Welcome to the third component of the March Madness Writing Challenge! As of tomorrow, we have precisely four weeks left to the month, enabling anyone who wishes to tackle up to four additional writing exercises — one per week — in addition to their commitment to write every day. There are more than four weeks’ worth of exercises, so you can spill over into April if you’re interested in doing them all.
As I have stated, this part of the challenge is purely optional. The most important thing is to get your butt in the chair and do that daily writing, even for just fifteen minutes. If you make your writing a priority and get some words done each day, you will have already accomplished a great deal by the end of the month. However, many writers already have a daily writing habit, so these added segments of the challenge will allow them to play along, providing new ways to improve upon existing skills or try out a few new ones.
Each exercise below can be done for one week — Monday through Sunday. If you find something particularly helpful or inspiring, feel free to repeat it for another week or more — though I encourage you to give more than one exercise a try. You can also participate in the circuit training for just one or two weeks instead of all four, depending on your interests and your schedule. Pick and choose with your personal goals in mind, so that you can get the most out of the challenge. Some weeks will get you writing new things, others revising existing work, and some can be adapted for either purpose.
Good luck with all of your writing goals, and enjoy the challenge!
Strengthening: Upper Body
Vocabulary is a vital part of any writer’s toolbox. Strengthen your skills by collecting great nouns that make your writing vivid and precise. This week, step away from the dictionary and start making word lists that apply to various people, places, items, etc. Head to the library and check out the periodicals. What sorts of words can you collect in a magazine on woodworking? Sewing? Architecture? Furniture? Learn the names of different fabrics used in upholstery, for drapes, for clothing. What are the different sorts of windows, and their parts? How do the materials differ in a modern apartment building versus a period house? An estate versus a condo? What words are important in different careers?
Make word lists pertinent to your current work-in-progress. Find flower and tree names. Look up types of weapons. Need to reference bygone era items? Find old newspapers on microfilm and read the advertisements. Even if you don’t think you’ll use a particular type of sword or lady’s undergarment for your present project, add them to the list for future use. Then go through a few scenes in your manuscript and start switching out imprecise words for your new discoveries. You may discover you need less description once what you have starts pulling more weight.
Strengthening: Lower Body
If nouns are the arms that give description heft, verbs are the legs that make your prose dance. Many writing books advise against the overuse of adverbs, but too many adverbs are often trying to make up for lazy, static verbs. Take some of the mostly frequently used verbs and find more dynamic ways of saying the same thing. Instead of standing on a street corner, your character might loiter or slouch. Someone walking up the street could stroll or stride, meander, rush, creep, or wander. Precise verbs set the mood and intention, and contribute to pacing.
Make a list of strong, dynamic alternate verbs, then go through your work-in-progress and see where you can enliven the prose. Pay attention not only to the mood you’re setting, but how the new words sound in the rhythm of the sentence. Note: the exception to this is dialogue attributions. In most cases, he said or she said is sufficient.
Gymnastics: Floor Exercises
Time to go tumbling and leaping across that floor. Let your characters get a move on. But where are they going? What are they leaving behind? Setting can be the backdrop that provides mood and motive in just a few lines for a short work or beautiful sentences woven throughout something longer. Setting can be a single location or a series. But regardless, it should be more than simply where your characters happen to be. In addition to descriptors, consider mood. A room in shadow can be depressing or gloomy or foreboding. Splashes of sunshine revealing dusty surfaces can signal neglect.
Make a list of seven potential settings, from stuffy drawing rooms to modern airplane cabins, from the street you grew up on to a primeval forest. Try to vary them as much as possible, indoor and outdoor, large and small. Then each day of the week, write a vivid description of one setting. Don’t worry about where it will fit in with a writing project — though you are welcome to write about a setting for your work-in-progress or something you’re planning. Simply be as descriptive as possible, remembering all your senses as you include details. Feel free to include people and/or animals in your setting if they are appropriate to the location. But also try to hint at something beyond the description. Assign some type of deeper meaning to your location — the home of a recluse? Site of a murder? — and hint at that as well.
After you’ve finished your description, go back through and circle the few details that really stand out to you the most — the ones you would limit yourself to in a short work of fiction where word count mattered. See how much of the complete picture can you present in just those few words, both physical description and your suggestion of more.
Sprints: 100 Meter Dash
Using the story prompts you’ve collected, write the start of a new story (or novel) every day for seven days. This can count toward your fifteen minutes of writing each day, though again, try to write longer if you are able. Mix up your story prompts so you get to tackle some different types of ideas, and aim for at least a page or two.
These are fast writing exercises. Don’t over think them, and don’t go back to edit. Just get your thoughts down, then set aside the project and move on to the next one on the next day. At the end of the week, you’ll have the start of seven brand new projects. Maybe they’ll all interest you, maybe only one or two will seem to have some promise, but they will give you some fun new things to work on.
Prompt writing of this sort can be a great way to get past the fear of the blank page, to warm up for your work-in-progress, or to stock pile some things to tackle when you’re dealing with a bit of writer’s block on your current project.
Sprints: 400 Meter Dash
This exercise requires a small amount of work before the start of the week. Go through your list of prompts and find seven that interest you and that seem to trigger short-story length ideas. If at all possible, mix up the prompts so you have a variety of story types. For each prompt, jot down just a sentence or two regarding what you think you’d like to write. Give it some thought over a day or two before you commit. Then assign each prompt to a day of the week.
Starting Monday, write a complete short story per day, based on the day’s prompt, for seven days. These are drafts only. No agonizing, no editing. Just push through to the end, wherever your idea takes you. There’s no word length requirement. You can write a 1,000-word flash fiction piece or something longer. And at the end of the week, you will have seven short story drafts to play with. Again, you might not want to edit and polish all of them, but the chances are that at least a couple will continue to excite you enough to revise.