There’s some discussion, particularly among new writers, as to whether or not writing prompts, exercises, and activities are useful to their writing.
Like most things in the writing world, the consensus seems to be an enthusiastic hand-waggle followed by ‘Ehhh…maybe.‘
Personally, I’m a huge fan of writing exercises and keep a small fabric-covered journal that’s full of them. However, I can also understand how writing exercises could be harmful to your writing, especially if you aren’t using them for deliberate practice or know why you’re doing them.
So, let’s talk about the pros and cons of writing exercises.
They allow you to practice the core elements of writing with little investment
One of the best reasons, to me, to use writing exercises is that you can be particular with what you’re doing. For many people, writing exercises are a wonderful way to practice what makes a scene, characterization, or world-building. By narrowing the focus to a single thing, they’re then able to incorporate those elements in a seamless way while they write their ‘serious’ work.
No one judges writing exercises
This is pretty important. Although most writers say they write for themselves, the truth is that we all want to be read. For beginning authors, particularly ones that realize they have no idea what they’re doing, writing exercises are something that actually exist for you. All the silly thoughts. The improbable reasons. The monkey ninjas. Writing exercises are a time to play and figure things out, not produce a bestseller.
A backlog is always a good thing
Writing exercises may not consist of a lot of words, but there’s two very important things that this backlog of work can provide for a young writer. One of the main things is that it gives the writer a way to look back on their works without investing a lot of time in reading. In my notebook, I have about three months worth of prompts. To say that I’ve improved since then is an understatement and it’s pretty awesome that I have an easy record of that.
The second reason is that having this continuous backlog of work means that you never have to wait for inspiration—it’s in your notebook! I always have several scenes and bits of story that I’d love to expand on, so if writer’s block hits my current WIP it isn’t a big deal.
It’s writing, but it’s not technically writing
At least as far as writing for publication goes. The thing that makes many of the pros possible, that no one else will see it, is also its biggest con. If you’re doing writing exercises, you’re not writing stories—not full ones anyway– and that can lead to incomplete works and not finishing what you start.
Beware the purple prose
We’ve all done it. We sit down, thinking we’ll warm up, and we throw down some pure, stinking purple prose onto the page because we don’t have characters, or setting, or any motivation to do the writing in the first place. This con can be taken care of through focus on core writing elements, but a lot of young writers don’t realize that. Instead, they waste a lot of pages and time on purple prose that hurts their writing.
Not spending enough time/spending too much time
Many beginning writers are unsure about how much time they should actually spend on writing prompts. As a result, they either jot down a sentence or two(not enough time) or spend the entire day on writing exercises(too much time). Moderation is key in all things, especially writing.
Now, keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list and it’s heavily based on my own experiences through the years. In the end, you have to do your own thing and gain your own experiences.
For those who dislike writing exercises, I’d like to encourage you to try one, just to see if your preferences have changed.
For those who enjoy writing exercises, I’d like to encourage you to try something different, perhaps some research that you then incorporate into your writing or some other technical endeavor.
And to everyone who reads this, I’d like to encourage you to experiment and build your own experiences.
Love writing exercises? Hate them? Let me know in the comments!