Have you ever thought you need a Writer’s Training Plan?
Well, imagine somebody who’s halfway through a 5K race. His chest is heaving, his stomach is tight, he can barely lift his feet off the ground. His body slouches, and he stops running. Frustrated, he thinks to himself, I wasn’t cut out to be a runner, and he quits the race.
Sounds pretty common, right? Those of you reading who may hate running might feel this is a very relatable story. You might even feel sorry for a guy who has worked so hard to race and failed.
Okay, but how does this change your perspective? Imagine a guy who quits a 5K race halfway through it, going through the exact same scenario as the guy above, but he never trained a day in his life? How does your opinion change?
See, when you decide to run a race, there is an implication that you’re going to train. It’s the same for anything else – a girl who wants to play the guitar, or a newlywed that wants to cook dinner. Every one of those activities implies a certain amount of practice to get it down. That means training your body to do something it’s never done before – like running a 5K – or teaching your brain how to do something correctly without thinking – like playing an instrument.
And yet, so many people get frustrated with writing that we quit – and we never really train for it.
Writing prompts are a writer’s training plan. For those of you unfamiliar, writing prompts are a series of statements or topics that are designed to drop you into freewriting. Sometimes they are fiction-based, and sometimes they are to bring out personal reflections. But by going through those writing exercises, your brain learns how to write better and stronger pieces, which pushes you further towards your writing goals.
You may even be surprised at how writing prompts teach you different ways of organizing your thoughts. That change in perspective can help you find that story idea or blog post topic you were looking for.
Find a book of prompts.
On my bookshelf in my office, I have several books of different kinds of writing prompts – like The 3 A.M. Epiphany or The Pocket Muse. Some are more lighthearted, like The Write-Brain Workbook and The Writer’s Book of Matches. When I’m ready to do a little freewriting to help train my writing brain for the longer pieces I’m working on, I’ll grab one of these off the shelf, open it to a random page, and pick a prompt to write about for a bit.
Schedule a time to do it regularly.
Just about any exercise program you tackle will recommend that you set aside a specific time every day (or every other day) to get into the habit of exercising. You also need to do this for writing. Starting a new habit is hard to do, so schedule it. Pick a time where you have no distractions and can sit and write, uninterrupted, for a specific period of time.
Set a target word count (or time).
When you go out for a run, you try to plan how long you’re going to be out there. Maybe you’d like to knock out 3 miles, or just see how far you can get in 25 minutes. The point of setting those goals is to push yourself farther than you did the previous day. That’s how you get in shape. When you write, set a goal for yourself, and make it a little uncomfortable. That way, you know you’ll be pushing yourself to be your best.
Find a favorite method of publishing your freewrites.
It could be public or private. You might just want to hop over to WordPress or Blogspot and strike up a small blog. Maybe you feel at home with a pen and a nice notebook. Perhaps you enjoy the simplicity of a Word document. The correct method is one that you are going to use on a consistent basis. For me, I like my Tumblr blog for simple freewriting exercises. I’m okay with making them public. You might prefer to keep them private – and that’s okay too.
Remember, the point of a training day isn’t to run a 5K at race pace – it’s to get your body used to running and building up your endurance. By that same token, a freewriting session isn’t there to force you to crank out the works of Shakespeare – it’s to help your brain think of new ways to write, and to help you discover how to organize your thoughts better. Some days will look like rough masterpieces. Other days will be ridiculous and disorganized. But every day is useful, and they will all work together to make you a better writer in the end.