This 5 Minute Writing Exercise Will Make You A Better Writer For The Rest Of Your Life
What qualifies me to teach?
I have very little formal education. I am primarily self-taught with many years of teaching experience.
I taught English, Essay Writing, and 7th-grade Math to adult GED students. I also taught Reading and Writing to English Second Language students. I taught Creative Writing in a men’s home. There, my students were serving out their jail sentence in a halfway house. These students were not in my class voluntarily. We still had a lot of fun, and I think they learned a bit.
“How to” not “what to”
I am still learning and honing my craft. I will never be done with that. Nor, I hope, will you be. I read all the how-to books, articles, and stories. I read online and offline. What I read has good content, but most of these articles tell us what to do rather than how to go about doing the thing. They tell you to write every day or to not write every day. They tell you to write a certain word count or to not write a word count. They tell you to write honestly, to make yourself vulnerable, to check your spelling and grammar, to write interesting stuff, and to give value to your readers. They give advice on staying motivated. They talk about getting organized and even offer their schedules as examples. They talk about how much money you can make from your writing.
You’ve read all of these articles, too. And after reading, you eagerly sit down to write and . . .
. . .nothing.
Because you don’t know how to get started.
I can help with that.
I will be giving you actionable exercises. You can get started right away. Well, as soon as you finish reading this. I will tell you what tools you need and why. The exercises I give you will help you go deep. They’ll help you be honest and show vulnerability in your writing. I’ll even tell you exactly how to get started.
Warming up your writing muscles.
The exercises I give you can be used as warmups for the rest of your writing career. Whether you do technical writing or are writing a book. No matter what your subject matter is, memoir or cryptocurrency, journaling for yourself, or reporting on the news, these exercises will help you to warm up. You might be asking yourself, “Why do I need to warm up?”
Athletes warm up before events and save themselves from injury and discomfort. Writers need to warm up to get their brains flowing, to avoid long moments staring at a blank screen or empty page.
Tools and Rules
You will need some tools before you can get started. If you don’t have them, then I lied when I said you can start as soon as you finish reading. You can start as soon as you gather together all of these tools.
You will need a notebook. Loose paper will work, as well, but you might consider a file folder to keep it in. We are going to use these first few exercises in later lessons. So, however you swing it, please don’t throw away your writing exercises.
You will need several ink pens. It sucks to be in full flow in the middle of a sentence only to run out of ink. Please, no erasable ink or pencils. This is important.
You will need a timer that makes noise. Egg timer, alarm on your phone, the timer on your oven or microwave. You may use your watch if it has an audible alarm, and if you are not wearing it. Put it somewhere out of sight. This goes for all the timer devices (unless you are more disciplined than I am). It’s too tempting to look at the count down. This takes away from writing time. It is best if you cannot see the timer to avoid the temptation of checking your time.
Just like in any classroom, I do have a few rules.
The first rule is there are no rules.
Throw out everything you’ve been taught about writing. Everything. Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, word usage. All of it. Put it in a mental box and tuck it away in a closet. Though you will need these rules of writing later to write clean copy, they are not needed or wanted here. Regarding what you write during these lessons there are no rules.
The second rule is no editing.
No crossing out, going back to change sentence structure, no correcting spelling. This is the hardest rule for me to follow. Even after 30+ years. Follow this one rule, and your writing will improve whether you do these writing exercises or not.
The third rule is to keep your hand moving.
Once you set the timer, keep writing. You may need a place holder word or phrase such as “writing writing writing” or “keeping my hand moving keeping it moving”.
The fourth and final rule is to jump around between timed exercises.
Keeping your blood flowing is good for thinking. Also, for people new to writing longhand, it will give your tired fingers a much-needed break. So, when your five-minute timer goes off, get up. Step away from the table or desk. Stand up out of the chair. Wave your arms around, flap your hands, clap your hands. Jump up and down if you are able. If not, move your feet. Get circulation going.
1. There are no rules
2. No editing
3. Keep your hand moving
4. Jump around
That’s a lot of rules after saying there are no rules!
Still with me? Fantastic!
In the beginning, you will be writing in 6- or 7-minute increments, depending on how long it takes you to set your timer. In my case, I would have to set the timer on my phone, put the phone where I can’t see the countdown, pick up my pen and notebook and start writing. It takes me about 30 seconds to do this. So, I would set my timer for 5 minutes 30 seconds. You’ll set your timer for 5 minutes + however many seconds you need to get situated. Then you’ll write, set timer for one minute, jump around, set the timer for 5 minutes, rinse, repeat.
