4 Writing Exercises That Help Keep My Sanity

Writing is hard, like, all the time man.

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I’m not going to spend too much time setting this one up. It’s pretty straightforward — writing is tough and sometimes we need a little boost to get us going, hell, some of us need something just to feel like we accomplished something.

Often times when I find myself staring at a screen for upwards of 30+ minutes, it can take a toll on your confidence. Over the last few years, I’ve gone through trial and error of different exercises in the hopes that they can make me feel adequate. Out of the dozens, here’s four of them that (usually) work.

There has to be some sort of science to back this up. Actually, there is. Though the research provided leans more towards retaining information (taking notes) rather than creating information, there are correlations all the same.

Writing on pen and pad re-wires my brain to be more attentive on to what I’m putting on the page and there are fewer distractions. Also, staring at a white bright empty word doc on a screen just seems to mentally exhaust me before writing even starts. But a normal piece of paper? Not so much.

There’s also a convenience to a pen and pad (or paper). It’s one thing to carry around your laptop everywhere as opposed to having a couple sheets of paper folded up in your pocket with a pen. And believe it or not, you can fit a lot on just one sheet of paper.

Not literal children but those old stories and forgotten works-in-progress that have been growing digi-fungus on your hard drive (or notebook). For starters, it provides a good laugh to look back at older work and read how terrible it is (not always but usually).

The other aspect is re-engaging with old, abandoned work sometimes sparks a creative fire in you. There have definitely been some short stories that I resurrected and got inspired by after reading them. Whether it was doing a fresh draft of the story or taking elements from it and implementing them into something I was currently working on, these ghosts from the past have helped breathe new life into my work.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s rare that we sit down and within 30-seconds are flinging words on the page with little to no resistance. It’s a pretty common routine to stare at a blank screen for a bit. Add in some distractions here and there and before you know it, 30-minutes have gone by before you have even a full paragraph.

There’s nothing wrong with that, so don’t feel bad. For most writers, if we’re not working a gig for someone else’s writing needs, we’re hitting the grind on that 9-to-5 job. It’s hard to switch your brain but there is a way to make use of the lull.

When I do something active, even moderately, it allows myself to simplify my focus. Preferably I suggest going for a walk. Just a nice, calm walk (and better if you leave the cell at home). Not only are you doing something healthier than sitting slouched in a chair but as you become more consistent with this practice, you can utilize it to gather your thoughts and build momentum so when you sit down to write, you actually start writing right away. Plus, it’s a nice way to relax and decompress!

My thoughts can be scattered. So scattered that ideas from other stories start to crash into other ideas and it’s absolute mayhem in my head. If my goal isn’t just to write but to work on a specific story, this scenario can really be a bit of a nightmare for me.

When all else fails, I call a buddy.

It can really be anyone but it’s best to keep this to one or two specific friends. For me, it’s my buddy Armando who is an avid reader and writer himself. When my brain is a hurricane, I can call him and talk about my idea and the story I’m trying to write and slowly but surely things start to become more organized.

Especially with someone with his experience, he’s able to guide me honestly through my process and even provide clarity to what I’m trying to do. As we talk, sometimes I’ll jot down notes but most of the time after our phone calls I’m able to sit down and get some work done. It’s also nice to catch up with a good friend!