You Go To The Gym To Train

Delilah Dawson, (@DelilahSDawson) via Twitter:
One of the best things I did pre-publication was join a local writing group where each month, a leader gave us story prompts, and we did timed writing, and then we read what we’d written out loud.

Why were timed, critiqued writings so important? They taught me:
1. To think fast under pressure
2. To choose an idea quickly and ride it out
3. To fit character and plot into stories of different word counts
4. To read my work aloud boldly
5. To accept criticism with grace

I knew other writing groups where folks brought work they’d already written and read it for critique, and NOPE. I find it challenging to critique a small part of a larger work that way. And take home readings? NAH. I wanted to focus on craft, not reaction to 1/50th of a book.

The moderator (@kevinhowarth!) did a fantastic job of finding a variety of interesting prompts that led us into different genres and tones. Spooky, silly, serious, atmospheric, dramatic–we wrote it all, and there was no way to prepare beforehand. It was freeing and fun.

I do 100% of my writing on a laptop, and it was really challenging to write longhand at writing group. Being thrown out of one’s comfort zone is great for creativity. It was freeing to push myself to write new things and take risks with shorter fiction.

Critiquing improvised short fiction at Writing Group was immensely helpful. I was able to see what did & did not work in my writing and that of the others, especially in the beginning and ending of a piece. I learned that I could finish on time, then go back and embroider.

Writing Group taught me to read my own work aloud with confidence and how to inject energy & emotion into it. I could see when jokes or scares landed. I could gauge if listeners were entranced or bored. And I learned how to accept criticism with a smile and give it with love.

Most importantly, doing timed writings on random subjects teaches you that there’s little value in brainstorming for the *perfect* idea. You get an idea, you nail down beginning, climax, and ending, and you dive into writing. That’s worth more than 20 minutes of brainstorming.

How long did we have for our timed writings? It depended on what the leader planned. Often, we’d do 5 minutes to warm up, then 30 minutes for a longer piece. Or 5, then 10, then 15. Sometimes two 20 minute pieces. We never knew, and that was part of the challenge and lesson.

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