Are Writing Exercises Effective?

It was reported that the great American author Sinclair Lewis was once asked to give a lecture on writing to a group of college students: "Looking out at this gathering," he said to the assembled students, "makes me want to know how many of you really and truly wish to become writers?" Every hand in the room went up. Lewis looked at them for a moment and then folded his notes and put them away. "If that's true," he said, "then the best advice I can give you is to go home and start writing." He then turned and left the room.

If the first secret of writing is to write and if you've set up some sort of writing schedule, the next step is to figure out what to write.

Opening a brand new file and looking at a blank screen often results in a kind of brain-freeze; we feel as idea-less as the empty screen we're staring at. Writing exercises can help us thaw our idea bank. The goal of a writing exercise is to open your mind and allow you to hone your skills and experiment. The joy of such an exercise is it's not 'for real.' That is, there's no thought of pleasing an editor or finding a publisher or meeting a deadline or getting paid. You're just writing, with your internal editor turned off.

Some freelancers find writing exercises so effective and freeing they actually begin every writing session with a 10 or 15-minute exercise. Others use them more sporadically. But however you do it, writing exercises will help you with your writing. Use writing exercises in your writing schedule, as a natural part of your writing discipline; use the exercises often and watch your writing improve.

Ideally, a writing exercise is short, requiring you to spend no more than 10 or 15 minutes writing, thinking and feeling about something that's unrelated to the rest of your writing work. In a way, they are like mini-meditations and mini-vacations because they clear out the cobwebs and give you a new view.

It's that new view, that different way of seeing, of expressing, that's the key to a good writing exercise. Naturally, not every exercise blows your mind every time. Sometimes you are just not ready for the challenge presented, but even then, the seed is planted. Sometimes you are simply not up for doing a writing exercise, which is okay too. Again, simply reading can set some new thoughts in motion.

Lana Hampton makes it easy to improve your writing skills. Visit her Writing [] website today for the latest writing tips and information.

A Quick Start to Grammar Basics

by Kristy Taylor 2008

Grammar is a part of writing that can intimidate many people, but becoming familiar with a few simple grammar rules can help tremendously as you learn to become a better writer. Here is a quick start to a few grammar basics.

Who, Which and That
Usually, the word who is used for mentioning people (or animals, if they have names.) The words that and which are normally used when mentioning things. For example, you could write, “I need the frying pan that I bought yesterday.” Or, you could write, “I need the frying pan, which I bought yesterday.” If you choose to use the word which, make sure there is always a comma before it. (This does not apply if you are using the word which to make a distinction between two things, such as “which sweater should I wear?”)

Whenever you use the word this, make sure there is a noun after it to describe what you are writing about. (A noun is a person, place, thing or idea: like mother, St. Louis, table or love.) For instance, instead of writing, “This is an outrage,” you should write, “This mistreatment is an outrage.” Always describe the thing to which this is referring.

Than or As with Me and I
When comparing two things that end with a pronoun (such as me, I, she, her, etc.) it can be tricky to know which word to use. For instance, in the sentence, “Sarah likes Becky more than me,” is it correct to use the word me, or should the word I be used? There is a very easy solution to this problem. When you are writing sentences like these, complete the sentences in your head. “Sarah likes Becky more than I do.” Therefore, in this case, the word to use would be I. In the sentence, Sarah likes Becky more than me,” you could complete the sentence in your head by saying, “Sarah likes Becky more than she likes me.” Therefore, in this case, the correct word to use would be me.

We and Us
Often the usage of the words we and us can be confusing. Usually this happens when the words we or us come before a noun in a sentence, like this: “We girls are going to beat you boys.” Many people are unsure if the words we girls or us girls should be used. If you would like to take a shortcut with the more complicated grammar rules, there is a very easy way to remember which word should be used. Simply remove the noun and think about what the sentence should sound like. For instance, saying “Us are going to beat you boys” sounds wrong to most people (and it is incorrect.) Therefore the correct word to use in that particular sentence is we.

Proper use of the English language can be complicated at times. However, getting a quick head start with your grammar skills will take your writing a long way.

About the author:
Kristy Taylor is a syndicated journalist with articles and fiction strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of Paramount Publishing, which encompasses several web sites, including

Taking Yourself Seriously As a Writer

When I first became a full-time writer, I got so upset with people who belittled me or my position. Since I worked from home, many people had it in their mind that I didn't have a job therefore I was available to do other things. For a while, this bothered me greatly. Finally, I discovered that others were not taking me seriously as a writer because I was not taking myself seriously. I treated writing as more of a hobby than a business. No wonder I wasn't getting any respect.

