In response to requests for writing tips I thought I’d share some of the exercises that I have used to tackle writer’s block. Once you have written a few lines, you can edit – change grammar, add more lines, find perfect synonyms and make your work look professional. I have a habit of justifying all my writing during the setting up process, but that is my personal preference. I find editing easier but to edit you need to have something on the page. I have written a post with detailed writing and editing tips that you can read here.
So, if you are having trouble putting words on a page, have a go at these writing exercises.
Choose a current event that is in the news: politics, royals, celebrity, TV programmes, sport . . . the choice is limitless – and yours.
Then, write as if you are a columnist in a newspaper or magazine discussing the event using one or two paragraphs. It can be as formal or as informal as you like. For example, Prince Harry’s wedding. His bride-to-be quit her job. Is it necessary? It’s not the 1950s. She’s an American divorcee marrying a royal and we know what happened the last time a prince wanted to marry an American divorcee. Should this matter in the twenty-first century? Are you looking forward to the wedding? Will you hibernate for the month of May (and June if it covers the honeymoon too).
What focus will you take, will you be biased or try to offer a balanced view of the subject? It’s amazing how easy it is to write when you are given a topic and the subject matter. Not sure how to format it? See Exercise Two.
You have a subject but no inspiration? Then write a bullet-pointed list.
Here’s my quick example: A Walk on the Beach
- I took the dog to the beach in the back of the car
- The tide was out and Bruno (my dog) was excited
- Little sail boats were bobbing in the water
- A couple of children were searching underneath rocks looking for crabs
Form your bullets into sentences. It might not give you a full paragraph straight away, but you’ll be able to edit and improve later if need be.
So let me attempt this . . .(I’m doing this in real-time so I’ve not planned or thought this through).
Bruno, my scruffy black mongrel the size of a spaniel, rode to the beach in his cage in the boot of my car. He’s not a good traveller and whined a little, but it’s only a ten minute drive and he loves racing along the beach chasing a tennis ball. He barked enthusiastically as I parked, for he could see his favourite walking spot. I’d left his lead on him so that I could catch it before he ran off, I like to be careful in case there are unruly dogs or young children about.
Out of the car, he dragged me onto the ramp that led to the golden sand and I had to call him to heal. I could see little boats at the shoreline bobbing up and down as the tide went out further and in the distance I spotted a couple of jet-skis leaving a white foam in their wake.
I kept Bruno on his lead until we’d passed a couple of children searching in a rock-pool for crabs with a couple of cheap sandcastle buckets and a net to share. They squealed happily as they captured their prey and placed the wriggling creature into a bucket. I bounced the tennis ball on the sand and Bruno wagged his tale excitedly as I unclipped his lead. He took off as fast as he could after the ball that I threw with considerably less expertise than the crab-fishers caught their crab.
This little exercise took me around fifteen minutes and can be used for all sorts of subjects.
Choose an online article, a newspaper or magazine article or even the first page of your favourite book and try to re-write it, but not verbatim. If you publish anything that was quoted or para-phrased from someone else’s work, you must always credit the person in the text or at the end of your page/chapter. If you publish without crediting the author you will be committing plagiarism (copying someone else’s work).
For ease I’m using my post ‘Digital v Physical Archives: A Personal Account, Part 2’ which you can read here.
‘In Part 1 I discussed my use of archives while researching my family history, describing how digital archives were the catalyst for my research in various archives in Britain and Ireland spanning several years. With ten years’ archival research behind me, I decided to study for a history degree. Those years were invaluable to me, as I headed into the archives within weeks of starting my first semester as a 40-year-old.’
The new version:
In a previous post I wrote about using online resources to help me with my genealogical research. I noted that using digital archives gave me crucial experience before entering into various repositories in London, Liverpool and Dublin. This hobby, spanning a decade, gave me the confidence to apply to university and study for a history degree. They say life begins at forty, well so did my degree!
See how I’m saying the same thing, but it’s different?
A day out can lead to a short or long article. The choice is yours. Go for a walk. Visit a tourist attraction or go to a local fete and pretend you are reporting it for the local newspaper.
Take a notebook out with you and jot down the places you visit and the fascinating things that you see. Don’t forget to take photos. You can plan your post using Exercise Two or if you are snap happy with your camera then take photos of things you like and the explanation boards adjacent. It’s so much easier than writing notes. When ready to write you can take inspiration from your photos or your jottings.
I hope these four simple exercises have helped. Let me know if they do!