Novice writers spend a lot of time reading FB sites that offer exercises, story starters and prompts to try out writing skills.

Write a shopping list your antagonist will use at the store.

What would a piece of fruit would say if it could plead for its life?

Write a paragraph beginning with the phrase....

And we all dig in and write out some small drabble.  It is a start. Especially for new writers who just want to flex their writing on the page or screen.

But if you exercise then set aside your resulting work in notebooks and journal, where will you discover where those exercises might take you?

In this post we’ll take the steps of looking at your own work and expanding your exercises by questioning them. The goal is reviewing with an eye for turning exercises into scenes, short stories or novels; by looking at your work and taking the next step: reworking exercises to actual writing.

Let’s say you were given a word or two for starting an exercise, the beginning of a sentence

First thing in the morning…

Your task is to write anything for about 5 timed minutes. If you'e in a group maybe you’ll be asked to volunteer to read your exercise out loud. This is the type of exercise beginning writers are encouraged to limber up with.

So you look at your paper, or the keyboard and you begin writing:


First thing in the morning all I have to do is get up and write my page.  I tell myself this every morning and yet I can’t seem to follow through.  I reassure myself I will tomorrow and I’m building up to it.  Am I lacking the will or am I unable to do it at all?  Instead of doing what I need to do or want to do I end up wandering into the kitchen, getting some coffee and then I’m off and running through my day.


After a while you have disk files or notebooks full of these types of exercises.  But you haven’t got nearly as many finished short stories or complete novels under your belt. How much time to you think the average beginner spends doing writing exercises?

How much time creating short stories or novels?  Where is the disconnect? Could it be that we neglect to look at exercises once we finish writing them?

What does it take to move to the next step and begin looking at your own work? It takes Questioning. Not much else.

Ask yourself questions like these:

 Does the exercise paragraph mean anything?
  • Can you use this for a character study?
  • Can you mold it into a piece of dialog? 
  • Can it be expanded into a scene or a hunk of narrative? 

 Your answer might be, “No, not if I let it stay the way it reads now.  A lot more work’s needed from how that reads now.”

Unhappily, if you work the way some novices do, the way I started out working, constantly exercising, but anxious of moving on. Never going any farther than the group exercises, glad for the immediate gratification and attention in the feed back of the polite “That’s good work.” But afraid to try really writing something whole that begins, has a middle, and then ends.

Afraid of something that requires a quantity of re-writing, editing, and revising. That is, you, functioning as a writer by looking, questioning and working with your stuff. Then your exercises may grow in number but you finished work may not.

Let’s take a look at that sample paragraph. And ask it some questions.

Exercises you complete can then turn into a new start of a scene or story.

After the exercises are written, start by asking the questions above, and take notes on how you answer. Call these notes of yours Pre-work, if you want.

Not every exercise will blossom into a viable bit of work, but then, if you’re given an exercise you can always make sure it will: by focusing on what you want the exercise to give you.  Make the exercise work for the writer, not the other way around.

Let’s use the sample paragraph above and work though what we have on our page. After working with the sample you can move on to your own exercises and get them to work for you. Here’s what to ask:

Does the paragraph mean anything?

 No, it doesn’t mean much now, at least not the way I left it. At least nothing I can see.

Can you use this for a Character Study?

I can probably use this for a girl who is bored with her job, but can’t let herself take up writing for a living.  Or a guy who got a new journal from his girlfriend for his birthday -maybe she’s a real artsy type—and he’s trying to score some points with her.

Can you mold it into a piece of Dialog?

It might work for internal dialog, how she talks to put herself down on the way to her mom’s. Or hey—how about what she says to a shrink or a best friend? Yeah.

Can it be expanded into a scene or a hunk of narrative?

The wandering into the kitchen and getting coffee is a good part.  I can show more with descriptions. How the kitchen looks, things like that. 

Maybe the guy can be talking to his girl over coffee on the weekend, when they’re together and she gets on his case ‘cause the journal she gave him is still empty.

Can you see where looking at your work can take you?  Exercising is only the first step. 

Posing these types of questions and answering them is step two.

And acting on those answers is step three – that’s the getting down to writing that counts the most.

 You can find loss of ways to write better, and ways to take your exercises into something wonderful, with my book Tell Me (How to Write), Available
Nook US: http://tinyurl.com/lbk83gt
Amazon US: Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/kkcfsjz Paperback: http://tinyurl.com/laljkoy
Amazon UK: Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/kjon5ub
Amazon Canada: Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/klq7ls9 Paperback: http://tinyurl.com/n3c29t6