Writing Muscles

Outtakes 216

Writing Muscles

By Cait Collins


I learned a number of things during my vacation. I think the most telling was I don’t exercise enough. I did a lot of walking on less than level streets and climbed up and down ladders and stairs. By the end of the trip I was hurting. So I resolve to exercise more so that I don’t punish my body when I travel or have an adventure.

Just like our bodies deteriorate from a lack of exercise, our writing skills can suffer from a lack of use. Too often we use the same formula when we begin a new project? What if we changed the routine? Could the story be more exciting or could the different turn propel us to new avenues for our careers? Is the risk worth the potential results? Maybe the better question would be what if we never take a risk? Will the failure to explore possibilities actually be detrimental to success?

Work your voice. Not the one that verbally articulates your thoughts, but the voice that is uniquely you. Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire series has a style that advertises the author. You only have to read a few paragraphs to recognize the style and hand-picked word choices. That’s what we all need and want – – a voice that promotes our individual style and personality.

We must also exercise our basic skills of grammar, vocabulary, characterization, plot and description. We can not become lazy and complacent in these areas. When the primary elements become weak, the whole work suffers. For this reason, I play with lists, colors, unusual situations, and new characters. I recommend 642 Things to Write About and 712 More Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. The books provide fabulous exercises to stretch, mold, strengthen and sculpt our skills.

Just as flabby and weak muscles are not good for the body, underdeveloped skills do not make for good writing. Resolve now to work the skills that lead to better and more fulfilling work.


Things to Write About

Outtakes 194

Things to Write About

By Cait Collins


The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto has done it again. I’ve enjoyed their first release 642 Things to Write About. The pages are full of ideas to spark a writer’s creative juices. The ideas are unique. For example, “Write two prayers for your character: one to be said in private, one to be said in public”. Or, “study a stranger. Go home and write a tragedy about his or her mother”. Or maybe write about “a tree from the point of view of one of its leaves”. Sounds interesting doesn’t it? I can assure you there are plenty of ideas in this journal to jump start the imagination. They also released 642 Things to Write About Young Writer’s Edition designed to inspire our younger aspiring authors.

If you think 642 ideas is impressive, the Grotto has another volume; 712 More Things to Write About. Yes, 712 more ideas. Try this. “What were you thinking the first time you made out with someone?” Then there is “Write about a time in your life when you narrowly escaped some terrible fate –but change the ending, and write as if the terrible thing actually happened.” And now “Write five messages from the Ouija board”. And if you are still not convinced everything is fair game, I challenge you to “Write for 10 minutes without stopping about everything that stops you from writing”.

Sometimes we may believe the muse has left us. Our minds are so clouded with what went wrong at work, your child needs braces and your dental insurance will pay less than half the cost, and the social function you’d rather skip. We allow our concerns to block our creativity. But these journals give so much inspiration. They are treasures for our tired, stressed minds. I do recommend them. Just think one short exercise may be the start of a short story, an article, or a novel.