One Simple Technique to Improve Your Writing in 10 Minutes a Day

Summer is a glorious time, isn’t it? Drinks on the deck, barbecues, hiking, travel, maybe a day (or three!) at the lake…it’s like a reward for working our butts off all year around. But, with more things competing for our time during these summer months, it can be tempting to put writing off.

writing exercise, storytelling, writing

This is why I love today’s post, and this exercise: it is simple to do, doesn’t take a lot of time, and will help keep your pen sharp. Please welcome Sarah Moore to the blog!

I’m always wary of promises to shatter procrastination’s evil hold, lose that pesky weight or fix your firebombed marriage in “just 10 minutes a day!” Because, come on: 10 minutes? One-sixth of an hour?

Yet here I am with a too-good-to-believe promise of my own: You really and truly can improve your writing with one short, simple exercise:

Rewrite the work of famous authors.

An Exercise in Greatness

This technique is one I’ve been using for years. Originally, in fact, I didn’t even know I was doing it. In my early 20s, when I dreamed of being the next JK Rowling, I had no idea that my manuscripts were just bad versions of Harry Potter – agents had to tell me. Ouch. Slowly, though, it dawned on me: hey, this is a fantastic exercise.

Why? Because published authors, especially the ones you love dearly, are good. They understand how the game is played. For instance, indicating the passage of time is one of the most nuanced – and difficult to nail – skills a writer can possess. But the great writers? Well, they’re awesome at it, obviously. Worldbuilding? They’re on it. Speaking to character’s deep-seated financial fears? Yep, they know how.

A lot of writing is mental muscle memory, learning the tricks of the trade and employing them intuitively. Yes, you should do this on your own as well. But by cadging the skills of the published, you can cement those skills. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Choose an Author You Love

First select the author you’re going to emulate. Obviously it’s helpful if this author writes in your genre, but you don’t always need to adhere strictly. I’m a speculative YA girl myself, but that doesn’t make Jane Austen’s incredible depth of character development any less useful.

  1. Set the Scene for Writing Well

This step is not unique to this exercise. If you want to succeed at a writing habit, you need to make a plan … not pants the job. That means picking a time and place to write, whether it’s the break room on lunch, your desk first thing in the morning, or late-night bed while your spouse snoozes beside you. Eliminate distractions with a pre-pee, a cup of tea, a Chapstick and anything else that you might “have to” get up for. Don’t forget to grab your book of choice.

  1. Select a Short Passage

Pick a chapter, a paragraph, dialogue, even a poem. Ideally you select a piece that has a strong theme, visible through multiple elements of the story: settings, description, internal and external dialogue, and events. This will help order your writing. Read through your selection a few times, noting what happens, how it happens, novel words and metaphors, and most important, what you really love about it – what makes it good writing?

  1. Put It Away

This exercise works best when you let the reading percolate in your brain, but don’t look right at it, which runs the chance of straight copying rather than inspiration. So stash it out of sight, and resist the urge to pull it out again.

  1. Rewrite However Much You Can in 10 Minutes

writing exercise, writing tip, writing

Now rewrite the selection as much as you can in the allotted time span. Keep it short; you don’t want to give up too much of your own original writing time. And don’t feel pressure to rewrite in the same form. Turn a poem into prose? WHY SURE! Don’t change it so much that you lose the original mettle of the piece, but feel free to make it your own in whatever way you see fit.

  1. Keep It to Yourself!

Remember, this exercise is definitely toeing the plagiarism line. Okay, no, it straight-up crosses it. Which is totally fine in the privacy of your own garret, but notsomuch in your submissions. Remember The Words? The main concept was just that … the “author” found a manuscript on a train, retyped the original work and passed it off as his own. Terrible regret ensued. Rewriting is almost as bad, so don’t do that. Keep the results to yourself for later reference, though.

