Discovering the Writer Within, co-authored by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane, provides writing exercises that will cure anyone of writer’s block. Ballenger focuses on nonfiction prompts, while Lane tackles fiction. The authors excel as both writers and teachers, and following the exercises in this book is almost like having a teacher at one’s side.
One key element in Ballenger’s and Lane’s approach is that a writer has to be willing to write badly and to share some of their roughest work with others. Intense freewriting often helps unlock new ideas, and plenty of time is given for reflection on your writing process. The pacing, structure, and scope of Discovering the Writer Within enables a writer of any level to unlock many new ideas.
Some of the more unconventional exercises such as “Twenty Ways to See an Elm Tree” and “Divorcing the Draft” channel the best of the creative process by having the writer take a break from all that writing to do things like take pictures or chop apart their beloved draft with scissors. If you complete the entire book, you will certainly feel a catharsis of sorts.
For maximum benefit I recommend completing one exercise a day, but be warned, most of them are quite time-consuming with follow-up activities. If you are crunched for time, every other day might work better. Try to resist picking and choosing as some exercises will ask you to build on previous ones.
I first completed most of the exercises in this book when I was a graduate teaching assistant for the writing program at Boise State University. The approach embraced by the program was developed by Bruce Ballenger and Michelle Payne, and we were encouraged to use many of the exercises in the English 101 and 102 courses that we taught at the university. Using such skillfully crafted activities made it possible to communicate the true nature of the writing process to students, namely that the process often takes many unexpected twists and turns.
The second time I completed the exercises in this book was with one of my advanced creative writing high school students. Class met every other day and we would exchange journals. She liked to write her entries by hand, but I preferred to type. I printed and pasted my entries to our journal pages. Re-visiting the prompts in the book only helped to solidify that it was time for me to be out of the classroom and finally make a real attempt at becoming a writer.
Anyone who has even the slightest motivation to commit their thoughts and feelings to the page will appreciate this book. In all honesty, it helped me discover much more than just how to be a writer.
What writing books have you found useful? I’m always looking for new books when it comes to honing craft.