New Patron Content: Writing Exercises
 
I've been teaching Writing the Other classes online for a couple of years now, and one of the things that always happens is that we'll give students a writing exercise that explores description or dialogue or whatever and someone, or multiple someones, will say: "[xxx writing thing] isn't my strong suit, so this was difficult for me." But the writing thing will be something like Describing People or Characters Talking or Exposition. Stuff that all writers should tackle, especially if it doesn't come naturally to them.

This led me to a realization about writing instruction that I hadn't thought about before: there's very little emphasis on practice in creative writing.  

I was trained as a musician, and so I spent a great deal of time practicing. Scales, of course, plus the songs I played or sang over and over to get them right. In art, you sketch and draw and lay down paint for a long time just to work on technique. Dancers spend hours on movements in isolation in order to be able to put them together, and even that then takes hours of practice to do well. And so on.

In writing, I do not remember ever having a teacher emphasize a similar kind of practice. Yes, I've done writing exercises, but I did most of them in elementary and high school. There are exercises in writing books, but I've only come across one craft book that talks about doing these exercises multiple times and in a group setting in order to get feedback (LeGuin's Steering the Craft, 2015 edition). In some ways the writing/revising cycle serves as some form of practice for some writers. But working to get your short story or novel ready for publication is different then practicing description with no particular eye toward publication or public consumption.  

Me sitting and doing scales on my clarinet would have taken on a very different tenor if I thought people were listening and judging my progress. Practice is closed door work, to borrow a metaphor from Stephen King. And even if you give it to select people for feedback, the point of that feedback shouldn't be whether or not the exercise "works" or the writing is "good." The feedback will depend upon the nature of the exercise and what it was meant to help you accomplish. Most writing exercises—the ones I find work best—are more about the writer's experience in doing them. And the feedback session should be about the writer talking through their experiences with other folks who did the same exercise.

This has all been swirling around in my head for the past couple of years. It finally coalesced into some ideas, and one of them involves you, dear patrons. I know that many (though not all) of you are writers—some are even former students!--and whether practice was emphasized in your early writing life or not, I think you will find it valuable. So, going forward, every week I will post a new writing exercise. Most are timed, and most take 10 minutes to complete. The idea is to do the same exercise every day for a week (see this post on my thoughts about the benefits of writing every day and writing exercise converge) as a way of working on a particular skill.

You can keep the exercises to yourself or share them with others in comments (the posts will be patrons only) as well as talk about your experience writing them. All patrons will have access to the writing exercises. However, if you want feedback from me each week on one of yours, I am offering that to folks on the Learn You Some ($15/mo) level.

I welcome feedback from you on the writing exercises themselves. And if you have a favorite exercise, please suggest it!

Writing Exercise posts will go live every Monday.