Thursday, June 23, 2011

Exercises For Writers; or, Keeping Your Fingers -- And Brain -- Nimble

I've been doing some yardwork recently -- trimming the seriously-overgrown hedges, which had gotten up to 15 feet tall or more, back to a more reasonable 6 foot height. As you can imagine, such an exercise generates more than a little bit of what we in suburbia euphemistically call, "yard waste." We are fortunate here in that our usual trash pickup service will happily pick up and haul away "yard waste" that has been either a) neatly bagged, or b) tied into bundles of sticks that are not more than six feet long. Since we're talking branches that are potentially ten feet long or more, we went with option b) (especially since option c) rent a wood chipper from Home Depot and turn the branches into mulch, was foiled by the fact that our trailer hitch has gone AWOL).

In the process of turning all of those loose sticks into bundles, I had a chance to practice my long-disused macrame skills, knotting twine around them. I was pleased to see that my fingers still remembered the skill they had learned at age nine, but somewhat troubled to find that those same fingers are not nearly so nimble as they once were, now that it's some number of decades later. And that got me to thinking that perhaps practicing my mad old macrame skills might be A Good And Useful Thing, because it might help keep my fingers nimble. And nimble fingers are a good thing for a writer to have, aren't they?

And that, in turn, got me to thinking of other sorts of non-writing exercises that might be good for writers. I participate in a biweekly icon contest on LiveJournal, where the object is to create 100 x 100 jpg or gif images for use as userpics on LiveJournal. (For some examples of ones I've made, as well as some I've, er, "collected" via the internet, check out my Flickr account.)

I think working creatively in another medium, especially a visual one, is a good exercise for a writer. Not only do you get to flex mental muscles that don't get used for writing, but you get to express yourself in an entirely different way. I take photographs for the same reasons.

But another way my icontest helps keep my brain nimble is because I'm using it as a way to teach myself how to use graphics editing software (in my case, GIMP, because I can't afford Photoshop). Two weeks ago, the contest challenged us to use textures, which I had never used before. So I learned something new, which in turn has me looking at graphic images in a different way: Now I'm constantly on the lookout for images that would make good textures. I can't help but think that exercises that make me look at things differently are good for my brain.

Related to photography, I have an exercise that I've been wanting to try, but haven't gotten around to yet, and that's a "photo scavenger hunt." As I've seen it described, participants are given a list of words, and are challenged to take photographs that embody each of the words. So, for example, the list might contain the words, "red," "happy," and "new." In response, the photographer might present the following pictures:






New (a young friend playing with the new telescope he got for his birthday)

I think it sounds like fun. Perhaps I'll try to come up with a "scavenger hunt" list to pass around at an upcoming group outing, just to see what people do with it.

The other thing I've been doing lately is playing strategy games, like backgammon, against my computer. A month ago, when I started playing, I lost most of my games. But over the course of a month, I've remembered some of my old favorite strategies, and learned some new ones. Now, well, I still don't win them all, but percentages have improved.

These are just a few examples of exercises I think would be good for a writer. What sorts of other things do people do to keep their creative and/or physical muscles in shape?