I’m a great proponent of the “just sit down and write” attitude. It isn’t a matter of finding yourself in the right mood to write — you have to make yourself be in the right mood. On the other hand, sometimes it is hard to get started in the morning. It’s like that with any job, and writing is particularly prone, as a creative endeavor, to upset from any sort of emotional, psychiatric or psychological upheaval. In cases like this, how do you get the words and ideas flowing?
Everyone is a little different, and you have to find what works for you. Sometimes what works for me is a little bit of a warm-up. This series of articles will provide a list of potential warm-ups for you to try. If these give you ideas for other warm-ups, then try them instead.
These aren’t meant to provoke publishable work right out of the box. I can’t give you a template for a piece of writing. They’re meant to get your fingers moving, your brain warmed up, and your ideas flowing. Some of them are also meant to make you think about certain aspects of your writing.
Just remember not to let the warm-ups take over your writing life. Don’t let the means become the end, at least not accidentally. If you decide that something here appeals to you and that you want to do it more, at least make sure it’s a conscious decision. If you don’t want these warm-ups to take over your life and you find that they tend to creep into your writing time then put time limits on them. Give yourself a half an hour at the start of your writing day, or even an hour. When that time is up, get back to your real writing–no matter where you are. Even if you’re in the middle of a sentence!
I also find that sometimes all it takes is thinking about something interesting; that can be enough to get my thoughts and fingers moving. So even if you don’t have the time to do random writing exercises, read through these warm-ups and find one or two that get you thinking.
Variations on a Theme
Most of the exercises I present will have a list of variations that you can play with. These variations might be different ways of looking at the topic, different ways of expressing it, different aspects of the topic that you can explore, and so on. It’s my way of giving you an even greater range of possibilities to choose from.
Warm-up #1: The Review
Write a review of the book that you’re reading right now, or one that you’ve read recently enough to remember it well. Write the review as though it’s a professional review written to help consumers decide whether not they want to buy the book. Briefly summarize the subject of the book. Explain how good or how terrible the author is and why. Tell what you like about the book (and of course what you don’t like about the book). Make sure that no matter how good the book is you find something critical to say about it, and vice versa.
It’s easy for this warm-up to get out of hand, so it’s a good one to put a time limit on. If you don’t finish your review one morning, you can stretch it out over several.
- #1a. What aspects of the writing didn’t you like? Develop a list of writing pet peeves from your reviews. Check your own writing to make sure you aren’t violating your own list of dislikes.
- #1b. What aspects of the writing did you like? Develop a list of cool writing techniques that you aspire to master, emulate, or equal. Practice these writing techniques.
- #1c. Can you expand any of these likes or dislikes into essay topics? If so, write the essay.
- #1d. Review a book (or item) that you wouldn’t normally consider reviewing. Review cookbooks, one of your kitchen appliances, an over-the-counter drug, a web site you use. Can you find enough interesting things to say about it?
- #1e. Practice tone. Be vicious in a review, tearing something apart while still being persuasive. Be the master of the subtle jab–be as polite and even-toned
as possible while still skewering something. Damn something with faint praise. Write a positive review about an item you don’t like. Write a negative review about something you do like. Find a way to praise something effusively without resorting to a one-paragraph “uh, it’s great!” essay. Pick a different tone or personality to approach each review from. Review a romance novel from your aunt Edna’s point of view.
- #1f. Write a review of one of your own pieces of writing. Take a step back from it and pretend it’s someone else’s work.
- #1g. Write a review of the piece of writing you’re working on right now. If you only have an outline, review that. If you have a single chapter, review that.
- #1h. Summarize the premise of a novel for a review without giving away any of the major plot twists or endings. Find ways to imply excitement or revelations without spoiling the surprises.