9 Cross-Training Exercises For Your Writing That Are Kinda Fun
Texting, Tweeting, & Tindering, all use the written word to communicate. Here are 9 other fun cross-training exercises for when you don’t really want to write.
Communication is rooted in the spoken and the written word, and it’s ok to sometimes not want to do either of them. Chances are though if you’re reading this, you enjoy writing most of the time, and may even do it professionally. So, for those moments where you’re mentally exhausted from writing within your niche, but still want to work on your writing, what do you do?
Well, you don’t have to write in your category daily, if you try to, the attempt will probably exhaust you, and over time discourage you from continuing. Like athletes who cross-train, we can use these departures from our normal writing habit to exercise our writing muscles.
Organize your newsletter
Writing a newsletter is directing traffic. Some newsletters expose all of their contents in the field box, more evolved ones bring the reader through the letter like a guide. My newsletter includes links to 4 recent Medium writings, 4 because if the recipient isn’t a paying member they won’t be able to read each of them and if I’ve done my job right, they’ll want that 4th one which I hope encourages them to convert.
When you write a newsletter guiding the reader to each of your external links, you have to be short and concise, yet magical. It’s like writing a book jacket. In as few words as possible, your task is to generate as much interest as one can to encourage the reader to click the link. At this point, your longer-form writing takes over. Getting there is the challenge.
The exercise is simply to work on a future newsletter draft. Use this time to write with grandiose words and generate interest. Tempt the reader to click for more. This is also a great way to improve copywriting for email marketing, which is still 100% a career, maybe today more than ever, as email remains the best marketing tool.
Pen letters to the editor
It can be exhausting to create new material, new prompts, daily. Especially within your niche, which you’ve time and time again thought to have exhausted every conversation in. So, consider writing a letter to the editor, a writing vacation.
If your letter to the editor is a response to something their publication has published, well then you already have your prompt, and you really just need to capture your reaction. Letters to the editor can be opinion, but better when they are supported with data and research. Here, you’re not only sharpening your writing skills but also your research skills while reading, which is a critical habit that amplifies ones writing.
I recently wrote my first letter to the editor of The Atlantic. It was declined, but I was proud of myself, and I truly enjoyed it. The prompt was there, all I needed to do was respond. It’s easier to be interviewed than to interview. Original content is extremely difficult, so on a day that you’re not feeling it give this a shot. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, it doesn’t have to ever be accepted or published. This is an exercise.
This is a fun one. Some days I’ll sit in a heavily foot trafficked cafe or lunch spot, and create characters. I open a google doc, and on the top of the page write a name. Any name. John, Kate, Carlos, Koffee. Any name. Then, I pick a muse. Secretly of course. I find a person in the shop, assign them the name, and create a complete story about them. It can be about their childhood, what they’re doing that day, a recent lover or lover lost. The only rules are: be kind, and to keep it less than one page.
This is non-fiction or exaggerated fiction and has been a useful exercise as I write my first script and book, in helping me develop characters. You never know, some of these may find their way into your script or book later on.
Write a book report
Similar to the letter to the editor, you don’t have to create your own prompt. A book report is a summarization or response to an existing body of work. You can choose to highlight what you learned, a key theme, or an observation. The handcuffs are off.
What you learn during this process is research, and by reading thousands of words you’re sure to expand your vocabulary and find new styles you may emulate later on.
It’s through reading that my writing has improved. The same way that listening to podcasts, makes me a better speaker.
Build a website
In the exercise of organizing your newsletter, I mentioned how the goal is to use the least amount of words possible to generate the most amount of interest. When building a website, this is only magnified.
Businesses rely on taglines, a few keywords that introduce who they are and what they do. Most website visitors stay for less than 15 seconds, so in that time, they’ll maybe read 20 words. Do you have the skills to capture and convert a reader with 20 words?
There is organizing a newsletter, writing a book jacket, and then building a website. With a website, aim for one sentence that sums up everything this website does. Challenge yourself with the question: How can I communicate what I do, how I do it, and who I do it for in one sentence that takes less than 15 seconds to read. When you’re back writing in your niche, you can apply this to subtitles and the first lines of paragraphs to capture attention and generate interest.
Build a pitch deck
I make decks for everything. Sure, it’s part of the pitching process of my business, but there’s solid justification for including this beyond my line of work. In a world of forced meetings, back-to-back zoom calls, and forgotten cc’s in email conversations, things get lost, and information can be stored in many places. Decks not only organize thoughts, but they impress people.
Visual learning is easier and more exciting than reading an email. Test it. How many emails did you receive today? How many pieces of art did you receive today? That’s what a deck is. A piece of art. If a person receives 100 emails per day, and I send a picture book, I not only stand out for originality but I’m communicating that I do things differently. It’s a risk, but most risks are rewarded. Don’t quote me on that.
Pitch decks, like websites and book jackets, aim to use as few words as possible, but not in an attempt to get the full point across. A pitch deck is either sent in advance of a meeting to generate interest, or shared during a meeting and supported by a spoken presentation. So, this exercise is not only one of detailed concision but also supportive of your spoken word practice.
Write a poem
Get deep, become mysterious, or get weird. This exercise is liberating as you attempt to write a poem with less than 50 words. Use big words, use new words, use words you don’t quite understand. Use a dictionary, use a thesaurus. Write a poem.
Write a song
I don’t care if you don’t play an instrument. You can bang a pencil on a table or a spoon on a pot for all I care, but make a little noise. If you’d like, visit youtube and search for guitar or piano instrumentals, or electronic beats, then write lyrics. There is no expectation here, this song will most likely never be performed, so feel liberated to complete this exercise. This is fun work.
Write LinkedIn statuses
For this exercise, it’s a week-long practice, not a single moment. Write a new 150 word LinkedIn status each day. Educate yourself on timeline visibility (Only 2–3 lines show), and the use of hashtags. LinkedIn post writing is interesting because you have only 2–3 lines to capture the user's attention and convince them to click see more.
LinkedIn writing translates well into email and newsletter copywriting, while at the same growing your network size on a platform that is continuing to grow and beginning to be taken seriously internationally.
Bonus: comment on stories
Joining the conversation with responses in Medium is not only a way to increase exposure to new readers, but also a way to develop your writing. Responses to writings on Medium are mini letters to the editor, they are direct letters to the author. Select 10 writers, visit their profiles, select 2–3 stories to read and respond to. Not only will your shortened responses be a good exercise to collect your thoughts with a punch, but you’ll most likely make 10 new relationships with writers here, as well as gain new readers and followers from your brilliant responses.
Gotcha! The headline read 9, but you got 10. Now that’s a deal!
What you did get is a list of 10 exercises that you’ve probably already been doing, at least in some capacity, that now you will perform with more intention. In each of these what you’re doing is still writing. You’re learning how to write responses, opinions, short and detailed, beautiful and vague.
Writing daily can be exhausting, but necessary. Keep in mind that writing daily doesn’t mean applying yourself to your niche daily. Emails and texts are even writing. My sweet spot is sobriety and personal growth but I’ll drop a tech piece, or a how-to every now and then. I’m even writing a script, and a book right now. The key is to write, and I hope this list offers some alternative exercises for you to hone your craft.
As you sink back into your keyboard, consider some of these resources:
Mailchimp for Newsletters and Landing Pages
Canva for creating decks
LinkedIn for building your professional network
The difference between Seth Godin, The Morning Brew, and me? I respect your inbox, curating only one newsletter per month — Join my behind-the-words monthly newsletter to feel what it’s like to receive a respectful newsletter.