Four tips to warm-up those ‘writing muscles’ in your head and fingers

Here are four ideas to help you get those creative juices, and those good old nimble fingers, started as you approach your daily writing routine. (I wrote a brief article about writing warm-ups some months ago. This is an elaboration of some of the stuff I said in that earlier article.)

You can have some fun with your writing and stimulate those “creative juices” for the day by doing some useful “warm-ups” to get the words flowing. These ideas should work for you whether you keyboard your manuscripts or do pen-and-paper writing in a notebook. (Remember, too, that some very successful books have been written using nothing more than pencils and Big Chief lined tablets.)

1. The power of “what if?” One of the most useful writing exercises for stimulating the old brain cells anytime anywhere, and certainly one of the simplest, is to look at a story or news article — look online, check your local newspaper, try your favorite magazine, etc. — and simply ask yourself, “what if …?” Now fill in the blanks, i.e., complete that “what if …?” statement with whatever comes to your mind. Here’s an example of a “what if …?” statement and completion:

My wife and I get a kick out of watching old “Malcolm in the Middle” reruns on cable TV. (I think it is one of the zaniest, best-written and best-acted sitcoms in recent decades.) One we saw recently involved a “super genius” kid in Malcolm’s gifted students class. In the course of the plot, the kid mentions that his memory is so good that he remembers in detail everything about his own birth. Immediately (well, maybe not “immediately”), my brain popped up something like: “What if the kid could have sent out his own birth announcements?” In this case, the “what if” led to speculation about how would he know who to send them to? Would he have learned enough by eavesdropping on mom and dad while in the womb to form opinions about which of their friends he’d want in on the great event?

Okay, so that’s a bizarre “what if.” But you get the idea. And if you write fiction, you know the value of “what if,” even when the “what ifs” come out rather bizarre. It’s meant to be a starting point. For every good, useful “what if” you come up with, you’ll probably have dozens, even hundreds, of useless rejects. But that’s all part of the creative process to get those juices flowing and words pouring out, isn’t it?

2. Set a 10 minute timer when you put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. As soon as you start the timer, get busy writing. Write the first thing that comes to your mind. Keep writing with no more than a second or two pause at a time — and do that for the full 10 minutes until your timer goes off. You’ve probably heard of this sort of writing warm-up before. It’s referred to sometimes as “automatic writing.” The goal here is to get your brain really going in high gear and to make that fluid connection between your mind and the “muscle memory” of your fingers (whether you keyboard or scribble on paper).

I dare you to plead “writer’s block” after a good 10 minute timed session of automatic writing. It’s like brain storming, with the added mind-finger stimulation. Works almost as well for starting your writing day as a strong cup/pot/gallon of good coffee.

3. Start and end your writing time with a cliffhanger. This demands that you develop the habit of walking away from your writing each day right in the middle of a scene, even in the middle of a particular sentence. That sets you up to get back to the keyboard first thing in your writing session knowing exactly what you’re going to write — you’re going to finish that sentence (or scene, chapter, whatever). Now you’ve broken the ice, and hopefully even got your mind back to the point where you stopped the day/night before, and you can once again watch the word magic flow.

4. Forget about chronological or narrative sequence and write what you want to write. If you’re a compulsive/obsessive sort of person like me, this really comes hard. Probably from my years of news writing and news editing, I cannot comfortably picture a scene or story out of sequence. My writing has always had a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Hence, if I don’t write it from beginning to end, my brain balks. But I’m working on it.

Writing your story with little or no regard to the sequence or chronology of events can really be liberating. Who says you can’t sit down and write that death scene, or that happily-not-so-ever-after final scene you’re itching to get into? Why not fire off those ideas as quick and hot as they come to you? After all, writing should be exciting and fun. And there’s an abundance of software, or stacks of paper and boxes of index cards, a myriad of tools of all sorts for putting it all nicely together at the rewrite stage.

So there you go. Don’t let lethargy, or the myth of writer’s block, or anything else keep you from writing. Use these and other mental and physical writing warm-ups you devise on your own.

Now get busy and write something that’ll make us all proud.

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