One of the biggest misconceptions about writing a book is what it takes to be a good writer.
People think that if they want to be a better writer, they’re supposed to write a certain way or follow certain writing rules.
They try countless writing prompts and creative writing exercises designed to help them “find their voice” (with little success).
But I’ll tell you right now: pretty much all of that is worthless. Or worse, it results in bad writing.
Why? Because most writing exercises make your writing worse. They make Authors sound like generic, fake-academic copycats. Or, at best, they waste your time.
But you don’t need to do special exercises to find your writing style.
Writing “problems” like voice, mechanics, and style are all solved once you focus on 1 thing: clear, simple writing that’s focused on the reader.
Being a good writer is being a good communicator. It’s about making sure you’re being heard the way you intended.
And the best way nonfiction Authors can do that is by—I’ll say it again—being clear, simple, and reader-focused.
That said, there are a few practices you can follow that will help you communicate your ideas clearly and simply.
In this post, I’ll give you 7 exercises and practices that can actually help you write a great book. They’ve worked for hundreds of Scribe Authors, and they’ll work for you.
7 Writing Exercises That Will Help You Write a Great Book
1. Set Small Daily Goals
When you sit down with the intention to write thousands of words at once, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
It’s easy to feel intimidated when you think, “I have to write a whole book.” And that kind of anxiety is the quickest way to hit writer’s block.
Don’t do that to yourself.
It’s called a “writing process” for a reason. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If you want to finish your book, my best advice is to create a writing plan and set small daily goals.
Psychology research shows that the most effective goals are ones that are achievable. Set a 250-word per day minimum and start writing. It’s a relatively easy goal to reach, so you’re less likely to ignore it.
Plus, with 250 words, you don’t have any excuses—you can type that much on your phone while waiting for your coffee to brew.
It may not sound like much, but it adds up. If you keep up that pace, you can write a 40,000-word draft in less than 6 months. And if you happen to write more, you’ll feel motivated.
But if you set a high goal (like a thousand words per day), you’re more likely to end up discouraged when you fall short.
Remember this for the rest of the exercises in this post. Always approach your writing with a small, easily achievable minimum.
2. Writing Prompt: Treasure Hunt
For many Authors, there’s nothing more frightening than a blank page. If that sounds like you, give yourself an easy first assignment to get going.
Run through your house (or office), and find something that’s associated with your book journey.
There are 2 basic kinds of nonfiction books.
Knowledge-share nonfiction is what it sounds like. You’re writing to share your knowledge. This might come in the form of a how-to or thought leadership book.
The goal with any knowledge-share nonfiction book is to help people solve a problem or create a transformation.
The second type of nonfiction is memoir. A memoir is always about you, and its intent is to tell the reader about your life. Readers read memoirs because they want to learn about themselves through your story.
If you’re writing a knowledge-share nonfiction book, collect objects related to your work. This could include product samples, promotional materials, or reports from completed projects. Or, maybe even a memento from a mentor or client.
If you’re writing a memoir, go through photos or objects from your past. Try writing about the emotions or memories that come up when you look at them.
I mentioned that a lot of writing prompts are worthless, but this one can work.
That’s because, unlike many other creative writing prompts, this one encourages you to write material that can eventually go into your book.
Objects connect us directly to the memories and stories that happened throughout our development.
Sharing these stories can create a powerful connection between you and your reader. Chances are, they’re experiencing something similar to what you went through.
You want to write a book because you want to share your wisdom with readers. So why waste time on random words or writing exercises that have nothing to do with that mission?
The best way to practice writing is to actually start writing your book.
3. Writing Prompt: What Are You Holding Back?
What is the one fail-safe way to be interesting to your reader?
Tell the truth.
Maybe that’s the truth about your younger self, your relationship with a family member, what’s happening in your industry, or mistakes you’ve made.
Whatever it is, be honest. Readers can smell bullshit a mile away. But when an Author is vulnerable and authentic, that’s when their books make an impact.
Telling the truth might sound easy, but a lot of Authors struggle with it. They don’t want to tell the world about their failures. Or reveal their most radical ideas. Or share their most painful moments.
But that’s exactly what readers want when they pick up your book. They want to read about real life, not a picture-perfect version of the truth.
If you find yourself struggling with honesty, here’s my advice: write about whatever it is you’re struggling with.
You don’t have to publish it. You can always decide on that later.
But write it.
The most valuable books are the ones that are willing to go there.
If you’re writing a memoir, here’s your homework assignment: write 3 pages of any story that you’re afraid of or that feels uncomfortable to tell.
If you’re writing a knowledge-share nonfiction book, pick 1 thing to teach your reader that breaks the rules of your industry.
For example, you could pick a lesson you learned by making a big mistake. Recount that mistake in all its grisly detail. Don’t hold back.
4. Writing Exercise: Tell Your Avatar’s Transformation Story
This exercise will look radically different for memoir-writers, so I’ll focus on knowledge-share writers first.
Think about who your primary audience is, and write it down.
Within that group, isolate one person. Be specific. It’s even better if you know this person in real life.
Take a moment to describe what’s going on in their life, in at least one paragraph. What’s the hurdle in their life you could help them solve, and what are all the pain points around that? Is work stressful, and it’s bleeding into their home life? Are they sacrificing their health by spending all their time in front of the computer? Really try to get into this person’s point of view.
