Practice, Practice and More Practice

Lately, I have been spending more time practicing my writing than working on my novel, and I can honestly say it has been for the better.  I am still moving forward on my novel by working through the structure and new ideas in my head.  Sometimes this process muddies the waters but more often it allows me to see clearly all the way down to the riverbed, but my daily practice is the driving force that will help me get through to the end.

I also read (and re-read) Joe Bunting’s book, Let’s Write a Short Story, which can be found at one of Joe’s sites The Write Practice or Let’s Write A Short Story or at Amazon.  I took the approach that I need more practice before I will be able to complete my first novel and what better way than to improve my ability to write a story.  Additionally, the confidence of completing a smaller project that must contain all of the same elements of a story will be worth any time spent away from my novel.

Practice tips are included throughout the book and after every blog post.  A morphing of several tips lead me to develop my own method for daily practice.  I chose to take at least five to ten minutes, once or twice a day, and write a descriptive passage based on an emotion, a feeling, an object, a character or any other single item I imagined.

This method of practicing frees my mind from the constraints of my current project.  These practice passages open my creative mind to new ways of approaching just about any aspect of a great story.  What’s freeing is not having to adhere to or develop a backstory or do extensive world building because these are just snippets.  The thoughts of “my character would never do that” or “that would be impossible in this world” never come into play.

And you know what the most freeing part is?  It doesn’t have to be good.  I write it and can set it aside, never to be read again.  I’ve written a few passages that I am proud of and may choose to develop.  If I can work out a full story that fits with the passage I wrote in practice perhaps I will use the piece in a completed short story or novel.  You never know.

Although I ask myself for only five or ten minutes to complete the practice, by the time I am done fifteen or thirty minutes have usually flown by.  The following passage took just over thirty minutes to write.  Other than correcting some typos and minor errors, the piece has not been edited.

If you have a few minutes I would be interested to hear your thought on my piece or how you practice your own creative pursuits in the comments below.

Dumbfounded described his sudden feelings perfectly.  Perplexed?  No that was too scientific.  Dumb.  Founded.  A wonderful juxtaposition of two words with so little in common, but his thoughts led him down a path designed to distract him.  It worked.  His mind knew him better than he knew himself.  He pulled his mind back to the situation at hand.  The predicament he found himself in could never have been predicted, at least not under the normal laws of physics.

He began to pace the room.  He pictured the great thinking minds of the world pacing or walking through a beautiful campus setting solving their problems.  With such little room to pace, he doubted the same methods would work for him here.

The sea roared below him.  At least that is what he assumed made that sound.  He had never been to the sea, so he pieced together memories of sea noise from movies and decided it matched.

The diamond shaped window sat high in the wall, emitting enough light for him to review his surroundings, but too high and far too small for an escape.  The curved walls began at the deep red wooden door and ended back at its hinges.  The black iron showed no signed of rust, in fact they appeared newly painted.  No handle or latch was visible on his side of the door, only a comically large keyhole, which made him chuckle a bit.  The infrequent yet distinct marching coming faintly through the underside of the door prevented him from peering through the hole.

Moments ago he had been in the gym locker room in Ohio.  Now the ancient stone walls, beastly wooden door and sound of the sea altered his well established understanding of reality.  Had he asked for this?  Perhaps, his mind answered him before going silent.  He was at last alone.  Truly alone.

Metal scrapping metal drew his attention back to the door.  The hinges squeaked as the door inched inward.

Creative Exercise: Building Creative Stamina

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Motivating myself to pursue creative passions and projects after a long day of non-creative work can be a struggle.  The feelings go hand in hand with my desire to exercise, which is probably why so many people suggest exercising before you start your day rather than when you are mentally exhausted after work.  This led me to thinking about the number of author interviews I have read where they reveal that before doing anything, except perhaps making coffee, they start their day writing.  No e-mails. No finances. No news. Nothing!

With a number of daily responsibilities for both home and work, sometimes starting my day for myself is simply not possible.  No matter how much I try to set aside an hour first thing in the morning for writing or other creative endeavors, sometimes life gets in the way.

What I need is a way to keep that creative energy up throughout the day, or at least put it on reserve, so I can be inspired and energized once my work, chores and treasured family time has been safely tucked into bed for the night.

I amassed a list of activities that can be done throughout the day or during specific activities on weekdays and weekends.  I will present my creative exercises, and even some from my readers, in regular weekly post to build creative muscles and strengthen creative stamina.  If you have any exercises you use to build your creative muscles, please let me know if the comments below.

This week we will start off with a fairly easy one to get you going.

Reading

Reading is one of my favorite creative exercises.  Not the type of reading I do for pleasure, this is a more active form of this pastime that I use to enhance my imagination.

I set aside time each day to read.  It doesn’t need to be for long, even fifteen minutes can be effective, but ideally you should choose a highly descriptive section of a book.  If you are an author, step away from analyzing the characters, plot, structure and style, and simply absorb the words.  Let the characters and locations come alive in your mind.  Visualize the characters’ features and clothing adding what you think the author may have missed.  Explore the location described in the passage and expand to areas outside of the authors words.

If the character is in a room, explore the tables, cabinets and bookshelves for items even the author did not mention.  Feel the plush carpet or hard wood floor.  Run your hands through the soft fur of the purring cat and spilled coffee on the table that left a sticky residue on the table.  Hear the birds and wind rustling through the leaves just outside an open window.  You can do the same with any location.  Let your senses run free.

If you are so inclined, leave the characters and current location behind and head off to explore the author’s world on your own.  You are creative, you don’t need the author holding your hand.

When you return to practicing your own creative endeavors, remember this experience.  You can then reverse engineer your experience for your own work by imagining in detail before your hand begins to sketch or type the words on the screen.  Who knows maybe that slightest detail of you painting, the smallest feature in your sculpture or a passing description in your novel will make all the difference in the end.

This exercise helps with: Imagination, Visualization, Description