Writing Workshop: Warm-up Exercises

We are rarely taught writing warm-ups, which you spend 10 or 15 minutes on before getting into your immediate project. These warm-ups help you develop your skill, narrow your focus to what you will be working on in a session, and help build a transition point in your writing routine. One of my personal challenges is shifting from other tasks into writing, which prevents me from focusing on the words and usually leads me to going back to doing chores (or checking social media or working on administrative work or going back to conversations or any number of other hurdles to actively writing).

We are (sort of) taught how to outline and draft in school, but these are often expected to be stages of a project more than a warm-up to dive into a project. The way they are described and graded also limits how much our ideas and the structure of the work change throughout the writing and editing process. I included outlining as a warm-up, but this outlining is closer to concept mapping than the in-depth outlines we are taught in school.

We hear a lot about "writing exercises," but they are usually presented as a separate activity specifically to build your craft instead of preparing you for writing work. These writing exercises are important to build your skill and expand your experience, and many of these warm-ups can be used as writing exercises, but the goal of warm-ups is to prepare you for your current project and narrow your focus.

Prompts

Use prompts to stimulate your creativity and play with ideas. You can use photos, one-word prompts (I like using monthly lists, like you see during Inktober, or randomly picking a word out of a thesaurus), longer prompts, or random generators. Prompts are a great tool for exploring themes you don’t often use, playing with words, and generally loosening up your writing brain.

Character sketches

Character sketches are great if you are working on fiction or screenplays. They help you get in the mindset of character development and which characteristics you focus on. You can also challenge yourself to shift your focus from physical characteristics to personalities or try describing characters who are under-represented in your genre. You can use fictional characters, celebrities, people you know, or your original characters.

Outlines

Outlines are a great warm-up if you are working on longer form or nonfiction pieces. Jot down your main arguments or goals, then expand from there. This will help get you into an analytical mindset and help you focus your writing time. If you already have an outline for your work, outline a counterargument or expand on a specific section. Like I mentioned above, this warm-up is intended to be a concept-mapping process, rather than the extensive and detailed outline that many of use were expected to turn in at school.

Descriptions

Find a picture you love or an item in your space and describe it. This will help you practice scenic descriptions, using powerful adjectives, and guiding your mindset toward structured descriptions. This can also help you with other kinds of descriptions and understanding what parts of descriptions you find important.

Stream of Consciousness

This is a great warm-up for shaking loose ideas and brain dumping distractions. I use this tool as a "pantser," so I can transition into a writing space, since I don't always have notes or outlines immediately at my disposal. This also a good way to determine what kind of mental space you are in, so you can choose what aspect of your project to work on that day.

Observations

This is another great warm-up for scenic and descriptive writers. Look out of your window and describe what you see. How is the weather? What's happening at the house across the street? How would you describe your neighborhood?

Media Responses

These are great for nonfiction and analytical writers and can help you better understand your goals and priorities in your writing. Write a review of a TV show, movie, book, song, or artwork to explore what you liked and what you would improve. I use this kind of warm-up for getting into an editing mindset, too.


Writing warm-ups are a great way to circumvent writer's block, too! These are an important tool to build into your writing routine (just remember to set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, so you don't use too much of your writing time on your warm-up!).