Below you'll find a few tips for treating your writing as a business:

1. Set up an office.
If you're going to work from home, you need a dedicated place for your writing. I understand that one of the greatest parts about being a freelance writer is that you can work from anywhere, and that's true. But you need a home base. You need a place where you can store your files, notes, and books. It doesn't have to be a large space, but find an area of your home and "rope it off" as your office. Whether you work from there or not is up to you, but you'll always know where to find your materials if you keep them in a specified place.

2. Set up a schedule.
Working from home offers a lot of benefits, one of which is freedom in your schedule. The problem occurs when you give yourself too much freedom. It's amazing how many things "come up" during the course of the day that will hinder you from your writing. Even though your schedule is flexible, it's still important to have one. Not all people are the same, so not all schedules are the same. You may be the type of person who loves a detailed minute-by-minute plan. If so, that's great as long as it works for you. For others, it works well to schedule a certain amount of time for writing or a certain number of pages to be written each day. Find what works for you and stick with it to the best of your ability.

3. Know what you do.
Another problem I faced when I told people I was a writer was that I couldn't answer their specific questions about my work. Many would ask, "What do you write?" In response, I would start rambling on about the different projects I had done in the past and what I planned to work on in the future. I had a lot of ideas, but everything was scattered and unclear. I couldn't answer their questions about my writing because I didn't know the answers. Take time to figure out what kind of writing you want to do. What does it mean to you to be a writer? Why did you choose writing as a profession? Find the answer to these questions so that you can relay them to others.

4. Hold yourself accountable.
It's easy to let things slip a little when you work for yourself. After all, there's no boss, so there's no one to answer to, right? Wrong! You have to answer to yourself. Make yourself accountable. If you didn't do any writing today, ask yourself why, and then determine if the answer is acceptable. If you don't hold yourself accountable for the work you're supposed to be doing, the work won't get done. I love to write, but there are days where I find myself doing everything but writing. During these times, I have to give myself a "kick in the pants" to get myself going again.

Being a full-time writer has so many benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. The biggest drawback of all is when you allow the many benefits to warp your view of your writing profession. If you're going to write as a hobby, that's fine. But if you want to write for a living, some major discipline and a change in mindset will be necessary. You can't expect others to take you seriously if you don't take yourself seriously.

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Writing is a Life-Long Sentence

There's really only one duty a writer owes to
themselves and their readers - and that is to
constantly strive to improve.

Ask any seasoned writer and they'll tell you
that getting better at the craft is probably
the most fulfilling aspect of writing.

Because you are effectively getting better at
communicating your ideas - and placing your
world view into the minds of others. To me
this is an almost magical concept.

So - constant improvement - how does one
achieve it? Here are nine short tips:

1. Read Like it's Going Out of Fashion

You've heard it a million times before.
You can't love writing without first loving
to read. Read a lot. Read everything. Analyze
writing and writers. Study what works, what
doesn't, wonder why and learn from it.

Realize too that the published writing
you see has probably been worked and
reworked over and over to appear effortless.
Don't assume professional writers get it
down perfect every time. They don't. Their
work too has been analyzed, edited and
beaten into shape by themselves and other

2. Study Your Own Writing

Study every word, every sentence, every
phrase. Are you maximizing the effect of
your words? Could you say the same thing
a different way?

Don't just blindly accept your words as
perfect. Professionals know there is
always another way of stating something,
setting a scene, explaining an emotion.
Too many novice writers fall in love with
their words, refusing to accept there
might be a better way to get to what is

3. Learn to Love Criticism

When we start out, criticism hurts - big
time. We've bared our soul. We've agonized
over our words and are proud of what we've
said. Off-hand comments about our work
can feel like a body slam, even an
attack on our capabilities, our character,
our integrity.

But that's not what is going on. People
love to criticize - it's human nature.
Even the best writers are criticized.
The point is to learn from criticism
and rise above it. Listen to what is
being said, make changes if necessary
but do it for you. You are the final
arbiter - but don't be blind or sulky
about it. Take it on board.

4. Read Aloud to Others

Reading out loud can highlight the
strengths and weaknesses within your
writing. Especially in the areas of
rhythm, wordiness and dialogue. It's
a great test.

Read to friends and family, yes, but
also read to other writers. Let them
make comments. Enjoy the process.

