Now, one thing which I am completely guilty of is being slack with keeping up with completing any writing exercises whatsoever and even writing about writing exercises here, on this website.

But a recent article called Woodshedding for Writers by Peter Derk has got me thinking about them again, and about how important they are to your writing, and how important it is to continue to practise the individual elements that make up a piece of writing.



Now, I have read a few books which have mentioned this before, and have been given a few examples and exercises, but none of them have really pushed or prioritized the idea or importance of completing actual technical writing exercises. Derk’s article gently reminds me again, of the idea of how extremely important and vital they are to our craft.



John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

One excellent book who does talk about this is John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. The sub-title is Notes on Craft for Young Writers – but pay no attention to this; this book is highly applicable to any writer, and especially the starting out or beginning writer.


Now, Gardner can appear to be somewhat preachy; he is a complete traditionalist when it comes to fiction. As with any craft book on writing, just take what you want from it; you don’t have to take everything on board. and remember, no two writer is alike. You definitely don’t have to do everything Gardner tells you, but you can if you want 🙂


Fiction Writing Exercises


And actually who am I to judge – I mean, I, not a published, hugely successful writer yet, so – maybe he’s right. I guess, my point is – it’s up to you to decide.


But what I’m really after in his book today, is his theory on writing exercises, and the idea of practising your craft, just like musicians do (as Derk so correctly puts it).



Gardner’s Exercises

In Part 2, Gardner covers the aspects I’m interested in, with the first chapters on Technique, Common Problems and Plotting, and all have excellent tips within. And then he has a section just on Exercises.


He says something rather interesting on page 196 (of my copy):

“it is useful to do certain kinds of exercises-especiall those invlicing plooting-throughout the term, since the skills to be deveolped by thiese exercies cannot be acquired all at one. With practive the (group and each of its) members gets faster and better at doing the job.”

(John Gardner, The Art of Fiction)


Now, this implies that it’s good to vary the exercises you do each month or week and spread them out over a longer period of time, refining and improving your technique as you go along. He also states that some exercises and skills can only be learnt as a group. Now I’m not sure about this – but it’s one thing to keep in mind for your writing groups, online or otherwise…


His technical exercises and advice begin in earnest on page 200, where he states that, by performing these exercises faithfully, the student writer will learn the techniques required for short and long fiction. If you can’t tolerate the rest of the book, do invest the time into reading the preamble of this section.


Here is an example exercise from his book (#16):

Write an honest and sensiteiv description (or sketch) of (a) one of your parents, (b) a mythological besast, and (c) a ghost.

(John Gardner, The Art of Fiction)


Other Relevant Writing Craft Books:

There are a few other books which have had these types of excellent technical exercises within them. One is “So You Want to be a Writer” and Bret Anthony Johnston’s (Editor) “Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer”. Another is John Marsden’s book for younger writers, “Everything I Know About Writing”.



Types of Writing Exercises:

The different types of writing exercises or technical writing exercises include:

  • Characterization or Character Building Exercises
  • Grammar Exercises
  • Plot and Story Structure type Exercises
  • Descriptive Exercises
  • Dialogue Exercises
  • Point of View Exercises
  • In here, there should also be copy-work exercises – something I’ve just recently been reminded of. This is where you spend time each day, copying out, word for word, the writing of a writer you emulate. It helps to imprint onto your subconscious and conscious mind, the method and melody of story-writing.


Most of these can be found within Gardner’s book, but there is another resource which I find helpful; The Write Practice has an article, 100 Writing Practice Lessons & Exercises which lists all their best writing exercises, and is a great place to start if you do not have access to a writing craft book (with exercises included) or a library nearby. Especially of use, are his exercises or links on Characterization, the Grammar and the Plot and Story Exercises.


When and How Often:

It is important to invest the time into completing exercises each day, or at the very least, each week; which will help you to become a better writer, through mindful practice of technique and focusing on the different elements and characteristics of writing.



Key Takeaways:

  • Make time for technical writing exercises every week if possible.
  • Pick something, and work your way through it.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something different.


Every now and then I will include a list of writing exercises which I find helpful, instead of me weekly prompt post, so check back regularly for more exercises 🙂 In the meantime, check out my recent post 7 Fiction Writing Exercises to Try Today!



What are your favourite writing exercises? Have I missed out a specific book with technical writing exercises? Please let me know below, and I will add it to my list.


Happy Writing,




Get Your Copy of The Art of Fiction Here! Or from your local bookseller!


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