· Timer set for 5 minutes
· Timer set for 1 minute
· Jump around (Jump! Jump!)
The why of it.
Writing longhand taps into your hindbrain and medulla, your primal brain.
I call it Lizard Brain.
Tapping into your lizard brain while writing injects vulnerability and honesty into every word. I don’t know how this works, I’m not a scientist.
My very unscientific explanation is that your writing hand is attached to your arm that leads directly to your heart.
When you are editing while writing, you are using your frontal cortex, your modern brain.
I call it Monkey Mind.
When your primal brain is engaged, your modern brain isn’t working much. This is where authenticity comes from. You aren’t logic-ing. You are emotion-ing.
In order to show honesty and vulnerability in your writing, you want to engage Lizard Brain and lock Monkey Mind in a room somewhere.
Tapping into Lizard Brain can bring up repressed or suppressed emotions. This can get overwhelming for some of us. If you start feeling overwhelmed, please take a break from these writing exercises. For an hour or a day or a week. It’s up to you. It’s your rodeo. I’m just teaching you how to ride.
Writing with a pen keeps Monkey Mind in check. It is harder and less tempting to erase if you can’t. (duh, right?). Crossing out is another way Monkey Mind tries to take over. If you do find yourself crossing out, try to just use one line. Don’t scribble scrabble and eradicate what you’ve written.
For our purposes, Lizard Brain is the creator. Your writing hand. Picture a wise old iguana if you will. Monkey Mind is the corrector. Your editing side. Every time Lizard tries to write, here comes Monkey swinging from limb to limb, or idea to idea, chitter chattering away “No, not like this, like that. Or maybe like this over here. Oh, look squirrel.”
In Chinese astrology, those born in the year of the monkey (raises hand) are highly intelligent but easily discouraged. I think those ancient Chinese astrologers were onto something.
Demonstration: Monkey v. Lizard
Before we get into the meat of the first exercise, I’d like you to do a pre-exercise, hands-on demonstration of Monkey mind versus Lizard brain.
I’d like you to grab your notebook and pen and start writing. Write your name, the date, your address, and your phone number. As soon as you start writing your name, I want you to use your other hand, your monkey hand, to grab the hand that is writing. Wrap your entire lizard hand, pen, and all, inside your monkey hand. Keep writing. How’d that go? Can you read your handwriting? (I never can when I do this. I do it every now and then as a reminder.) Did it take longer to write than expected? Yeah. . .
Don’t let monkey mind take over. This, of course, takes practice which is what we are about to do. Just a few more steps.
The experts all tell us to write what we know. What do you know better than you know yourself? Not much. This first exercise is going to center on what you know about yourself. You’ll write for five minutes. After you set your timer, start writing “I am.” Just keep repeating I am I am over and over until something else surfaces. This usually happens pretty quickly. It’s hard to repeat two words over and over. Lizard Brain will show up to break the monotony. What comes after I am can be true or false. Can make sense or not. Just keep writing. Just keep your hand moving. It will look something like this:
“I amI am I am I am a woman I am writing I am I am I am I am I am an elehant. I am a fly. I am a circus tent. I am a fly suckling the tears from an elephants eye. I am not making any sense. IamIamIamIamIam…”
(Grammarly just went crazy over the above quote!)
No crossing out. No correcting. No going back. No editing. No Monkey! Keep your hand moving the entire 5 minutes. Write nonsense words if you can’t come up with any others. Keep your hand moving!
That’s it. Some people can only do 1 five-minute exercise the first time. If that’s you, that’s ok. You did the one! Be proud of yourself. I do recommend, for maximum warm-up effect, doing two or three of these before sitting down to your official writing project. Remember! Don’t throw your writing exercises away. You’ll need them for later lessons.
Until then, you can do this warm-up/writing exercise daily, several times a day, or wait until the next lesson. It’s your rodeo. I’m just teaching you to ride.
Some variations to use as a starter:
· I like
· I remember
· I hate
· I can
· I love
· I want
· I will
· I can’t
Substitute your own.
Time to write.
Ready to get started? Go!
Find a comfortable spot
· Close your eyes
· Inhale deeply exhale slowly 3 or 5 times
· Open your eyes
· Set timer
· Write for 5 minutes
· Jump around
Let me know how you liked it. Stay tuned for more exercises later.
This story first appeared on read.cash here