In grade school, I wrote in exercise books, nurturing the dream of becoming a writer. As a piano student, I repeated scales and arpeggios to limber up my fingers and facilitate performance for exams or entertainment. So too, physical exercise is beneficial to health at any age. Practice may feel like a chore, or a child's play, depending on the task, coach, energy, mood, etc. But it results in a sense of accomplishment, bringing us closer to our goals.
A helpful exercise I learned from Jane Cross in Dallas is Clustering. Write a word inside an elliptical bubble. As one thought or image leads to another, add lines and words radiating out from the first. (This is also called mind-mapping. The bubbles may omitted. Our brains store information in a similar way. I cluster people, objects, places, seasons, etc. for use in a particular story, or with random words as a general exercise for the "writing muscle."
One instructor guided my writers' group to empty our minds of distractions and recall a moment from childhood. I saw myself jumping the waves on Sandown beach, licking ice cream, smelling the salt breeze, enjoying a carefree summer. Then we imagined a character and saw what was in his or her pockets, shopping cart, etc. These details were noted in "free writing" sessions of 10 minutes each. They re-emerged when I wrote poems for HOMEWARD TRACKS and scenes for ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD. I also interview protagonists about loves, hates, habits, and what they want to achieve.
An SCBWI author once recommended writing to music, which I often do now, matching style to story. Whenever I played "Arabian Dance" from The Nutcracker, I was back with Maryam in the Middle East, where SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE takes place. I surrounded my desk with pictures of Iran from National Geographic and Newsweek. For ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, I listened to Elgar and found magazine pictures of people who resembled my characters.
Several writer-friends swear by 3 Morning Pages a day. I do this (sporadically) on the backs of discarded rough drafts, stashed in my nightstand. I record fleeting emotions and events from dreams while in a sleepy state, over my first cup of coffee. Later, to engage the left side of the brain, I might write a list. Lists generate ideas and can even turn into a finished piece, such as my "Exotic Places" poem.
Shery Ma Bell Arrieta-Russ describes 10 approaches to journaling in her e-book, LIFEWRITES: Descriptive; Process; Comparison; Classification; Persuasive; Definition; Characterization; Analysis; Inductive; and Deductive. "Journaling is a process that lets you discover and re-discover yourself," she states in the introduction. I've enjoyed all these approaches, because they provide new ways of looking and thinking. A range of gel pens and journal covers makes exercises fun.
I recently worked (actually, played) my way through THE WRITE -BRAIN WORKBOOK by Bonnie Neubauer: no white pages, but lots of word games, fill-in-the-blanks, and visual tricks, to get the juices flowing.
If I go for a walk or a swim, to stretch my legs after slaving over the keyboard all day, the wheels go on turning. Plot developments pop up subconsciously; I jot them in a portable notepad, ready to add to the mix during the next writing session.
Hands-on activities I've taught over the years are listed on the Works page of this website. My blog is another form of exercise. It's more rigorous than Facebook posts, but a great way to find readers in cyberspace, as I sift my thoughts and advance the current writing project, RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. Time to put on my Loreena McKennitt CD, An Ancient Muse, and cluster SAMOVAR.