Every run begins with a jog.
Every rehearsal begins with a round of scales.
If every athlete and every musician precedes every practice or performance with a warmup, shouldn’t every writer start any given session with something similar?
What happens if you start a run with a full-on sprint? Your muscles protest.
What happens if you start singing without doing your scales? Your voice cracks.
So, logically, why would you jump straight into working on your book or writing an article before you “warm up”? Chances are, you’ll get off to a rough or slow start. You won’t be as productive as you could have otherwise been. And you certainly won’t do your best work. You won’t perform to the best of your ability, to your highest possible standard.
While this might seem like a waste of time to some — why spend time “warming up” when you could just dive right in and start getting work done? — you might find that starting slow and working your way into a flow state allows you to do higher-quality, maybe even a higher quantity of, work in the long-term.
So what does a writing warmup look like? You might have already been doing them for years and you didn’t even know it.
I consider writing prompts to be one of the most effective warmups for beginners as well as more experienced writers who are having a hard time sitting down and following through with their short- and long-term goals.
My high school and college creative writing classes almost always began with something along the lines of, “Write 300 words about a hydrophobic lifeguard” before getting into the day’s lesson or practice session. The same way a basketball coach runs her team through a series of drills before the real playing starts.
You can do this on your own by creating or finding your own prompts. I personally prefer making up my own — it stimulates that figurative idea-generating muscle, and then forces you to actually follow through and get that idea onto paper.
If you don’t want to stick with a more traditional prompting style like this, you can do another exercise I learned: stream-of-consciousness writing. Open a blank document or journal, set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes, and start writing or typing. Don’t stop to think, don’t take your fingers off the keys or put down your pen. Just write continuously, whatever comes to mind, until that timer goes off. I still have a journal filled with these, and a lot of the lines say, “I don’t know what to write next but I’m not allowed to stop until Mr. W says we can.” That still counts!
You can do some informal outlining, you can write about where you want your characters to go next, you can jot down some quotes you might want to use or a random description of a scene or location. It really doesn’t matter what you do. But I think spending anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes doing some kind of light mental exercise to prepare yourself for a designated writing task will help you in the long-term, whether you’re new to writing or you just need a new tactic to get you going again.
It’s completely changed the way (and the quality, AND the quantity) I write. Give it a try. See if it does the same for you.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.