Thursday, 27 September 2012

Using Writing Exercises for Focus

I heard a story once about the great American author, Sinclair Lewis. He had been asked to give a lecture on writing to a group of college students. He walked up to the podium, gripped the sides then addressed the assembled students: "Looking out at this gathering," he addressed the students, "makes me want to know how many of you really and truly wish to become writers?"

Instantly, every hand in the room shot upwards. Lewis gazed at each and every one of them for a minute and then he tidied his notes, folded them and put them all away, saying: "If that's true, then the best advice I can give you is to go home and start writing." He then turned on his heel and left the room.

He was pointing out the one thing every writer should know, that the first secret of writing is to sit down and actually write. For many that means setting out some kind of writing schedule and sticking to it. The next step is to actually figure out what to write.

Whether you use a computer or an old-fashioned pen an paper (I use computers for most things, but always a fountain pen and paper for poetry) for many writers just being faced by a blank piece of paper they freeze, like a rabbit caught in headlights. The brain locks up and 'writer's block' overcomes them. Unable to start they stare at the screen and the brain goes into freefall.

It's in this kind of situation that writing exercises really can help. For me, I try and write poetry, and this poem, entitled 'Blank Paper' is something I wrote whilst facing this exact same situation:

Blank Paper
Paper — accusing blankness
bewails the wood from which it's made
Cries: 'who are you to think
you can create your art
on rolled-out pulp?
Engender novelty
on slaughtered wood.

You can reed more of the Blank paper poem on my poetry site.

Writing exercises really can help and many writers incorporate them into the very beginning of each day. The aim of a writing exercise is to allow you to open your mind and to allow you to hone your skills and experience. You are taking time to write for writing's sake. You are now writing 'for real' in that there is no editor to please and no deadline to meet. You can write about anything you want, in any style you want.

Indeed, for a writing exercise it's better to write about something completely different than what you normally write, to free up your mind. Typically they should only take between 10 and 15 minutes and then you can turn to your normal writing schedule. After a couple of days I like to go back to the exercise to edit and go over what I wrote before.

Use writing exercises in your writing schedule, as a natural part of your writing discipline; use the exercises often and watch your writing improve.

A writer I knew and who used writing exercises religiously called them 'mini-meditations' where you can think, feel and express yourself about something completely tangential to the everyday. It's like clearing away the cobwebs to give yourself a clear view before you start work.

Often they will give you a new view of things, a new perspective that can actually help you with the remainder of your writing work. They can even give you a new clarity of expression.

Of course, not every exercise blows your mind every time. Sometimes you are just not ready for the challenge presented, but even then, the seed is planted. Sometimes you are simply not up for doing a writing exercise, which is okay too. Again, simply reading can set some new thoughts in motion. And that is why I like to review, edit and analyze what I have written before.

It's all part of the process of honing the art of being a writer.

If you enjoyed the poem fragment given here, then it is available in complete form as part of my eBook Memories of Myth and Man which contains over 60 poems and illustrations, many of which are not on this site, and is sold via Amazon (so you know your purchase is secure and safe) for only 99 cents. Sales of the eBook go towards supporting this site. The eBook is also available to borrow via Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

You can find the Memories of Myth and Man on Amazon and you can also find Memories of Myth and Man on

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