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Top Ten SOTP #Writing Exercises | #amwriting

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

In my effort to relearn the joy of writing and regain my writing “mojo” in 2018, I’ve decided to embark on a quest to relearn how to be a seat-of-the-pants (SOTP) writer. So I sat down today and came up with a list of things I used to do back in the days before I was published/before I learned too much about how I’m supposed to write. Things I can start doing immediately that, while they may not lead to a complete rough draft on the schedule I set for myself at the beginning of the year, these ideas should at least get me started writing again—and hopefully learning to have fun with it again.

My Top Ten SOTP Writing Exercises

  1. Review old, unused story ideas
    Between old files on my computer (some of which I might not even be able to open anymore, because I think they may still be in old MS-DOS WordStar format) and boxes full of old spiral notebooks, this is a task that could take me months, if not years. The plan for the rest of this week is to revist three old story ideas each day and write 50 new words (additional story/scene ideas, character ideas, etc., or even a snippet of story) for each one.
  2. Write fan fiction
    I’ve done this in the past (I wrote more than 45,000 words of Lord of the Rings fan fic back in the mid-2000s). The main character (the name dug out of Tolkien’s appendices where she’s mentioned as marrying King Éomer of Rohan) is a total Mary Sue—and I knew it at the time. But I remember how good it felt to just write and write and write something that no one but I would ever see. That’s how I want to feel about writing again!
  3. Use writing exercises
    There are plenty of websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, etc., that post writing prompts daily. I’ve never found most of those all that helpful because they seem to be more focused on journaling, blogging, or types of fiction scenes that I’d never incorporate into one of my stories. But I recently picked up a book called Naming the World which is full of writing exercises, meant to hone skills and help to build a story, rather than just prompts to write random scenes.
  4. Learn to write flash fiction
    I’d like to do this for a couple of reasons. First, I feel like it’s a skill that will help me in my novel writing, as it’ll be a great exercise in learning to “write tight”[ly] and eliminate unnecessary prose. Second, I’d really like to start sharing original fiction here more.
  5. Write longhand at night in bed
    For years—a couple of decades—sitting in bed at night with no light other than a 40-watt bulb in by bedside lamp with a spiral notebook propped on a pillow on my lap was the way I did some of my most prolific writing. Even though I’ve had computers on which I could write since 1980, there’s something primally creative about writing longhand. I ignore margins. I cross out words/phrases/sentences liberally. I make notes along the top of the page. I doodle. And I stop thinking and just write; the characters and story take over and I’m just taking dictation.
  6. Get out of the house to write
    Because I work from home, sometimes my whole house makes me feel like I’m still “at work.” It’s also easier to procrastinate when I’m at home—there’s always something around the house that I can do instead of writing. So going elsewhere to write—the library, Panera, a coffee shop—can help stimulate my creativity. I’ve been using the excuse of not wanting to leave my puppy alone (she’s a year old) for an hour or two as to why I haven’t been doing this since I moved to Clarksville, where I have three coffee shops (S’bux plus two local chains) within a three-mile drive of my house. But it’s just an excuse. I don’t have much of an issue with leaving her home alone for five or six hours when I drive down to Nashville for girls’ day brunch and a movie at least once a month. Plus, I just need to be getting out of the house a lot more than I do.
  7. Indulge in other non-writing story activities
    Here’s what I did during my timed writing hour last night:

    James Yates (template: Sam Heughan) and Eleanor Ransome (template: Karen Gillan)

    I also have spent some time collecting images on Pinterest for this story. Because I became so accustomed to writing on tight deadlines (and because things like Pinterest didn’t exist for most of the time) while I was writing on contract, I came to view these types of creative activities as indulgent or time-wasting. But when thinking about how I used to spend my writing time years and years ago, it included plenty of character casting, template gathering, and world building. After all, that’s how the fictional city of Bonneterre, Louisiana, came into being!
  8. Write in short bursts throughout the day
    Instead of forcing myself to try to do one-hour (or longer) sprints daily, I can break this up into ten- to fifteen-minute bursts spread out over the day. That way, it doesn’t feel like such a chore to set aside everything at a certain time of day in order to write. And, if I do spread these out and start early enough, I’ll likely exceed the 300-words-per-day goal that I’ve been saying I want to reach for a couple of weeks now (and haven’t been doing).
  9. Review the 1- and 2-star book reviews I’ve written
    Sure, sometimes these come out of my not being in the right mindset for the story when I tried to read it. But there’s always a reason why I rated a book at less than three stars. So how would I have written it differently? I know this is something that can lead to my own story . . . after all, Stand-In Groom started with this basic exercise after I saw the movie The Wedding Planner—how would I rewrite that story so that the resolution of the romance didn’t cause the breakup for the engaged couple?
  10. Review/revise/update casting book and “families” spreadsheets
    More than 25 years ago, I started a spreadsheet file that contains a couple dozen tabs for hundreds of characters who “live” in what became Bonneterre. They’re grouped by family, each cast with someone from my casting book. But I haven’t really done anything with it for ten or fifteen years at this point, focusing more on moving forward with new characters, new settings (new Real World Templates, too). Including the three Brides of Bonneterre books, I’ve written more than half a million words (three published novels and two unpublished manuscripts) that developed out of building that “families” spreadsheet.

What other exercises would you suggest as those that I could incorporate in relearning how to be a SOTP writer?

  1. Wednesday, March 7, 2018 6:36 pm

    I’ve never stopped being a SOTP writer. (though, occasionally, I’ll try the ‘other’ method) Also, I do some of the same activities you’ve described. And, yes! What they will invariably add to the mix, helps me a great deal to sort out the junk, and go forward. When I try my hand at fanfic, I tend to want to change EVERYTHING. [shaking my head] Flash fiction is a whole ‘nuther ballgame. I like that! Now–if only I could find my way to somewhere in-between–say, writing shorts, I’d be a very happy camper. May never happen because I tend to be wordy. Can’t tell, huh? Anyway, keep the good stuff coming. Look forward to each post from you.


  2. Thursday, March 8, 2018 1:18 pm

    Putting one of my tips to work:

    Liked by 1 person


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