The task of having to build the right muscles is not reserved for professional athletes alone. Writers, too, must work hard at their craft and train their creativity. As most of us know, creativity is now an overused buzzword – yet its importance to students continues to increase. The paradoxical truth is that most creative writing programmes in the local context are anything but creative. Real writers dip into a trove of exercises to transcend writer’s block and liberate their creativity. We ask: why don’t more students get to use these techniques?
Memorising (somewhat hackneyed) phrases for the PSLE at age 12 is a national pastime that will probably get you over that hurdle, but it won’t get you much further. The truth is that there is a whole world of creativity-boosting exercises out there. Over the past few decades, writers and educators alike have generated an extensive collection of writing exercises that target specific mental faculties. Much like fitness regimens, these exercises are most effective when repeated regularly over a long period of time. But lest you unwittingly fall into a routine of mismatched exercises, it is first important to consider the specific issues that may concern you when it comes to writing.
Do you find that you’re often plagued by writer’s block or hindered by the debilitating pressure of having to write something ostensibly good? Are you unable to move past the superficial to construct rounded, complex characters? Is your style of writing often criticised for being inconsistent?
Each of the aforementioned questions highlights a different concern that rightfully requires a different set of exercises to be resolved effectively.
Here’s one recommendation from us: writer’s block can be overcome by developing a daily practice of freewriting. One widely used example of freewriting is the Morning Pages, created by American author and teacher Julia Cameron. (The Guardian goes as far as to call it life-changing. We are inclined to agree.)
In the Morning Pages, Cameron prescribes a daily dose of writing – immediately, and upon waking up. Anyone performing this exercise should write at least 3 pages’ worth; there is no limit on what can or cannot be written. The main purpose is to interweave the practice of writing with your morning ritual and more importantly, to declutter your brain and remove the element of inertia that prevents you from writing and thinking freely. Many writers, creatives and even entrepreneurs (after all, entrepreneurs need to tap into their wellsprings of creativity too) rate this exercise highly, claiming it becomes easier to write these Morning Pages over time. Furthermore, the material written becomes increasingly nuanced as well, reflecting a gradual improvement in sophistication and organisation of one’s thoughts.
On top of writing exercises, there is also a wide array of writing prompts that can be found both online and offline. Prompts help writers jumpstart the process at any given time by providing them with specific direction – for instance, “Write a story that begins with the following sentence: “You will never see tomorrow.”” It may also be useful to note that writing prompts do not have to be made up of words alone; some prompts are visual in the form of a photograph (reminiscent of descriptive compositions in primary school) or an artwork. The key is to ascertain which stimuli work best for you.
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, establishing a consistent writing practice and having the discipline to follow through with it is paramount. And since we at Academia – besides being literature aficionados – believe that language is the foundation of thinking, writing better simply means thinking better. So go ahead and schedule that mental workout before your day begins.