No More Paint By Numbers – 5 Exercises To Diversify Your Writing


A little while ago, I wrote a post about seizing the available snippets of time in your day to write. How often you write is not the only important thing, though. What you write is just as important. If you do the same kind of writing exercise over and over again, your writing style can become monotonous. And while you do want to develop your unique voice as an author, it is also important to master different techniques within your craft. It’s like adding paint colours to your palette. Your writing will be more vivid and have more layers.

No more paint by numbers

What is the primary kind of writing exercise or writing that you do in the week? How about shaking things up and incorporating some of the following exercises into your weekly rhythms?

  1. Free writing. Have a journal in which you can free write. The goal is to write whatever pops into your mind, with no restrictions. Somewhere in the muddle of your thoughts will be a great sentence. What is it that makes it a good sentence? How is it different to how you normally write? A handy tip here is to take your great sentences and record them someplace, like at the back of your journal. Whether you use them in later writing or just keep them for future reference, it will save you from having to trawl through messy journal entries in an attempt to find the sentence you liked.
  2. Writing prompts. Choose a prompt, set yourself a time limit, and go for it. Once in a while, you’ll write something that hits the bullseye like one of Katniss Everdeen’s arrows. A handy tip here is to number the pages of your exercise book and create a table of contents in the front, so you can easily go back to those good prompts for inspiration, study, or for use in your other writing. (Remember that you can send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to the mailing list and you will receive a daily prompt.)
  3. The daily oddity. The bizarre things in life fascinate me, especially when it comes to people. I tend to notice the personal characteristics that seem out of sync with the rest of the person’s context, and that are interesting for that very reason. During a trip to England, I saw a stubble-cheeked, leathery Hells Angel drinking a … Starbucks Frappucinno. Another oddity was the gentleman I saw in what was probably the dodgiest part of town. There he was on the sidewalk, oblivious to the squalor around him … wearing a silk gown and satin slippers, sipping his morning tea out of a fine china cup and saucer. These bizarre people sightings make for interesting writing exercises. Record them, and write a paragraph about each one, creating a character and plot point that would explain what you saw.
  4. Poetry. Even if you don’t intend publishing poetry, it’s good to try your hand at a poem every now and then. It refocuses you on the importance of choosing words that pack the most powerful punch. It makes you practise using imagery in your writing. It draws your attention back to the basics of the words you use in your writing – how they fit together and what they sound like.
  5. Description drills. Mia Botha’s post, A Writer’s Sketchbook, is a great idea for a writing exercise. The idea is that just as an artist needs to practise drawing facial features and body parts, a writer needs to practise describing them. I have put together an exercise book with photos of people cut from magazines. I tried to choose photos where there was something distinctive about the person that caught my eye. In each case, I practise describing that feature until I get it as close to perfect as I can. My first exercise took six attempts before I was satisfied.

I hope these exercises help you venture out and vary your writing. Do you have any different writing exercises that you find helpful?

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This article has 6 comments

  1. Sandra Alexander

    Every now and then when a new tune strikes me hard I write random short impressions or scenes inspired by the lyrics or the emotions the melody provokes, or even short stories.

  2. Donna Radley

    That’s great, Sandra!

  3. Dianne

    Love it and was happy to see that I am already doing some of them.

  4. Anthony Ehlers

    Great post, Donna … These are all create incubators for creativity…

  5. Michelle Wallace

    Numbers 2 and 4 are part of my weekly rhythms.
    I really like the sketchbook idea in no.5
    Great post.

  6. Donna Radley

    Thanks, Dianne, Anthony, and Michelle. I’m glad it’s useful.

Comments are now closed.