Writing exercises are just what they mean: they will get you used to writing, and the more you practice, the more experience you build up. Come to think of it, writing this article is a writing exercise in itself! In the past couple of weeks I wrote more than one hundred articles and by now they come almost without thinking, and they are written in a good ten minutes.
So speaking as a published author, I can assure you that exercises can be useful for those to whom writing does not come automatically. You may perhaps not become an author, but you will certainly become fluent with the pen!
Let’s start with some simple exercises to get you started. Something I did when I was teaching was to set a timer for fifteen minutes, and each student would have to come up with a story in exactly that time frame. A newspaper clipping could be used as a basis. You’ll be surprised to see what you can come up when you know you only have so much time!
Another simple exercise is to take a picture (can come from anywhere) and write a 500-word story about it. Or someone gives you an assignment and you write a short article in 500 words (like this one).
Once you get experience in these easier exercises, you can continue with something more difficult.
A good one is to write a story (maximum 600 words) in the first person. The trick here is to use the word “I” or the possessive pronoun “my” only twice. The point of such an exercise is to imagine a narrator who is less interested in him or herself than in what he or she is observing. You can make the narrator someone who can see a very interesting event in which he or she is not necessarily a participant. Another lesson that can be learned from such an exercise is how important it is to let things and events speak for themselves.
Also more difficult, but interesting, is to write a story backwards. Famous authors (an example: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold) use this often. Most stories we tell orally are told from the middle forward until someone tells us we’ve left out important details and then we turn backwards. So why not try to start this way?
Another interesting exercise is the déjà-vu. You write a sketch of about 500 words in which a character has an experience that causes him or her to recall a similar past experience. Then try to play with the two scenes, the current one and the past one. Be playful. And for those who try this for the first time: don’t be too heavy-handed on the subject. Just relax and think of some funny things.
Again more difficult, is to end a story (around 600 words) with a joke. Also try to use the joke as a way of coloring the entire story, but don’t just lead up to the joke.