For me, writing practice isn’t the easiest habit to sustain. Doing exercises to improve writing can often feel like a waste of time when I can’t stop thinking about the impactful content I want to create. For sports fans out there (or those simply looking for a good chuckle), Allen Iverson furnished us with one of the funniest quotes about practice and its importance when he said this:
“We’re sitting in here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not… Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that?”
Now, for superstar athletes who play an 82-game regular season prior to multiple rounds of playoffs (if they’re successful at the highest level), there could be some merit in skipping a few practices here and there in order to rest and recover. But for the rest of us, the old adage that “practice makes perfect” pretty much invariably holds true. In this article, I’m going to outline 5 exercises to improve writing that will give you the structure you need to make practice a fun habit.
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Design The “World’s Simplest” How-To
As a blogger, I write how-to articles like they’re my job (because they are!). Usually, however, these how-to articles cover topics that many people don’t have daily experience with. They are designed to help folks learn how to enjoy the outdoors, improve their organization, or try a new recipe in the kitchen. But for this writing practice exercise, you’re going to write a how-to article that’s a little different.
Think of something that you do every day. Make that something one of those daily tasks that you complete almost on auto-pilot. For example, activities you might write a how-to on include, but aren’t limited to, tying your shoes, waking up in the morning, turning on your shower, or getting into your car to head to work.
The point of this exercise is to make you critically think about how to break down what can be very automatic, mundane activities into small action steps. You’ll be surprised at how hard this can be! Your how-to should be detailed enough for someone with no knowledge of how to wake up in the morning (for example) to be able to accomplish this task without any prior experience.
This writing practice exercise will teach you how to break a large task into smaller action steps. It will then help you organize those steps into a logical order so that they make sense to readers and they can be followed to perform the larger task successfully!
Explore a Memory
This writing practice exercise will help you create vivid imagery that brings your readers into the story and captures their imagination. This exercise starts with two simple words: “Remember when…” From there, it’s up to you to fill in the blank. Ideally, you should choose a fictional memory to explore for this exercise, but if your intent is to refine your non-fiction writing, choose a real memory from your past and explore that!
Here are some examples of memories you might ‘create’: “Remember when . . . you discovered the oldest archaeological ruins in human history?” or “Remember when . . . the dust from the explosion of the atomic bomb finally settled?”
Whatever memory from your past hits you (or whatever fictional memory you create), run with that and write a 1,500-word monologue from the first-person perspective. Describe what happened in great, vivid detail to draw your reader in and make them feel the emotions you felt in those moments.
If your memory takes a frightening turn, go with it and make sure your reader can feel the psychological terror you experienced in that memory. If you decide to explore a happy memory, write vividly enough to make the reader visibly smile as they read through your account!
Create A Structured Summary
Learning how to create a structured summary is a great exercise for all writers. At one point or another, you’re going to have to write a brief summary of something! So, when you do this exercise, sit down and think of the last book you read or movie you watched. Whatever comes up is what you’re going to summarize. To do so, you can use this structure: “[Somebody] wanted…but…so…”
Let me explain. There are four elements you’re going to cover in your summary. The first is the [Somebody] that the book or movie is about. It is the main character of the story. Then, you’re going to discuss that somebody’s motivation. What is it that they wanted to accomplish in the book or movie?
Next, you’re going to describe their biggest obstacle. What was keeping them from realizing that goal they want to achieve? Finally, you’ll summarize what happened in the book or movie. So, how did the main character overcome the obstacle and achieve their desire?
If you want an additional challenge, you can also include a ‘Then’ section after the ‘So.’ In this section, you’ll describe how the entire book or movie is resolved after the main character overcomes their biggest obstacle. Using this method, you’ll be able to summarize just about anything, which is an extremely useful form of writing practice.
Craft A ‘Four & 10’ Conversation
This is an excellent exercise to improve writing for anyone that needs help with dialogue. In this exercise, you’re going to write out a conversation between two people. One of the biggest challenges in creating dialogue lies in understanding how people speak differently. By doing this exercise, you’ll obtain a better idea of how to give voice to different characters.
This writing practice exercise is very simple. Your two characters will be speaking directly to one another. It doesn’t particularly matter what they’re speaking about, but the format for how they speak to each other is more important. One of your characters will speak using only four-word sentences. For example, “How are you, Dave?”
The other character (who we presume is a bit more of a chatterbox) always responds in 10-word snippets. For example, “I’m great, but I can’t seem to find my car.” If you’re struggling to write dialogue, this exercise will help you ensure that readers can distinguish your characters from one another.
Write a Vocabulary Story
This exercise is ideal for anyone looking to perfect a set of new vocabulary terms. If you’re trying to learn a list of 10-20 new vocabulary terms, this technique will give you writing practice while also cementing the proper way to use those new terms in context.
Start by defining your list of vocabulary terms. If you’re searching for a list, this resource will give you a place to start. Once you have your list, sit down and write a story using as many of the words on that list as possible. A good goal when starting out is to include somewhere between 10 and 20 words in your story. Better yet, accept the challenge of creating a story that actually makes sense!
This exercise is particularly useful for anyone looking to learn how to write in a new language. It will help you understand how to use the vocabulary terms in a sentence and will help you remember those words when you see them in different contexts later on. It will also help with memory retention, as writing things down ensures that we’re more likely to store them in our long-term memory. Perhaps the best side effect of this exercise is that you can share your finished story with others and get feedback on your writing style, tone, and use of your new vocabulary terms.
What Techniques Do You Use for Writing Practice?
As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me fine-tune my writing skills. I believe that every skill requires patience and diligent practice if we are striving for perfection. As such, I’m interested in any exercises to improve writing that you use. If I didn’t mention your preferred method of writing practice in this article, let me know about it!
Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!