Try this. Read a short piece to a
group of friends/writers. Make note
of how your writing sounds to them.
Listen to suggestions. Make changes,
read it aloud again. Keep doing this
until everyone involved thinks the
writing - every word, every phrase -
is perfect.

5. Try Different Styles

It's too easy to get stuck in one area
of expertise. If you're a fiction buff,
try writing magazine articles or
screenplays. If you're a journalist,
try free-form fiction. If you're a
literary type, try writing advertising
copy. Don't limit yourself. All types
of writing are good in their own way
and experimenting with them can teach
you little tricks that help you become
a more mature, fully rounded writer.

Novice writers tend to think they
shouldn't experiment, that somehow it
might taint their art. Nothing could
be further from the truth.

6. Take Courses, Read More Books on

The process of being taught, of
exposing yourself to the ideas of
others, cannot be underestimated. Even
if you disagree with what is being said,
it all helps stretch you and give you
a deeper understanding of what is good
and right for your writing.

When you take lessons in writing, study
hard, do the exercises, listen to the
feedback, act on it and write some more.
Your writing will improve the more you
do it. Don't sit and fret over your
writing. Just do it.

7. Seek Out Good Advice

I quite often hear novice writers
complain that they're learning nothing
new about writing from the various
authorities they consult. They sound
disillusioned, as if there's more pertinent
information out there, if only they could
find it.

Odd, considering I've never met a seasoned
writer didn't love to debate the absolute
basics of word-play, grammar, sentence
structure and all the other little things
that novices seem to grow weary of hearing.

Remember. You can never hear good advice
too many times.

8. Give Back

Share your knowledge. Teach what you have
learned about writing to others. Too often
novice writers can feel there's some sort
of clique of professionals who don't want
to talk to them or associate with them.

We writers, whatever our abilities, must
learn to see ourselves as a community
with similar aims - to actively enhance
all our writing - to raise the bar and
to act for the betterment of all writers.

9. Constantly Want More From Yourself

Stretch yourself continuously. Find new
ways of expressing yourself.

Writing is sometimes a strange past-time.
A writing project that begins like an
adventure can quickly become an obsession
that ends up feeling like some self
inflicted curse!

But all writing experience is good,
whether it's fun or not. Not all of
your writing is going to be fun and
fulfilling. Some of it may be a hard
slog or a nuisance. This is okay.

If you want to succeed in writing,
it should become your life, your
passion, even your reason to be. It's
a fine and noble way of life.

If you want it, embrace it, and your
writing will benefit enormously. Go for it!

Best of luck and - whatever you do - keep writing.

Rob Parnell Best Selling Author of: The Easy Way to Write a Novel

Small Reports is the Way to Go

I don't know about you, but, for me, the thought of creating an entire e-book is just overwhelming.

You have to choose a topic, write 50-100 pages, make a sales letter, find a shopping cart, and figure out how to sell the darned thing -- even before you make a dime.

What if that process was not only made simple and straightforward, but also significantly easier?

That's what I found when I reviewed the course from Jimmy D. Brown.

First of all, Jimmy is known for his reputation -- in a good way. ;) He's been building a business online since 1999 and is talked about in Internet Marketing circles as the "nicest guy in Internet Marketing".

So what does that prove? It shows two things:

1. Jimmy is well respected. (He's not selling junk.)
2. He's been around for awhile and knows his stuff. (Not some fly-by-night "guru-wannabee".)

However -

When he released his course on creating e-books, I thought, "What in the world could he possibly have to say that's new?"

As I listened to the course, I felt like I was reading a book with unexpected twists and turns. It wasn't the same old recycled junk I see out there, for sure.

However, even with the twists and turns, Jimmy kept the steps simple. He didn't leave any gaps at all. In fact, I tried to come up with one negative thing to tell you about this course, so you wouldn't think I was just pitching it blindly ... and I can't.

The case studies he provides at his site show the potential here -

* Over eighteen-thousand dollars in monthly residuals.
* Over thirty-thousand dollars in one day profit.
* Over one million dollars in total profit.

All from writing short reports.

That means, if right now you have no list, no web site, no ideas ... nothing ... you can still actually make money from this system in just 1 week.

(Of course, if you have some of those things, you can see results even quicker!)

I mean, it's all broken down into easy-to-do steps!

In other words, there's a "small fortune" to be made with these "small reports"!

If you order today, you can *LITERALLY* be taking orders for you first small report in less than 1 week from NOW.

So, head over to his site and grab your copy today!

