CJ, the youngest of my four children, made his First Communion and Confirmation last weekend. Yes, my family is Catholic, but this is not a post about religion or belief in God. It's about persistence, exercise, and constant exposure.
The Bishop of our State resided over the ceremony and used the theme of sports to help the children understand the concept of faith in action, i.e., living a good life. In order to do this and grow as a person, he emphasized that one needs to exercise faith often and offered suggestions to accomplish this such as helping others, making the right choices even if they're not popular, etc...
The same theory that applies to honing skills as an athlete, a person in society, an actor, a singer, and many other arenas also applies to writing. I've spoken to many writers who love participating in flash fiction or writing exercises floating amid the blogosphere. You can find some great ones in craft books on the art of writing, too. These challenge our way of thinking and even our individual approach to writing.
Some instructors will encourage one method, while another teacher presents a different way. Some writers post visual imagery to conjure our writing gene and push us to think, try a new way or hone the way we currently come up with ideas and formulate them in ink.
I love writing shorties - fiction under 500 words or so. This method challenges me to brainstorm an idea, formulate and map it out, develop arcs for a character(s)--emotional, theme, story, subplots--and create an intriguing, plausible storyworld in a very limit space. Slowly, the more I write these, using similar methods over and over and over, the more natural it all feels. In the case of the writing game, repetition is a good thing.
For these same reasons, I began writing picture books about a year and a half ago. Most PBs are expressed between 300 to 600 words, some are a bit longer. But most do not exceed 1,000 words. Once again, within these constraints, the writer must include character development, progression of inner/outer/story arcs, and build an interesting world to capture the reader's attention. That is a small about of space in which to accomplish a true story. But it's done everyday.
What do you think about writing exercises? How do you hone your writing skills?