Write for Practice

Writing is a skill that is generally learned over time from exposure to stories and the practice of writing. However, I think some of us want to forget the practice part and go straight to the finish line.

I’ve heard the advice to treat writing like a job. Take it seriously, put in the time, do it even when you don’t feel like it. And while I agree with this, I also think practicing writing is important and should be added to our writing habits.

Think of it in terms of sports. My daughter is a swimmer. She doesn’t just go to swim meets or only practice drills. She practices for technique as well as speed and stamina. I would say most sports teams work this way.

Think about a football team. How many times do they “play” football as practice repeating areas of weakness? They are learning to be better players as they run plays.

Now, think about how we practice writing. I know most of my writing time is spent on my novel. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, isn’t it kind of like only going to the meets or only playing in a full game?

What if we practiced writing like a sports team? Trying out new techniques and perfecting familiar ones while on a practice field, with the intention of it being practice. How freeing is it to write something you know will never go public?

This may not be for everyone, but consider how it may make you a better writer, or how it could open up your creativity, or how it can get you in the mood for a longer writing session. Even if you only have a few minutes every week, practicing writing can make a big difference.

Here are a few ways I add practice writing to my schedule.

Writing Prompt Workbooks & Story Cubes

This is my go-to for writing practice. I have several workbooks that I keep on hand, ones I found in the bargain section at Barnes & Nobel. My favorite lists words at the top of the page for you to use in a story written in the space below.

You can also use Story Cubes and a blank notebook for a similar process. Roll the dice to get random words as writing prompts. Then make up a story using the words and write it down in your notebook.

I like this because it can be done in a short amount of time, it’s only one page. And the words are somewhat unrelated so it forces me to be creative and step out of my comfort zone.

There are several types of workbooks with various types of exercises. Pick the one that best fits your needs.

Writing Books

I read a lot of writing books, most of which have writing exercises at the end of each section. I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of either skipping these or quickly doing them in my head instead of putting in the work.

My goal is to do more of these. Pick out the ones that excite me and/or ones I feel I struggle with.

The exciting ones help build commitment to sit and write. Doing something fun makes it easier to transition into something more tedious. Do the harder exercises intermittently to stretch yourself.

Free writing

We’re all familiar with this one. Every writing class I’ve ever taken has encouraged these. Get a timer and notebook and write for 10 to 15 minutes nonstop. Write down everything that comes to mind.

I allow myself to cross out words if necessary, but not to black them out. A single line. I also go back and write in the margins. Or even though it doesn’t make sense, just keep going. It doesn’t have to be in order.

You can use writing prompts, last night’s dreams, a scene you’ve been struggling with, or just let your mind wander. There are lots of options. The key though is to write so fast your inner editor can’t keep up.

Journaling

Did you groan? Some people love journaling and some hate it. I blame school for this. Back then, I journaled random things just to get a checkmark for the day. Totally unhelpful.

The idea behind journaling is not busywork. It’s to get your mind thinking about certain topics on a deeper level. This is where you can explore ideas, unpack them, and figure out your opinions.

This isn’t writing practice per se, but using it to expand your thoughts on writing craft can be extremely useful.

Journaling is also a great place to keep track of ideas. Jot down lines from your favorite book. List out character names. Write down things you’ve learned that may be useful. Make a list of strong verbs or descriptive words you want to remember.

Think of journaling as both a place to work through questions and issues and to keep ideas and notes.

Did I miss any? What type of practice writing do you do? Has it helped?

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