I keep reading and being told that doing writing exercises frequently (every day if possible) is essential for improving your writing and keeping skills sharp. In my case – unless I’m seriously overestimating my writing – this is a load of rubbish. I haven’t done a writing exercise since I was in school and yet I have written a couple of what I believe to be reasonable novels as well as various short stories. Maybe this is because I write most days and that’s my practice?
I can see the point when you’re first learning to write creatively, whenever that may be. After all it can be strange going from:
The dog crossed the road.
The perky Westie chased single-mindedly after a cat, yapping dementedly as he dashed between the cars.
One bit of advice said to come up with the first simple sentence, expand it, then analyse both and suggest where you might use one or the other; sometimes all you need to say is that the dog crossed the road, other times you might need a really detailed description, or maybe something in between the two. Then there are all the other tasks like: draft a conversation, come up with the back-story of a character, describe a scene, write a sentence in first, second and third person, take a well-used phrase and see how many different ways you can write the same thing. . . Then you have to analyse what you’ve written and see the difference. There are just so many exercises, all meant to improve a certain aspect of your writing, and while you’re only meant to spend fifteen, twenty minutes (or less) doing one, that’s fifteen minutes I won’t be doing actual writing. And that’s only one exercise on one day!
For someone just beginning, or if you’re having difficulty with some prickly, stickly writing problem, then it might help: let you practice a bit before you jump in; (however much you practice, your first draft is going to need a lot of work!) find a way out of your problem; keep you writing something when you really don’t have time to do more. . . then sure, they’re great. But for someone who writes most days, who has a project they’re working on – Ooo, they might give you an idea if you can’t think of anything! – they seem like, not a waste of time, but definitely an unneeded distraction. Also, if you don’t do them, and you keep being told you should be, do you feel a touch of indecision or guilt about not doing them? How is that helpful for us fragile writers?
On the other hand, writing that one about the dog was kinda fun (But I didn’t do the analysing, which is meant to be an important part). So if it gives you an enjoyable break which is also, supposedly, improving your ability. . . Maybe I should to give these another look.