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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
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E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Writing Exercises? Just Ducky

by Janis Butler Holm

Q: Some of the writers' sites I've seen on the Internet include writing exercises. Most of these look pretty silly to me—"Pretend you're a duck" and so forth. What's the rationale behind them?

A: Some writers are blessed with immediate expertise and a never-ending supply of creative energy. Most of us, however, are not. Most of us become writers through patience and practice, and writing exercises are, for many, a favorite form of practice.

Popular with both beginning writers who lack experience and experienced writers who like the occasional tune-up, writing exercises come in many forms. But a good exercise typically offers the following:

  • A mildly structured task without the pressures of "real" work. The assignment encourages the writer to be relaxed, exploratory, and playful—to be less concerned with getting things right and more in tune with creative rhythms.
  • A challenge to conventional habits of thought. The assignment invites the writer to move beyond his or her usual ways of seeing the world. It stretches the mind in new directions.
  • An opportunity to learn more about what the writer wants to write. The assignment allows the writer to test a new subject or approach or personality without a major investment of time and energy. In a brief space, it offers the chance to discover an unexpected source of writing pleasure.

In short, good writing exercises can keep those creative juices flowing. They can lift us out of the humdrum and reveal our best writerly selves. But even the not-so-good exercise—the one that seems unbearably silly, for example, has something to offer:

  • The opportunity to repeat the act of writing, which, like all physical acts, must be repeated in order to be mastered.

All writing exercises are a form of physical exercise; all of them help strengthen and refine that mysterious neuromuscular process by which we put words on paper or screen. But as with most forms of exercises, their impact is noticeable only after regular and sustained effort. The necessity of practice, of keeping pen to paper or hands to keyboard, is both the easiest and the hardest lesson that a writer must learn. Consider that time-honored truism: If you want to be a writer, write.

If you are interested in regular writing practice but not especially keen on investigating duckhood, try the more thoughtful exercises in Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life (New York: Bantam, 1990; ISBN 0-553-34775-6) or explore the list below. Or consider creating your own assignments. When all is said and done, it is not the assignment per se but what you make of it that really matters. Any topic will do, so long as it allows for invention, discovery, and surprise.

Selected Online Sources For Writing Exercises:

Exercises That Work

15 Exercises For Writers

Journal Writing Exercises

Writing Exercises and Miscellany

Writing Prompts

Janis Butler Holm writes and teaches in Athens, Ohio, where she is also a consulting editor for Wide Angle, the film journal.









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