The Divining Wand

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Best Writing Exercises, Part IV

November 11, 2010 By: larramiefg Category: Authors' Favorites, Q&A

As promised, The Divining Wand delivers yet another installment of what inspires or motivates our favorite authors/friends to perfect their natural skills, by asking the question: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

Also this post welcomes and introduces another new author, Ann Werrtz Garvin!

Meredith Cole (Posed for Murder, Dead in the Water):

“I wish I could remember what book I read it in, but I once advised to try drawing your story as a way to come at it from a new angle. I was stuck in my story trying to figure out why certain plot points hadn’t jelled. I wrote Lydia McKenzie’s name (my main character) in the middle of a giant piece of paper and then drew lines to all the minor characters names like some kind of flow chart. I then wrote a few words above the line about their relationship. I realized that I wanted her to have multifaceted relationships with the other people in the story, and drawing it out like that helped me see where I could make my story and relationships stronger and more complex.”

Claire Cook (Seven Year Switch, Must Love Dogs, Life’s A Beach, and the rest in Bibliography, and Best Staged Plans coming May 31, 2011):

“I’m not a big writing exercise person. I just pour all my energy into the book I’m working on. But once, I just couldn’t get the ending of a novel right, so I sat on the floor of my office and just kept pulling books of the shelves. I read the last page of book after book, thinking, “‘Okay, this is what a good ending feels like. And this. And this. And this.'” And finally my ending popped into my head! It was nothing like any of the endings I’d just read, but they definitely led me to it!”

Ann Wertz Garvin (On Maggie’s Watch):

“I like to take a phrase that strikes me as interesting or funny–something I’ve seen on a bumper sticker or heard in conversation–and figure out what is funny about it and what it relates to. Often, I can’t put my finger on it right away. So I do a stream of consciousness kind of thing. I’ll work on it like I’m whittling a log or playing cats cradle. I take a bit here, move it over there, make associations, until I figure out what I like about it. I find my subconscious is so much smarter than my conscious mind. Like it’s playing with my awareness, seeing if I can figure out the puzzle. When I do, I get a little cerebral pat and everything shuts down for an afternoon nap.”

Shana Mahaffey (Sounds Like Crazy):

“The best exercises, hands down, have been working with all the plot tools outlined in BlockBuster Plots by Martha Alderson. I used her tools for my first novel, this included plotting the book, discovering all facets of my characters, and tracking the scene progressions. I am using the tools again for my second novel, which is in progress. I highly recommend her process. It not only helps you focus your plot, but it also helps for when you get stuck.”

Melissa Senate (The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, The Mosts YA, The Secret of Joy, the rest in Bibliography):

“One of my favorite inspirational books says that if you seek clarity about something, some burning question, you should sleep on it for three nights and you’ll wake up on the fourth day with the answer. I know this isn’t really a writing exercise, but it’s my best way of working through plot and characterization problems, rough spots, and corners I’ve backed myself into. My other favorite is to just ask my character what she really wants more than anything else, heart, mind and soul–and what she’s most afraid of.”

To be continued…..

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Announcement: The winner of Chosen by Chandra Hofffman is Mavis. Congratulations!

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

3 Comments to “Best Writing Exercises, Part IV”


  1. Like Claire, I find often find reading to be the most inspiring/helpful “exercise.” Like Melissa, I also sleep on questions/problems, and I look to the core of my characters to see what they fear most, because that’s what leads to the most growth.

    It’s so fun to see what all these writers do!

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  2. I like the idea of using a visual map in looking at characters and how they relate to one another. Sounds like a great way to brainstorm.

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  3. Alright, now you’ve made it where I have to share a writing exercise of my own.

    When I reach a point in my story where I can’t get the plot JUST right, I get up and talk to myself. Now, before you think I’m crazy, I do this in the privacy of my room with music blasting to cover the noise. I then pretend the book is already published and that I am a reviewer reviewing the finished work. I discuss how the book progresses to the point I’ve reached and what made those things so interesting and surprising (a little ego boost to keep me focused) and then start discussing how the plot twists at the point I’m stuck on, and this helps me brainstorm my way through whatever part I’m blocked on. I sometimes write the review on paper, in the same format that I use to review other author’s works, which helps me change perspective (writer to reader) more concretely.

    It sounds really odd, but I have come up with some of my finest scenes and plot points this way. Believe it or not, thinking from the perspective of a reader instead of a writer gives me the freshest and most fantastical storyline. At least, in my experience.

    Well, anyway, very cool posts! Really helped me in my own writing exercises! Thanks to all who contributed and to The Writing Wand for posting it! Have a great day and happy writing!

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