Best Writing Exercises, Part, III

Best Writing Exercises, Part, III

In continuing to discover what inspires or motivates our favorite authors/friends to perfect their natural skills, The Divining Wand offers more responses to the question: What have been some of the best writing exercises you’ve used in your writing process?

Please also take note that this post welcomes and introduces two new authors, James King and Kristina McMorris!

Stacey Ballis (Good Enough to Eat, The Spinster Sisters, Room for Improvement, the rest in Bibliography):

“The two that seem to work best for me are:
Flip through a book and point at one sentence and write it at the top of a page, and then flip through a different book and point at a sentence and write it at the bottom of the page and then have to fill in the space between…connecting the dots.

I do the same sort of thing with a phone book, choosing two names at random and then creating a dialogue between them, forcing myself to give them both lives and realities and imagine what circumstance is putting them in each other’s sphere.”

James King (Bill Warrington’s Last Chance):

“In planning a chapter or a scene, I’ll sometimes write a dialog between the main character and me, the writer. I’ll ask questions like:
– What are you trying to do in these next 15-20 pages?
– What obstacle could get thrown in your way that you don’t think I can write your way out of?
– What new and interesting thing am I going to learn about you… or one of the other major characters?
This exercise helps me get to know my characters better and keeps me focused on moving the story forward in a (hopefully) compelling way.”

Kate Ledger (Remedies)

“My favorite writing exercise–and I use it when I teach students and I recommend it to everyone who writes–is to imagine the contents of the purse or pockets of the characters on the page. You learn so much about them from what they’re carrying around. While I was writing REMEDIES, I imagined that Emily, who’s 47, still carried tampons in her purse but couldn’t wait to be done with that phase of life. Once I’d imagined that detail, I felt like I knew everything about her: what kind of relationship she had with her husband and with her child, how she felt about growing older, how she felt about her life experiences. It turned out that the purse itself got written into the novel. Even though I eventually cut the tampons, they were the portal to everything else I needed to know.”

Kristina McMorris (Letters From Home coming February 22, 2011):

“I can’t say I use any writing exercises, per se, but I do make a habit of chipping away at my manuscripts Monday through Friday, from kid drop-off time to the pick-up hour. Treating it as a normal job, even on days when a root canal sounds more appealing than penning a chapter from scratch, is the way I ensure slow but steady progress toward the next finish line. If I waited for the muse to show up, I might still be on chapter two — of my first book!’

Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me, and Skipping a Beat coming February 22, 2011):

“I think for me the best exercise is practice. Writing and more importantly, re-writing is the best possible way to strengthen those creative muscles. I’m not big on formal writing exercises, but for my third book, I worked hard to plot it out in advance. For The Opposite of Me, I did some very broad plotting. I did more with my second book, Skipping a Beat, and found it was really helpful. So I’ve got out the index cards and am really thinking through book #3!”

To be continued….

* * * * *

Announcement: The winners of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman are Kristan and Kate Ledger. Congratulations!

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

6 thoughts on “Best Writing Exercises, Part, III

  1. A) YAAAAAAY THANK YOU! (Although I feel a little guilty about winning…)

    B) I LOVE Ballis’s and Ledger’s exercises. I would never have thought of either of them, but Ledger’s in particular makes sense. Ballis’s is more of a writing exercise in the academic sense (as opposed to the move-your-story-along sense) but some of my best writing has come out of exercises like that.

  2. I did something similar to what Kate Ledger did: I looked in my main character’s refrigerator and all around her kitchen. That was a great exercise. Thanks, John Dufresne!

  3. Whoohhoo! I won Beth Hoffman’s book Saving CeeCee Honeycutt! Thanks very much! I’m so excited! Can’t wait to read it.

    And good luck probing characters’ pockets and pocketbooks! I learned the exercise at a writing conference and have used it ever since…

  4. I’m intrigued by the contents-of-the-purse idea. You really can learn a lot about a person that way. Like, my purse pretty much screams scatterbrained and unprepared. My best friend’s screams organized and practical. You know, opposites attract.

    My favorite writing exercise is to flip point of view. Like, when I’m writing in third person POV and get stuck, I open a new document and write for a while in first person. It helps me view the character/setting/scene in a whole new way and loosens up my brain.

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