How a Writing Warm-Up Routine Can Help You Write Better

Writers are, in a sense, athletes. We hurdle the high walls of writer’s block, we tackle mountains of research, we sprint through rapid-fire action scenes, and sometimes we even manage to hit a home run or two. So what makes us think that, unlike physical athletes, we can force our brains into action without taking the time for a writing warm-up routine?

For years, it was my practice to rush to my computer the moment I finished work every evening. I would slam the door, throw myself into my chair, ram a soundtrack into my CD drive, and frantically click my way into my story file. Every minute of writing time was precious, and I had no intention of wasting even a millisecond. So, without hardly a pause to uncap my creative juices, I hurtled into story land. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that, in my haste, I was actually wasting both time and effort.

Then, in 2004, when I sold my two horses, I suddenly found myself luxuriating in an extra hour of free time every evening. Now that the need for speed had been mitigated, I allowed myself the luxury of a little less pressure and a little more preparation time. Instead of diving directly into my writing the moment I parked myself in my chair, I instead took the time to ease myself into my writing and to get my creativity flowing. Looking back, I can see how much both the writing experience and my writing itself improved as a result.

Nowadays, I deliberately set aside the first half-hour of my writing time for the sole purpose of warming up. My own little ritual has evolved over the years, and although it is certainly a personalized ritual, I’ve outlined it below in hopes that you might glean some ideas of your own.

Writing Warm-Up Routine, Step #1: Prayer

The first thing I do every time I sit down to write is to ask a blessing on my work. If I’m to find any gold in my dross by the end of the day, it’s only because the Lord chooses to bless my efforts. I’ve claimed Psalm 19:14 as my special plea for my writing: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Yahweh, my Rock and my Redeemer.” I pray that the words might flow freely, that my music may inspire instead of distract, and that I might enjoy every minute of it.

Writing Warm-Up Routine, Step #2: Journaling

As I noted in the post “Journaling and Conquering Monsters,” I’ve found keeping a writing journal to be one of the most beneficial tricks in my bag of writing magic. Not only do I get to vent about problems, but I also have the opportunity to gather my thoughts about my characters, my pacing, and the scene I’m about to write. Instead of diving unprepared into my story and staring at the monitor, trying in vain to figure out where I want to go with a particular scene, I’m instead able to briefly sketch a basic scene plan in my notebook. I can’t even begin to tell how many false starts I’ve avoided with this method. Journaling allows me to gather my thoughts, to methodically put aside the outside world, and to ease my focus out of the intellectual and into the creative.

Writing Warm-Up Routine, Step #3: Article

I’m a faithful subscriber to writing magazines, such as The Writer and Writer’s Digest. For years, I’ve been clipping articles and filing them away. But because articles that just sit in the filing cabinet aren’t worth the staples that hold them together, I’ve made it a practice to cycle through my files by reading one article every day before I begin writing. Sometimes the information I read has a direct bearing on the scene I’m about to write; sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I’m continually adding to and bolstering my knowledge of the craft in a directly applicable way.

Writing Warm-Up Routine, Step #4: Character Notes

During my outlining process, I write detailed “sketches” of my characters (see “Interviewing Your Characters” below). To remind myself of interesting quirks or angles, I read a few of these notes, usually focusing on a major character in my current scene.

Writing Warm-Up Routine, Step #5: Research Notes

For most of my stories, I collect pages upon pages of research material, most of which my sometimes sporadic memory couldn’t hope to remember. Even though I’m able to look up important details as they become necessary in the story, so many interesting facts still get lost in the giant crack between the research phase and the actual writing phase. To help combat that inevitability, I divide my notes into categories, and each day, before writing, I try to read one of these categories. Not only does this keep the important facts fresh in my mind, but it has also spurred interesting and unexpected plot twists.

Writing Warm-Up Routine, Step #6: Proofreading

Probably the most important element of my warm-up is reading over what I wrote in my previous writing session. Beyond just allowing me to correct typos and beautify ugly phrases, this immerses me in the world of my story. Usually, before I’m even done reading, I’m ready to start typing the next words.