P.S. - If you're not ready to buy the full course, but would like to learn more about Small Reports, here's a free report Jimmy penned entitled "Five Steps to a Big-Profit, S.M.A.L.L. Reports Business."

Five Ways to Start Strong

A good story or article is only as strong as its beginning. Let's face it, what are the chances that someone will continue reading your work if the beginning is long, dry, and boring? Not good.

The beginning of your story is the most important part. It is the factor that helps your reader determine whether he will keep reading or whether he will close the book and put it back on the shelf.

Below you will find five ways to strengthen your story beginning.

1. You must have a slant.
One mistake many writers make is that they try to write everything about their subject. Not only is that impossible, but it also gives the story or article no original slant. There are probably hundreds of articles on the same subject as yours. Why should the reader pick yours? Narrow your subject down to one main aspect. Don't write an article about Christmas. Write an article on the story behind the Christmas wreath. The tighter your focus, the better your story will be.

2. You must have a lead.
A lead is a sentence, paragraph, or number of paragraphs that hook your reader, ensuring that he will continue reading. The length of your lead depends on the length of your article or story. In shorter pieces, you don't have the time or space to waste words. Hook your reader, and then carry on with the story. One of the best ways to hook your reader is to start in the middle of your story. This evokes curiosity in the reader. However you choose to work your lead, make it strong and emotional. Convince your reader to care.

3. You must deliver.
In your lead, you promised your readers answers to certain questions or guided them along a particular train of thought. Follow through with what you started. Don't cheat the reader by attracting them to your piece with exaggerations or false claims. Finish what you start and be sure to answer any questions that you raised in your lead.

4. You must keep a consistent tone.
Every article or story will carry its own tone or emotion. Some are funny and lighthearted. Some are heavy and dark. Some are evil and mysterious. It is up to you, as the writer, to determine the mood of your piece and stick with it. Sure, there will be shifts in the character's moods, but the overall tone of the story must remain the same.

5. You must begin at the beginning.
Too many writers feel the necessity to fill in every detail about their characters, their setting, and their backstory in the first few chapters of their work. Be careful to avoid that mistake. Start your story in the middle of the action. You can fill in details along the way.

By following these tips, you'll greatly improve your story or article. While each of these points mainly refers to the beginning of your work, several of them can be followed throughout the writing process, making your entire manuscript a literary masterpiece.

Dana Rongione
Want to improve your writing?
Sign up today for an 8-week e-class.

What Makes a Good Magazine Query

Jennifer Carsen

Any successful magazine writer will tell you that query letters are the key to breaking in to the business.

In a query letter (these are increasingly emails rather than hard-copy letters), you pitch your fantastic story idea to an editor and request the opportunity to write the story for them. Over time, as you get more established, editors will get to know you and will increasingly assign stories to you directly. But when you're just starting out, queries are a must.

It's vitally important to develop a thick skin, especially in the beginning - you're going to get a whole lot of rejections, no matter how good your ideas or writing are. But here are some ways you can increase your odds of getting a yes:

1. Know who you're pitching to. There's a ton of turnover in the magazine business, especially these days. The editor whose name is on the masthead of the current issue may have actually left weeks or months ago. It's always a good idea to call and confirm before you send your query out. And don't try to cop out by writing "Dear Editor" - it's lazy, and editors hate that (they will think, fairly or not, that if you can't even be bothered to find out their name, you're probably not much of a reporter).

2. Know the pub you're pitching to. If you're not a regular reader of the magazine you're pitching to, it's a good idea to go to the library and check out a few recent issues. Look for:

--Which articles are written by freelancers vs. staff (staff are listed on the masthead)

--Regular departments where your story might be a good fit

--Whether or not your idea has recently been covered

--Writing style (first-person vs. third-person narration; formal vs. informal tone, etc.)

3. Know your slant. It's not enough to tell an editor that you want to write a story for them about weight loss. You need a specific slant, e.g., "9 Ways to Lose Weight While Napping" or "How I Lost 38 Lbs. Eating Nothing But Bananas."

4. Don't hide the ball. The editor is not going to steal your idea. Promise. So don't be cagey - you need to explain enough about your idea that the editor is intrigued, can envision where the story might fit into the magazine, can see that you've thought through the details and length of the story, and, most importantly, can see that you can be trusted to write it well and deliver the goods.

About The Author

Jennifer Carsen, J.D. is a recovering attorney and the founder of Big Juicy Life. Her specialty is turning lawyers into writers. Go to for a copy of the free report, "6 Myths About Leaving the Law for Writing."

The author invites you to visit: