10 Exercises To Make You a Better Writer
or Get You Out of a Rut*
1. Read a chapter of your WIP aloud to someone other than your spouse, your children, or your cat. Invite feedback, if you’re brave. But mostly, just listen as you read. Do the words flow easily, roll nicely off the tongue? Do you stumble anywhere? Anything sound awkward? How’s the dialogue? Option: Record yourself reading it aloud, then listen to the recording.
2. Write a short story featuring one of your minor characters, something taking place outside the scope of your book. What did you learn about that character?
3. Get really good at people-watching. Listen closely to conversations of those around you, observe details of body language and facial expressions. Keep a notebook or Word file of your observations.
4. Imagine your main characters in dramatic situations and see what they would do. Your character is on an airplane that has just lost both engines and is plummeting toward the earth; a gun-wielding madman bursts into your character’s home during a family game night; an alien spacecraft lands in the character’s back yard. How do they respond? Do you know how your characters tick? Write it down.
5. Guess what? All your major characters just got laid off and need to look for new jobs. Create resumes for each of them. What kind of jobs might they look for? Are they ready for a career change?
6. While at one of your favorite places – Starbucks, a ski slope, the gym, your couch – have an imaginary conversation with your main character. Would they like it here? What would they want to talk about?
7. Record a conversation with a friend or spouse or child. Transcribe that conversation exactly as-is. Then rewrite the conversation so it sounds good on the page. What kinds of things do you have to cut, add, or revise to make it work?
8. Stop using a thesaurus. Writing by thesaurus usually comes across as stilted and inorganic. Instead, read lots of great books – especially those that send you to the dictionary to find the meaning of unfamiliar words. Grow your vocabulary naturally so you can write using the words in your head as much as possible.
9. Change your writing routine. If you usually write on your computer, grab a pen and notebook for a day. If you usually sit in your den, go out to a coffee shop. If you usually write in the morning, try a midnight writing spree. Forcing your brain to work differently can sometimes spark a new way of thinking.
10. Write a review of your book. Pretend you’re working for Publisher’s Weekly or Booklist or the New York Times and write as honest a review as you can about your WIP. Then heed your own advice to fix the things you noted that were weak.
*P.S. These exercises can also help overcome writer’s block, if you believe in that sort of thing.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.