Tuesday, January 12, 2010


This is an exercise I've adapted to work with my students - I've put it here in the hope it helps you too. Would love to know how you get on with it.

Of course, we all know what sort of writers we should be. Except, er, excuse me, but do we? Because who is the perfect writer? The one who produces a stream of bestselling beach reads, or the hermit who spends years perfecting a critically acclaimed but barely sold novella? The one who thrives on deadlines, or the one who runs away and hides at the mere thought of outside pressure? The only thing that’s sure is that every person will have a different writing process. One useful way to find out what kind of writer you are is to try this exercise.

1. Take your journal and, without thinking too much, complete these sentences – I like to write … I don’t like to write ….

2. Keep going like that for the whole ten minutes, alternating the sentences one after the other. Again and again. I like…. I don’t like … Don’t worry about repetition, or about making proper sentences. Particularly don’t cross out or start editing yourself. You should be writing as fast as you can.

3. After your time limit is over, then go back and re-read. Underline anything you find particularly interesting.

4. Are there any discoveries or patterns you can discover about yourself as a writer? When I did this exercise, I was amazed to find out that I write best in blasts, that I prefer music to silence, that I want my writing to be enjoyed by friends, and that I don’t write well when I’m hungry.

5. Now make a list to put above your computer. Above it, write: ‘I am not a perfect writer, but I like ..’ What do you need to change in order to help your writing self perform best?

Finding out what YOU like, and not what you are supposed to like is one of the first steps to taking yourself seriously as a writer.

Read more:

* Five Ways to Write More.

*Five Films About Writing.


Rachel said...

We did a visualisation exercise in my writing class last night where we imagined the first chair that came to mind and described it, then described what kind of a writing style that chair symbolised and then wrote a short critique of that writing style.

Of course it is thought to be our own writing style. I certainly learned what I need to polish up on!

Nik Perring said...

What a terrific exercise. Would you mind if I 'borrowed' it for my writing group later?

I seem to be particularly committed to not writing what other people are writing but my favourite was: I like to write things that make people go: eh? wtf? and then: aahhhh.

Ann Elle Altman said...

This is a great test. I think I will try it. ann

trying to write ... said...

thanks so much ... I loved it and some of this was very interesting to discover. Wish I was close enough to take a class with you but the pond between us is too large.

keep posting this sort of thing though I really appreciate it and it was very helpful


Lost Wanderer said...

I really like the sound of this exercise. I will do this shortly.

Sarah Salway said...

Rachel, I really like the sound of that - what chair were you?
And Nik, I've already spoken about this - yes, of course, borrow away and send the students over here as well. WOuld love to know what they come up with! And that sums up a great dream of writing really - making people to go aahhhh. Lovely!
Ann Elle - hope it works for you. I was very interested in some of my answers. I think the repetition over a period of time encourages surprises.
And Gina, I would so much love to work with you too. Let me know how you get on with this.

Sarah Salway said...

Lost Wanderer, glad you liked it! Let me know how it works.

Nik Perring said...

Well now, Sarah, that worked splendidly. Thank you so much.

Recurring theme: they (and I!) did not like to write while distracted; we had an interesting split about writing under pressure and one discovered she didn't like to write (or read) too much dialogue, which led to interesting exploration and analysis.

What a useful exercise. And I've been sending them here for years (you're officially on Nik's Recommended Reading List!).


trying to write ... said...

I work well with prompt, shorter rather than longer writings, deadlines, boundaries and guidleines are very helpful (even if only to cause me to right in rebellion against them)and personally high or low emotions (I'm happy, I'm sad, I'm angry or in love)make me write as well.

If I feel the pressure to write alot I don't like to write or writing in a vacuum is difficult for me.

Anyway thanks again. (I read your blog on 5 ways to write more too and trying to incorporate some of those things into my daily writing)


Rachel said...

Hi Sarah - I was a rather ornate but badly worn victorian office chair. Very comfortable but needed some work.

I think that describes my writing quite nicely. I need to come out of my comfort zone to finish what I started, but it isn't always easy!

Sarah Salway said...

Interesting, Gina. Sounds as if you got some good stuff out of it. I relate to the writing in a vacuum one too!
And Rachel, I love it! Will have to think of some risk taking exercises for you next!!!!