Writing Warm-Up Routine, Step #7: Music Video

Finally, as a sort of cherry on the top of my warm-up session, I google a video. YouTube is crawling with fan-made music videos of nearly every movie ever produced. I choose a movie that will have images and themes that resound in my own work, and I spend an extra five minutes, letting the dramatic visuals and music put me in the mood to craft some drama of my own.

After all that, my brain having been stimulated and encouraged, I simply dive in. Other authors, of course, have their own methods of warming up. Some people recommend reading a passage from a classic author; still others suggest actually writing out that same passage, in hopes that you’ll be able to learn from that author’s style. Others swear by journal prompts or a brief stream-of-consciousness writing session.

So hunt around, experiment, and discover which exercises put you in the best frame of mind for writing your story. Just keep in mind that sometimes the quickest way of writing your story is to take some extra time to warm up those brains cells.

Tell me your opinion: Do you have a writing warm-up routine? What is it?

How a Warm-Up Routine Can Help You Write Better copy

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Great technique. Sometimes switching POV can be just the ticket for rejuvenating a stalled scene.

  2. totally agree about the warmup; probably useful for just about anything we do in life

    esp liked your examples, so many good suggestions

    reading a writing article, which i enjoy, i sometimes felt was “cheating” – ha! what a silly thought, glad to see you include that, makes me feel less guilty 😉

  3. Writing is a complicated art form. It’s pretty darn near impossible for us to hold all the necessities of the craft in our mind at once. A little refresher course before each writing session can do wonders!

  4. Lorna G. Poston says:

    Warming up my brain cells, what few I have left, is a good idea. 😉 I tried a warm-up routine once, failed, and gave up. So maybe I just need to find a better one.

  5. Steve Mathisen says:

    Excellent as usual. I am going to give some serious thought to integrating a warm up into my routine.

  6. Dennis Fleming says:

    10 minutes of warm up yoga, coffee, light breakfast, coffee, a little quiet breathing (a minute)…get to it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is a literal warm-up! I like how physical your approach is. I sometimes incorporate light stretching before I start writing.

  7. Awesome post. I’ve been reading your articles for quite awhile now. Very helpful and encouraging. I’ve never been an organized writer, but I’m getting there. I have a wonderful bestie who is being my beta and helping me immensely. I’ve always taken notes all the live long day, but now I have a moleskin I carry with me and outline my chapter during the day. I write in pencil (something I never used to do) and adjust, tweak and embellish as the day goes on. Then, when I’m free in the evening, lo and behold, my chapter practically writes itself! I love your verse and that you begin with prayer. I’m adding that verse to my writing notebook right now. Also, your tip about youtube vids is excellent. I’m very motivated and inspired by music and by movies/tv shows. Inspiration strikes from all corners, but I’d never thought of watching youtube vids like you suggest. I’m going to give it a try! Thank you for all your great posts!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I love that you outline your chapter during your day. Even when life interferes with our ability to actually write, we can still be writing in our heads and preparing for the actual writing session.

    • A good way to make your whole day productive. I think I am gonna try it but use my phone instead of pencil.:)
      Thanks for this brilliant idea.
      As for warm up, I am still like you (Weiland) were before. I just get myself into it whenever I am seated to my chair. I think now is the time to think of my own warm up routine.

  8. I love that you’ve set out your warm up steps. Would you be agreeable to me printing your steps to post beside my work space? I’d love to have a daily reminder.

  9. Thank you for these great tips for warming up before writing. I will try these out and let you know how it goes.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m always fascinated to hear about the processes and routines other writers establish for themselves.

  10. I like your warm-up ideas, especially the prayer. I think I may start using SARK’s Writer’s Manifesto as mine: http://planetsark.com/buy-stuff/transformational-programs/wins/attachment/writersmanifesto/

  11. Really enjoyed this article. I’ve been journaling for many years, but now that I’m writing I’ll keep tip #2 in mind for sure. Gets me excited to find my own “groove” before working on my WIP.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Journaling is such a great technique! It’s like brainstorming out loud.

  12. Caleb Jones says:

    All good info–but I just want to ask something with absolute neutrality: How much lip did you get for step 1?

    I’m looking for a numeric answer, a rough estimate, data, not opinions.

    for example: “1/3” or “Around 7” or “Only 1 every five months” or “Never gotten any.”

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