscular process by which we put words on paper or screen. But as with most forms of exercise, their impact is noticeable only after regular and sustained effort. The necessity of practice, of keeping pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, is both the easiest and the hardest lesson a writer must learn. Consider that time-honored truism: If you want to be a writer, write.

If you are interested in regular writing practice but not especially keen on investigating duckhood, try the more thoughtful exercises in Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life. Or do a serious search for online “writing prompts” to explore further what the Web has to offer. Or consider creating your own assignments. When all is said and done, it is not the exercise per se but what you make of it that matters. Any topic will do, so long as it allows for invention, discovery, and surprise.

Written by Janis Butler Holm

Janis Butler Holm has served as Associate Editor for Wide Angle the film journal and currently works as a writer and editor in sunny Los Angeles. Her prose poems and performance pieces have appeared in small-press national and international magazines. Her plays have been produced in the U.S. Canada and the U.K.

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