Guest posts

Friday, August 31, 2012

Guest post by Samantha Gray - Writer's Workout - How To Sharpen Your Skills


Samantha Gray is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas, who offers college advice to those interested in furthering their studies and careers. She can be reached for questions or comments at

Writer’s Workout: How to Sharpen Your Skills
Writing is a process that never ceases to change; your imagination in constant flux as you write out what’s on your mind. In order to write well and to make sense of what it is you want to say, you have to hone your skills constantly. It’s a clichéd metaphor, but your mind really is like a muscle. As such, you need to flex and improve that creative muscle just as much as do Olympians train certain muscles before a big event.
But what are the exercises involved in a writer’s workout, for a craft that requires so much solitude, concentration, and serious thought? Here are three exercises that I have used in the past to strengthen my writing to great effect. My hope is that they help you as much as they helped me.
Flash Fiction Exercises
A short story is a writer’s best friend. In a single sitting, a disciplined and seasoned writer can craft an entire story with a deep character, a moving storyline, and some affecting prose. A promising short story might even bear the fruit of a future novel or longer form project.
But for writer’s who aren’t exactly adept at writing a complex and moving short story in a matter of hours, there’s the option of flash fiction. Most flash fiction stories run at a fraction of the length of the typical short story, many of them clocking in at 200 words or less. The beauty of flash fiction is that it forces a writer to strip a story down to its most essential elements. Even more so than a short story, a work of flash fiction challenges a writer to say what they want to say in the most straightforward manner possible; there’s no room for fluff and erroneous phrasing. How’s that for a writing exercise?
Create a New Character
Sometimes you spend so much time struggling to develop characters that you hit a brick wall of creativity. You’ve spent weeks trying to figure out how to make your protagonist deal with a conflict, or how a minor character can figure more prominently into your novel, and now you’re just burned out. I find that a great way to revitalize your creative spirit it to construct an entirely new character from scratch, one that doesn’t necessarily have to be in your current work.
The sheer act of fleshing out a new character can do wonders for your creativity as it forces you to take an entirely different perspective on characterization. If you’re writing a solemn and dark story, for example, then creating a humorous and quirky character might be just the breath of fresh air that you need to keep you from stagnating in your own work. The point is that creating a new character draws your eye away from the work you’ve been staring at for ages, so that you can approach it again later with renewed enthusiasm.

Reread the Work of a Favorite Author
When I’m looking to change things up and stretch my mind, I often take solace in revisiting my literary roots. The authors that inspired me to be the writer I am today are no less moving and rewarding to read now than they were years ago when I first discovered them.  A single powerful sentence from my literary idols can motivate me to write for hours.
The same could be the case for you. If you’re feeling lost in your writing, perhaps all you need is some quiet time with your favorite book. If anything, the task will put you in a better state of mind than when you struggle in front of a work in progress.
What exercises help you strengthen your writing? Let me know!

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