Monday, February 25, 2019

Writer, Put on Your Warm-Up Suit

By Yolanda Smith

There’s a word for the type of young athlete who feels he is above the necessity of a warm-up routine: lunkheaded.

There’s another word for the same fellow if he persists in his erroneous reasoning: injured.

 Whether he’s passing or punting, shooting or swinging, at a minimum his game will be so ineffective he’ll never reach full potential.

You, my writer friend, are an athlete of words. You move words from heads to hearts and pass ideas across a field of blank pages until they reach the goal: your reader’s thoughts and emotions. And like an intelligent athlete, you need a warm-up process for your brain to get in the game of writing. You don’t want to end the event hamstrung or fruitless. And how you end is conditional on how you begin.

What is your warm-up routine for getting in the groove of writing? Whether you have a sturdy warm-up method in place or you’ve never thought about having a warm-up practice, I’d like to offer a short list of possibilities for you to consider.

Brain Dump
This needs no interpretation. Set a timer for ten minutes, then empty your brain onto the page. Take all the thoughts—the chaotic scramble of random notions, the store of ideas you’ve been saving, the rant against your husband, even the grocery list—and slap them down on paper as fast as you can go. Ignore lines, punctuation, grammar, spelling, and any other conventional rules. You can also try this on your computer. Stream of consciousness is a proven method for unclogging a stopped-up mind. The only rule of this exercise is to keep your pen or fingers moving the entire time.

List Making
We’re not talking about the grocery list this time. Decide on a writing goal for the day, then make a detailed list of the steps needed to accomplish your target.

Copy Exercises
I can’t remember where I heard this idea, but it was genius. We all have that one author we admire and wish we could write like someday.  Grab a notebook, pen, and your favorite title by this hero writer. Set a timer for ten to twenty minutes, and begin copying chapter one, page one. Your subconscious will internalize rhythm and language, and over time you will recognize what works. Oddly enough, the more you copy someone else’s style, the more your own voice will emerge. Many of the world’s finest artists have learned their craft by copying the masters.

Read Books on Craft
When I read a chapter from a book on writing craft, I am instantly inspired to try something new, implement something I already know but need reminded of, or I’m given a new angle on something I’m struggling with. How-to books put a fire in my fingertips, and I’m suddenly ready to conquer the world.

Read a Chapter from a Book in Your Genre
If you’re anything like me, you’ll need to set a timer for this one. Otherwise you’ll find your whole writing time sabotaged by a captivating tale. There’s nothing like a good romp through the pages of an amazing story to inspire you to get busy and attempt the same.

Read Poetry
The reading of poetry unlocks the mind to explore creative paths that are otherwise hidden to the creative eye. Poetry has been described as the gateway drug for writing and for good reason. It evokes longing, imagination, curiosity, and other deep emotions that become a springboard for an abundance of ideas, helping the writer soar beyond the confines of space and time.

Try Them All
Any of these exercises can shift your brain into high gear for the creative work you need to do. I’ve tried all of these approaches over the years and keep them on rotation. This is how I trick myself into thinking I’m avoiding a routine. Find what works for you and stick with it, or cycle through to keep your brain guessing. But whatever you do, don’t skip your warm-up. We don’t want any injuries on the page.

Have you tried any of these strategies for warming up your brain? Do you have something different that works for you? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

(Photos courtesy of and Yolanda Smith.) 


Six strategies for warming-up your brain before you begin writing. via @canitbeyolanda (Click to tweet.)


  1. Love the ideas. Some I've tried. Copy work always helped me ace tests in school.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Cindy. Blessings! :)