Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Writing Sprints

If you’ve read a few of my previous posts, you probably already know that sprints are one of my absolute favorite tools. They’re especially useful when you don’t have a lot of time to sit and write.

Sprints are easy to set up. Get a timer and set it for however long you like. Five, ten and fifteen minute sprints are ideal, but you can set longer sprints between twenty and forty-five minutes if you want (you may see these longer sprints referred to as ‘marathons’). Then, just sit and write as fast as you can.

The best part of a sprint is that you don’t have time to sit and think about word choice, ro sentence structure. The idea isn’t to get a good paragraph down, it’s strictly to get something down for later.

As an option: If you choose to, you can track to see how many words you can write in a given time. Start by writing your current word count down, and then doing a sprint. Mark down how many words you end up with, and subtract how many words you started with. The end result is how many words you’ve written during your sprint.

Sprints are great for friendly competitions as well. If you have a group, set a timer and go. Who can get the highest count? Who can work in the most puns in?

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Word Association

Word association games are great because they let you ignore the usual rules of grammar and sentence structure. The base idea of a word association game is to say the first word that comes to mind. So, for example if someone says blue and your first thought is berry, then you’d say berry. The next person might say pancake, and so on and so forth. They’re a great way to get your creativity flowing.

Thankfully there’s also two to play them!

Option 1 Grab a partner or two and set a timer for five minutes. Pick up the nearest book, open to a random page and use the first word on that page as your starting word. Go back and forth until the timer goes off.

Option 2 If you don’t have a partner, grab a thesaurus and set a timer for ten minutes. Again, grab the nearest book, open to a random page and use the first word on that page as your starting word. Then pick synonyms for that word, looking up each synonym and choosing a word from their synonyms. When the timer goes off, compare your starting word and your ending word to see how far your association traveled.

Now that you have a list of words–get writing! Try to write one sentence per word and make a coherent story out of your word list.

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Letters

As people grow and change, sometimes they wish they could be more like their younger self–be that because they miss the wonder they had in the world, or because they’ve lost their faith in people. Other times we wish we could get word from the future that things turn out all right. A popular way of expressing those wishes is in writing a letter to yourself–either past or future.

As an exercise: do just that. Write a letter to your character. Either to tell them about the things coming up in the future, or to remind them of the good stuff they came from. Perhaps you want to apologize to them for all the things they go through in the course of the story, or explain how you really feel about them.

Alternately, you can have your character complete the exercise. Think about things like if they’d want to write to their younger self, or to their future one. When writing to their younger self, consider the things they struggled to get through. When writing to the future version, what qualities do they admire in themselves currently?

Posted in Exercises, writing

The Great NaNo Kickoff

NaNoWriMo is officially here! I’m excited to dive in and start writing. One thing I’ve learned from previous years however, is that getting started can be the hardest thing to do, especially for the beginning scenes. That might be because you’re not sure what to put down to start, or because you’re not sure where your beginning scene is. My advice:

Forget about getting it ‘right’. It would be very unlikely that at the end of thirty days of writing you have a perfect draft. This does not have to be ‘right’ it just has to be written.

So, start with a reminder that it’s okay to be wrong. If you’re anything like I am, I know that seems like a horrifying thought, especially for the starting scene. It’s the most important scene in the book, it has to start the plot, intro the characters, build the setting—

Which, by the way, all of your scenes should be doing. They should be moving characters and plot, and solidifying setting. The only reason so much extra importance gets put on your starting scene is because that’s the one readers will see first. Here’s the thing: this only a draft. You are the only reader. You don’t have to impress yourself. You already know this is a good story, that’s why you’re writing it.

If you have to, put up a sticky note with some of your favorite quotes on first drafts from writers you admire. Or, write yourself a note. I set my computer background up as a reminder that the most important thing is getting the words down.

Another way you can help get yourself started is to try freewriting for five minutes, and build based off your freewrite. I’ve found this especially helpful as a pantser because in those five minutes of sheer writing, anything goes. Want a character to wear a clown costume for that five minutes? Stick them in a clown costume. Don’t have a name for the Important Plot Device, then call it the Important Plot Device. Five minutes will give you at least a couple of sentences, which is all you need to get started.

Finally, if you’re still not sure, then don’t worry about writing the ‘starting’ scene. Just write the scene you know the best. Writing doesn’t have to be linear. You can skip around. Write this scene, write the one near the end, come back to write the scene before the climax.

Regardless of what you do to start, even a few words is a step in the right direction. Here’s to hoping your month of writing goes well and you find the words easily. Happy NaNo!

Posted in General, writing

On Shifting Mindset

Not every part of the creative process is enjoyable. It’s certainly a lot more entertaining to daydream about the six-figure deal you’ll get, or the contract for an original show you sign with Netflix than it is to go back through your manuscript for the hundredth time trying to hunt down out of place commas or lurking filler words. While those tasks may not be enjoyable, they are necessary. Thankfully, there’s something to be said about having the right attitude to approach something.

How you think about something can have a vast impact on how you feel about it. Rather than focusing on how much you dislike doing a particular part of editing, think of how easy it is to get done. Alternately, remind yourself how much it’s going to improve your writing and your story. By shifting your thoughts from the negative ‘dislike’ of the task at hand and onto the postive aspects of it, you’re also shifting your feelings. This won’t mean you necessarily enjoy searching for every instance of ‘that’ or sprucing up your descriptions, but it will make it less of a chore.

Another way you help change your view on something is to adjust your enviroment accordingly. These don’t need to be huge changes either. If you can work with music on, try putting on tracks that are upbeat and exciting. Music has been shown to affect your mood, so having something that cheers you up and energizes you can help make a daunting or tedious task go a little easier. If you find sound distracting or need to work on your focus, try a scent such as lavender or lemon to help calm and focus your thoughts. This might make distractions less tempting and help you ward off procrastination.

What are some ways you make difficult tasks easier?