Follow these steps, though, and you’re guaranteed a short daily habit that exposes you to great works and almost effortlessly ingrains in you the techniques of great writing. If you have any suggestions for how to improve this exercise or any variations you use in your practice, please feel free to share them with us in the comments below.

Have you ever tried this technique? Let us know in the comments!

Sarah Moore has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has worked as a professional writer for the last seven years. She is the owner and founder of at New Leaf Writing, working as a fiction writer by night and coaching others to help them reach their own writing goals through private calls and a Facebook Group. You can also find her posting cool stuff on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

This entry was posted in Experiments, Focus, Guest Post, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Craft, Writing Time. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to One Simple Technique to Improve Your Writing in 10 Minutes a Day

  1. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-03-2017 | The Author Chronicles

  2. Pingback: One Simple Technique to Improve Your Writing in 10 Minutes a Day

  3. Meg says:

    Thank you Sarah! I had planned to dissect a few books on my vacation. My thought was to actually write in the paperbacks of authors whose writing I greatly admire and mark them for grammar, story structure and other notes just to see the nitty gritty. Like Angela said, I fall under a book’s spell and I’m just dumbfounded as to HOW they did it! But your idea to emulate those same authors will definitely be a technique I do as well! Good thing notebooks are on sale this time of year! 🙂

    • Sarah Moore says:

      Haha I LOVE a good excuse to buy notebooks! And I love how you’re planning to break the exercise down … makes me think there could be another post here about exactly what to look for. Let us know if you have more ideas!

  4. Talia says:

    I’ve done something similar to this before. I write spec fiction, but when I was younger, I also liked to write fanfiction. I liked to make my fanfiction sound as much like the original author as I could. For example, once I wrote a Sherlock Holmes story, based off the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I studied those stories and tried to replicate his style and techniques. Basically, I tried to make it sound like he wrote it, rather than me. It’s not exactly the same as what you said, but I guess it’s similar. I think it was a good exercise (as long as I kept it entirely to myself, which I did, with the exception of close friends and family).
    I’m going to have to try the exercise you suggested. It sounds like it could be really helpful! And I definitely am already inspired by so many different authors, so I feel like I have learned a bit from them just from reading their books. Thanks for the post!

    • Sarah Moore says:

      Actually, in many ways that sounds like an even better exercise. I would love to try that myself! Getting the style of the greats down would be such a boon. Love this!

  5. I think another great reason for this exercise is it forces us to read –really read– before we sit down to rewrite it. I think often with good writing we fall into the spell and don’t notice the technique, but with the intent of rewriting, we’re more aware and alert to writing craft.

    Great post and idea here, Sarah!

    • Sarah Moore says:

      So true! I know when I read I love to get lost in the story, but that’s not always the most useful way to learn the craft. Plus, this exercise forces you to be mindful of the fact that you’re writing as well. While it’s nice to get lost in flow, that’s also not always the best way to improve. Ya know?

  6. Diana Layne says:

    Ah. I used to do something similar. Except when I found a passage I loved, I copied it directly in a notebook, by hand. ( do a lot of writing by hand) I kept the notebooks. Reason being? I wanted to feel what it was like to write something that touched me so much. I do feel this helped me improve my writing. And it’s probably a good habit to keep, thanks for the reminder!

    • Sarah Moore says:

      Hand-writing passages (or anything) definitely is a quality habit to have. I’m trying to focus on more of it myself. And yes, I’ve also found that simply copying a brilliant author’s words down can help you learn the craft even better. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Joseph Mello says:

    After writing for 10 minutes, what do you DO with what you wrote? And how does this help improve your writing?

    • Sarah Moore says:

      Joseph,

      Love this question! I like to file away my exercises for later, but I often pull them back out when I’m writing an appropriate scene or want a way to kick off a short story. Then I skim my work (NOT the author’s) and see what I can take from it or how I can modify it. That way, I’m actively using my exercises and taking inspiration from the greats, but I’m not pulling directly from, say, “The Road” when writing my own apocalyptic novel. Make sense?

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