Now, flesh out the transformation they’ll get after they know what you’re going to tell them.
What ripple effects will flow into their personal life and their sense of self?
The answers you come up with during this writing exercise are going to be integral to your book introduction.
One of the main things a good introduction does is connect to the reader’s pain and tell them what you’re going to do to help. By completing this writing exercise, you’ll be able to do that in a super personalized way.
You also get the added benefit of having this document to refer to when you’re writing. Anytime you get a little lost, come back and remind yourself who you’re writing for, what matters to them, and how you can help.
If you’re writing a memoir, ignore everything I just said.
Don’t write to anyone else at first. Just write for yourself.
Before you publish your book, you’re going to have to decide who you’re sharing it with and why. But that’s a later decision your future self will handle.
Anne Frank did nothing but write to her journal, and it ended up being one of the most powerful memoirs in the world.
She was totally honest and wrote it only for herself.
The best way to make sure you’re being honest and telling the deepest, most important parts of your story is to dig deep into yourself and then put that on the page.
5. Structure Each Section Like a Presentation
This writing exercise is tied to the psychology of small, achievable goals I mentioned earlier.
Tackle one section of your book at a time, and structure each section like a presentation.
First, outline the major points of the presentation. What are the takeaways you want your audience to have?
Write through that content as if you’re speaking directly to the person you’re teaching. This is a place where the earlier avatar exercise can come in handy.
When you’re giving a presentation, you’re always limited by time. But in writing, you have more leeway to dive into things.
So, ask yourself, “What do I leave out of my presentations that might still be useful to my reader? If I had more time, what else would I say?”
If you’re writing about something that feels too personal for a presentation, you can frame this exercise differently. Think of the book as a private space between you and your reader. They’re by themselves with your words. It’s one-on-one.
That gives you more leeway to be vulnerable. You can think about a single person you trust and write directly to them.
Instead of imagining an “audience,” like you might when you’re blogging, imagine writing an email to your closest confidante.
What information would they need to be able to follow along on your journey? And how can you tell it in a way that draws you closer together?
6. Give Yourself Permission To Vomit Your Writing Out
I know this sounds gross. But I’m serious.
The best thing you can do if you want to write a great book is to start writing and let it all come out.
Nobody expects vomit to look good. It’s supposed to be bad. The first draft of your book should be the exact same way.
Every great book starts with a terrible first draft. Some people call this free writing. I call it the vomit draft.
Why am I encouraging you to puke on a page? Because a lot of first-time Authors get hung up on trying to write the perfect book.
They write a section, scrap it, rewrite it, scrap it, and rewrite it again. They agonize over every single word. Three weeks later, they’re staring at a blank page for the fiftieth time.
That’s why many writers give up the first time they try to write a book.
But if you know in advance that you’re going to write badly, it takes the pressure off.
You can let stream of consciousness be your guide without second-guessing how great your writing skills are, whether you’re keeping a consistent point of view, or whether it’s good enough to be an Amazon bestseller.
Like I said earlier, it’s called a “writing process” for a reason. Bad writing is all part of the process.
Your vomit draft isn’t the final product. It’s a work in progress. It’s much easier to edit and improve a bad draft than a nonexistent one.
I know a lot of writers understand the concept behind the vomit draft but have a hard time putting it into practice. The delete key is too tempting.
Here are some tactics you can try to remind yourself TO NOT EDIT:
- Make your typeface white so you can’t see it.
- Turn your screen down so you can’t see it.
- Write with strikethrough turned on.
- Put a sticker on your backspace key. I recommend a lava-spewing volcano, so you won’t be tempted to touch it.
- Or, if you have an external keyboard, pop the backspace key off.
- Handwrite your draft. This isn’t lost time because you can type it during your first editing pass. It will force you to read the text closer.
- Writing doesn’t necessarily mean writing. You can always make the first draft by recording yourself and using a transcription of the recording. For more tips on this method, see this post.
7. Exercise: Self-Care
This might sound a little “woo-woo,” but the fact that I’m the person talking about it should tell you how important self-care is for writing.
If you want to be a published Author, self-care is important.
You are about to go on a journey, and you are going to be using your brain a lot.
Writing is hard. Books take an emotional and mental toll.
If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s not impossible to finish your book. But it will be much, much harder.
The writing process is long, and it’s easy to get discouraged when things aren’t going well. In order to help mitigate this, you can take care of yourself. For example, you can:
- Sleep 8 hours a night
- Eat healthy and clean
- Take a walk daily
- Use an energy healer. This may sound weird, but I found one who makes me feel like a million dollars. It could be a placebo effect, but I don’t care. It works.
- Try acupuncture
- Go for regular float sessions
- Sit in a sauna or go to a spa
- Take epsom salt baths
- Go to therapy
There are a million different ways to take care of yourself. Listen to what your body and emotions tell you. Go with whatever method works for you.
This may not seem like a writing exercise, but it is.
Even if the content of your book doesn’t seem emotional, the writing process itself will be.
You’re stepping up and putting yourself out there. It will have an effect on your emotions.
You will be a better writer if you make time to take care of yourself.
Self-care has the power to recharge and revitalize you so you can come back the next day, fresh and ready to go.