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.
You can connect with Bruce Ballenger on his website and with Barry Lane via his website.
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
Most of the writing books I have, I have had for 15 or more years. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind (mine is a combo book of the two) has been great for writing practice over the years. I also came across my old copy of Strunk and Whites The Elements of Style earlier today.
I have added this to my reading list now. Probably in the next month or two I will do some searching for it.
Being willing to write badly is very easy for me… LOL. Sharing my bad writing with others would be difficult because I’m not sure I would want to inflect that kind of stuff on any one…. seriously.
This book could be just what is need to help me move forward as a writer. I just bought a poetry book called “A Poetry Handbook” for that reason and it has been very helpful. 🙂
Susan, let me know how it goes with the poetry book. I’m always looking for idea starters when it comes to poetry.
Stephen King’s “On Writing” is one of the few that truly helped me. It wasn’t that I followed his M.O., more it was the idea that I had develop an M.O. for myself. His idea of putting a manuscript away for a time is brilliant and has been very helpful for me.
Candy, I loved On Writing as well. I also like William Zinnser’s On Writing Well If you want a unique and lively approach to writing, do give Ballenger’s books a try.
I second Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. For poetry specifically, I like The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes.
Elizabeth, I’ve added The Discovery of Poetry to my wishlist 😉 Another poetry book I like is Western Wind. It served as a solid introductory class in the only poetry workshop I participated in back in college.
It has been a long time since I had a book that prompted me to do exercises like this but your post makes me want to start doing it all again! It would certainly help a writer to grow in their craft by doing the items every day, or every other day as you suggest.
Christy, the exercises in this book are great! I know some people aren’t big fans of freewriting, but just letting yourself go can lead to some really great stuff. It’s the type of book where you’ll get different results if you go back and do the exercises for a second or a third time.
Sounds like a good book, Jeri. A lot of people would really benefit from reading it, doing the exercises and learn. That way they will discover if they are, or can become, writers. Not all people have the gift.
Catarina, one of the best things about this book is that by treating writing as a process of discovery, everyone can discover some degree of “writer” within themselves.
“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.”
Yes to the third power! Not just for writing – any creative work. It’s all about fear. To get good at writing, playing live music or painting … you have to be willing to suck. And be willing to learn from the experience.
Justin, well put! For any artist to even dream about being creatively successful means working through the fear. Thanks for stopping by.
This looks like a great book and I DEFINITELY need to start doing more of these kinds of exercises to build my writing muscles up a bit. Another book that I found to be a fantastic resource is ” Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. Learned a ton from that book.
Laura, it’s a great book that will indeed give you a hearty writer’s workout. Some of the exercises go over better than others, but that’s all part of the fun, eh?
I actually have a couple of books that I am making my way through now. They are more about outlining and getting the words down and then putting it together, almost like ‘How to do it’ list.
Cheryl, your comment out putting everything together when composing reminds me how much I want to give Scrivener a try. I’ve heard it’s wonderful software to use when the need to move large chunks of text around arises.
I like the sound of this book and think I could learn a great deal from it. I personally don’t know if I have a process or whether I just blurt stuff out on the page. I guess its for the reader to decide if I can write or not. I wonder if this book would clue me in to whether I am a ‘real’ writer or not…