5 Surprising Exercises to Transform Your Writing
Powerful writing moves us and engages all of our senses. It requires more than just good word choices. It requires reaching beyond a dictionary or grammar guide into the essence of story: that is into substance of ordinary life. Below are some ordinary, yet powerful, life exercises that will transform your writing. Applied to your writing craft, these exercises will help you see and feel more deeply in order to create the compelling stories you were meant to tell.
1. Learn to meditate
Meditation builds awareness and a quiet mind. Interestingly, it also makes you notice the stories you keep replaying over and over in your head. Most writers want to jot down an idea when it pops into their mind for fear that they’ll lose that image, phrase, or story. But as a practice, meditation is about observing your thoughts without grasping at them.
Learning to calm the chatter will allow you to observe the subtle shifts that happen in your mind and body. As a result, creative ideas will have more space to flourish and you will be better equipped to write about the subtleties you observe in ordinary life. Those are the details that will infuse your writing with richness and vibrancy that moves a reader.
2. Train for a marathon
Marathon training is a process of incremental growth which builds endurance. Even if you never plan to compete, endurance training will teach you about healthy limits and steady progress. In training, you’ll begin to understand how even short runs and days of rest are vital to your success.
Applied to a writing practice, marathon training will help you make steady progress, building a strong foundation of skills for the long-haul. Your overall word count will also be higher than if you simply sprint and sputter about. With focus and discipline, endurance training principles can be the antidote to several unfinished, mediocre writing projects.
3. Practice photography
Reducing scenes and action into 3×5 snapshots is a great exercise in framing and backstory. Deciding which details to include in a photo, which to leave out, how close to zoom, the point-of-view; all of those decisions are precisely what you need to be considering about your stories.
If an image – or a story – doesn’t seem to communicate what you were hoping for, reframe it. Take the picture from different angle. Stand closer or farther from your subject. Crop it. Expand it. Photography skills help writers learn to see their subject objectively and capture it in the best light.
4. Talk to people
Writers tend to be loners and with today’s tech tools, you can communicate with thousands of people in hundreds of ways without ever leaving your computer. But as a writer, consider sharing physical space with people occasionally to be reminded of how conversations actually feel. Good writing is more than just the words on a page; it is communication and connection.
Pay attention to how your interactions with people feel in your body. How do you listen and respond? How is language used and more importantly, how else do you engage each other? Gestures, body language, tone. All of those elements are important in your writing and are mostly lost in tech talk (no matter how many emoticons you use). Your writing has to engage your reader even when they are not in the same room with you. This requires a strong foundation of interacting, observing, and connecting with people around you.
5. Listen closely
Listening combines hearing, attention, observation, and restraint. Unlike with talking, when you choose to listen closely, there is no ongoing verbal exchange. Listening requires that you focus on what the other person is communicating without thinking about what you might respond or say next. Try listening to an audio recording of an interview. Ask a friend to tell you short story about their childhood. Don’t take notes, don’t ask for clarification; just listen.
How does the story unfold? Where do you feel most drawn to the story? Where do you seem to lose interest? Are there characters you love, hate, misunderstand? Listening requires selflessness. So does writing. Your stories cease to be only yours when you share them. They belong to everyone who allows themselves to be moved by your story. Learning to listen closely will help you understand how to be moved and how to move others with your words.
A bonus exercise to improve your writing:
Open your heart. Write. Rinse and repeat.