People are often surprised when I tell them I still use writing exercises and prompts when I’m writing a book. There’s a perception that writing exercises and prompts are used by new writers and that writers who’ve written a book or two no longer need them. Well, that’s not true, for me at least. I’ve also gathered together two weeks’ worth of my favourite writing exercises to send to you to help you with your writing in the same way the prompts have helped me. But more of that in a moment.
My approach to the early stages of writing a book is that you need lots of ideas. Every new idea can be turned into a scene. Every scene allows the shape of the story to become clearer to the writer. But sometimes you don’t have ideas. And sometimes you can’t find the voice of your main character so even if you have ideas for scenes, they just don’t sound right. Writing exercises are ideal for both of these scenarios.
Finding Your Character’s Voice Through Writing Exercises
Let me show you what I mean. When I was writing If I Should Lose You, I had trouble capturing Alix’s, one of the main characters, voice. I knew she was grieving and clinical and bereft and lonely and unable to show any of these things. But conveying that precise mix of emotions through everything she said and did was eluding me. I’d done a few writing exercises but none of them had been quite right. Until one of them was. I started with the writing prompt, “I depend upon …”
And this is what I wrote:
“I depend upon dead people. In my line of work, someone has to die so that someone else can live. But it was not supposed to be Dan.
You say you don’t know if I love you—I do, you see, but I still love Dan and you will always lose when pitted against him. He has the benefit of being set in the stilled moment of death …”
I continued writing, an entire letter from the still grieving Alix to her new lover. And that letter appears, almost verbatim, with just a couple of words changed here and there, in the final book. It was in the writing exercise as I wrote that second line in particular that I knew I had found my character’s voice. Who knows how long it would have taken me to find her voice if I’d just kept plugging away at writing scenes, without opening up my mind to the new ideas and phrases that the writing prompt gave me?
Shaping Your Character’s Personality and Appearance With Writing Exercises
There is another scene in the book where I have the lines:
“She wouldn’t allow herself to be considered a redhead, although others often described her as such because her hair was really a motley orange colour, like ripe mangoes. It was this orangeness that she would like to get away from.”
This also came from a writing prompt; the prompt began with the words, She wouldn’t allow herself to. Until I wrote the rest of that sentence I had no idea that my character was a redhead, nor that she was uncomfortable with her hair colour, but once I wrote it, I knew it was perfect. Writing exercises and prompts allow me to think beyond the limits of my mind, to write sentences and thus scenes I wouldn’t otherwise write, to discover things about my characters and stories that I wouldn’t otherwise uncover if I just kept writing scene after scene and following the limited path of a known story.
My favourite books of writing exercises/prompts are: The Writing Book, by Kate Grenville (great for zany, out of the box ideas that get you thinking differently), The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman (excellent for deep character development work) and Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway (especially good for those just starting out). I use these three books whenever I begin writing something new.
Your Free Set of Writing Prompts
But I’ve also developed a series of writing prompts for courses I teach and for me when I want something different to what’s in the books. And I’ve packaged these writing prompts up into a pdf to help you the same way they’ve helped me, to start writing or to keep writing if I’ve lost momentum.
These prompts should last you for at least two weeks; in fact, if you choose two exercises per day and write 250 words per exercise, by the end of each day you’ll have 500 words. If you do this 6 days a week (I’ll give you Sunday off!), by the end of two weeks, you’ll have 6,000 words! Now that’s something substantial.
To get this free set of writing prompts, all you need to do is click here, where you’ll be able to enter your email address and it will be delivered straight to your inbox. I hope you enjoy!
More From My Getting Started Series
In the meantime, please let me know if and how you use writing exercises and prompts. You might also be interested in the other posts I’ve written as part of this Getting Started series. You can click here to read Part 1, my Top 10 Tips to Get Your Book Written in 2014 and click here to read Part 2, which is all about the 10 Things I Need to Have Before I Start Writing. If you’ve been following the series, I’d love to know what you think and whether you have any other burning questions about writing a book that you’d like me to answer. Most of all, enjoy the free writing prompts and good luck!