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Best Writing Exercises, Part I

October 07, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Profiles

Whether it’s to warm-up, jumpstart, or let their imaginations wander, many of our authors/friends use a writing exercise. Being interested in what works for them, The Divining Wand asked: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

The following replies lead off with Tawna Fenske, a 2011 Class Member of The Debutante Ball:

Tawna Fenske (Making Waves debuting August 2011, Believe It or Not in January 2012, and Let It Breathe August 2012):

“I’m a big fan of #1k1hr. That’s the official hashtag for those of you on Twitter, but tweeting isn’t a requirement for participation. I was introduced to the idea by author Patrick Alan, who explains it like this: “The object is simple. Sit down and write until you have one thousand words and one hour has passed. You have to accomplish both. The challenge isn’t to write 1,000 words in an hour. It’s to write for at least an hour and at least 1,000 words.”

I love this concept because it forces a writer to switch off his or her internal editor. It’s fast and furious and very rewarding for such a small investment of time. I enjoy the motivation of the challenge, particularly if I’m playing with other authors under the #1k1hr hashtag on Twitter. Most importantly, it’s a good way to get words on the page. They won’t always be good words — in fact, some of what I’ve written playing #1k1hr is truly awful. But you can’t edit a blank page, so it’s a good way to nail down a starting point with something I can edit later

You can read more about #1k1hr here.”

Allie Larkin (Stay):

“STAY started as a writing exercise in a college class. We had a sheet with two columns of words, and were asked to take a word from column A and one from column B. We had to make a sentence with them – A is a B. My sentence was “Separation is a battle.” We wrote for 3 minutes, using that line as the first sentence. Later in the semester, we had to revise one exercise three different ways, changing something major like point of view, tense, or setting. By the third round of revisions, I’d found my main character.
I still do writing exercises when I’m looking for new ideas. Often, I’ll take a song lyric – something short enough to not be too specific – and use it as my first sentence. Then, I free-write for a set amount of time. And, I still love going back and revising my exercises by rewriting them from a different point of view or tense. It’s easier to play with those things in order to find the right character and the right time and place when the idea is new and messy and there are so many different directions it could go in.”

Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing):

“I don’t really use exercises, but I tend to write and write and write excess background, excess scenes, stuff that I know will fall on the cutting room floor. This helps me know my characters better. I also try to rewrite scenes from another character’s perspective if something doesn’t feel right.”

Leah Stewart (Husband and Wife, The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl):

“Writing from the point of view of a character whose point of view I’m not using in the actual manuscript.”

Therese Walsh (The Last Will of Moira Leahy):

“In Robert McKee’s book on the craft of writing, STORY, he talks a lot about the “controlling idea.” What is it that your characters are struggling over throughout the course of the book? In the story I’m working on now, the controlling idea is that hope—no matter how foolish—can lead you to a better future. The opposite force at work is death of hope. McKee asks us to play out those contrasting forces, using each to create tension, back and forth, throughout the scenes and chapters, so that the reader is never entirely comfortable, never really sure what’s going to happen next. That’s an extremely simplified explanation of the controlling idea, though; to fully understand it, I recommend reading McKee’s book.”

To be continued.

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis are Janel and Wendy Kinsey. Congratulations!

Please email diviningwand (at) gmail (dot) com with your mailing address and your book will be sent out promptly.

5 Comments to “Best Writing Exercises, Part I”


  1. Wow, the exercise that led to STAY sounds like fun! I have to admit, I hated exercises until I was forced to do them at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Now I completely see their value! … but I still don’t tend to do them unless I’m TOLD to. :P

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  2. I really like the 1K1H exercise, it sounds like a wonderful way to work on a first draft of a novel (as I’m doing currently with my WIP). I’m going to give it a try.

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  3. I’m with Suzanne – I love the sound of the 1K1H exercise. Tawna – thanks for sharing!

    Each of these authors offered interesting insight. I love these posts.

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  4. Some great advice from the authors, especially for days like today, when I just can’t settle down and write.

    I’m so happy I won Good Enough to Eat! :)

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  5. Wow, there are some really terrific ideas here! Thanks so much for sharing them (and for including me among them!)

    Tawna

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3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Debutante Ball » Blog Archive » News Flash: October 10, 2010 10 10 10
  2. Patrick Alan » And So It Goes 18 10 10
  3. The Top 10 Fiction Writing Articles of 2010 28 12 10

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