Saturday, 15 November 2008


A quick question about writing exercises. Do you do them? If so, do you have any favourites? I have to admit that I tend not to. Which is an interesting choice of words, isn't it? Why should I have to admit to it, like I'm doing something wrong by not working through writing exercises?

My objections have always been quite simple ones. Firstly, writing is something where you can usually do the full activity safely and completely. It does not need a more limited version for the same reason that a dangerous sport might, for example. As such, I tend to get the feeling that time I might spend doing exercises is time I might spend more usfully producing complete writing.

Secondly, many exercises seem to have little or no direct application. Do I want to know how my characters would react if they were all suddenly in a submarine, or at a tea party thrown by the Red Queen? No, not particularly. Not unless I'm going to put them there in a piece of work. Which I might. To borrow a musical analogy, it's the equivalent of a guitarist practising huge sweep picked arpeggios over the whole neck, when their actual use of the technique is more likely to involve three or four strings in a quick lead into their next note. You end up practising something because you can, and not because it contributes to the music/writing.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there's a tendency among some of those I've met who do these things to simply work through huge books of them from beginning to end, with no regard for what they're getting out of them. I can see the point of doing exercises, or at least focussed pieces of writing similar to musical etudes, to improve in a specific area if you feel it needs strengthening. Too many people of my acquaintance, however, seem to be doing exercises for their own sake. They'd get far more done if they only did the (probably quite small number of) exercises relevant to them, and spent the rest of the time actually writing.

1 comment:

Crafty Green Poet said...

I don't do writing exercises as such but I do like the prompts on sites like Read Write Poem because they can kick start my imagination, plus sometimes i will try a particular poetic form as an exercise, but hopefully one that I will carry through the to the end,,,