Exercise your faith in the power of practice

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“Success has ruined more writers than failure,” said Frank Conroy, the late director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.” If you want to proceed toward either of these outcomes, however, you must practice your writing. Exercises give you the chance to practice, a slight shove toward some specific direction. Your mind quiets when it’s given a task in an exercise; it stops interrupting the flow of words.

Exercises are everywhere, especially on the Web. My mentor in Amherst Writing and Artists training Patricia Lee Lewis has a raft of great exercises at her Web site, Patchwork Farm. She has compiled this fun list of exercises over the past three years. She also points out a link to another site, The Writer’s Resource Center, which has even more exercises.

At the Resource Center’s site, John Hewitt explains that writing imperfectly is good for your practice. Exercises let you write without any expectation of publication, at least at first:

One of the great benefits of private writing exercises is that you can free yourself of fear and perfectionism. To grow as a writer, it is important to sometimes write without the expectation of publication. Don’t be afraid to be imperfect. That is what practice is for. What you write for any of these exercises may not be your best work, but it is practice for when you will need to write your best work.

Let me offer a couple of exercises from these teachers for you to try today. From Patricia:

Make a list of ten verbs. Add “ing” to each verb. Before each verb, add “not.” Write whatever comes for 25 minutes.

From the Writer’s Resource site:

Remember an old argument you had with another person. Write about the argument from the point of view of the other person. Remember that the idea is to see the argument from their perspective, no your own. This is an exercise in voice, not in proving yourself right or wrong.

Setting a time limit for yourself makes exercises work hard for your practice. It also keeps you from getting spooked about getting started writing — you can be sure the effort will be over in awhile!

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