Keep Writing – by Anne Gracie

Today we have a guest blogger, the lovely Anne Gracie, with a post on getting yourself going – just in time for 50k in 30 days!
If you like this, and want more Anne, she is involved in a Winter Writing Workshop this June in Melbourne.  Details at the bottom of this post.

Hi all, Anne Gracie here. I’ve spoken in a few places about the importance of writing regularly — I firmly believe that writing is like a muscle, and the more you do the better you get. The trouble is, it’s sometimes hard to find the time to write.

Or is it?

How much time do you really need to write?

I take quite a lot of writing classes, and in almost all of them I ask participants to do at least one writing exercise. To start with, we talk about some idea, toss around a few possibilities to get the mind spinning, and then I say, “Write.” (Oh, the power <g>)

And for 10—15 minutes, people write. Sometimes it takes them a few minutes to get going, sometimes there’s a false start or two, but usually after a few minutes everyone is writing. And by the time I say “Stop.” most people aren’t ready to stop — they could go on for quite a bit longer. But in that 10—15 minutes most people write around a page — some do more, others less, but for most people, it’s around 250 words.

If you wrote 250 words a day every day for a year, you’d have a novel.

Or, to put it another way, if you wrote for 15 minutes a day, every day for a year, you’d have a novel.

Ok, you’d probably need to put in some longer stints, and do some rewriting, but the hardest thing about starting writing is . . . starting.

I know. I’m a champion procrastinator. I tend to put off starting, knowing I’m going to be chained to the computer for the rest of the day — or thinking it. It’s not actually true. But even if I’m seated at my computer, all ready to work, I still come up with all sorts of reasons why I’m not going to start writing just yet — I need to check my email and see if my editor or agent has written, I should just pop into facebook or twitter for a moment, after all, social networking is important, etc. — the excuses could go on for hours.

So for me, the way to start is to do a writing exercise of some kind. Just for fifteen minutes.

One of my favorite writing routines is what I call “doing Dorothea.” It’s explained more fully here ( ) but basically it involves doing two planned stints of writing every day. The first is first thing in the morning, and the second is when you make an appointment to write — you look at your schedule for the day and work out a time when you’ll have 15 minutes free to write. And then you keep that appointment religiously.

Once you start doing that for a week or so — the morning writing and the appointment to write — you’ll find that your resistance to starting is slowly disappearing. And your writing muscle is getting stronger.

So most mornings, whether I’m doing Dorothea or not, I’ll sit down at the table, set the alarm for 15 minutes, and write. I’m not a great typist — I’m fast but the typos fly —and for me, handwriting is the easiest because the typos invite in the internal editor, and for this exercise, I don’t want that internal editor anywhere near me. But there’s no right way to do it — go with whatever suits you best.

And by the time the timer goes off, I’m well into the writing zone.

There’s also a secret to making your fifteen minutes really productive.

Remember when I said that in my writing classes, we talk about the scene we’re going to write, and toss around some ideas before we start. It really helps if you can think a bit about your scene before you try to write it. Once you get into the habit of this, you’ll find you can plot while you’re going all sorts of other things, and then, when you come to write, the scene will just flow out of you.

Start by writing a list of “what-ifs” — brainstorming possibilities for the scene.

If you find yourself unable to decide whose point of view, or whether to have the scene on a bus or in the bedroom, or make them fight or make love, just toss a coin and go with the flow. You can always rewrite, and it’ll be stronger for the rewriting.

And if you don’t have a scene in mind, try the “classic” kind of writing exercises:

* mood pieces inspired by scents or sounds or places:

eg the smell of a bakery early in the morning

eg sound of rain on the roof at night, a feeling of safety, a time to dream…

* write an ‘in-the-moment’ piece from your character’s point of view.

Where are they? What are they seeing, smelling , hearing, touching, etc.

* recreate an important memory from your character’s childhood:

– have them tell someone.

* write a conversation between two characters where one of them is trying to conceal something

* a piece of sexy flirting – just hurl the dialogue down. It might sound stiff at first, but soon it’ll flow.

* your character comes into a room unexpectedly and finds. . .

* think about a situation a character would hate and put them into it. Then write the scene.

Start a file of possible exercises. I have a box of little cards with idea and writing exercises on them. There are times when I just want to write something different, and so I pull one out at random and write in response.

It doesn’t matter if you never use any of these scenes — it’s only 15 minutes of your day, and you’ve strengthened your writing muscles anyway and added to your toolbox of writing techniques. But I bet you’ll find that you use a lot.

So start exercising those writing muscles and get into a routine of writing. There’s only one way to write a novel — word by word, page by page, fifteen minutes by fifteen minutes.

Winter Writing Workshop

Anne Gracie is taking writing workshops in Melbourne on the weekend of June 15th—17th, along with Crime writer Shane Maloney and Kate Forsyth.

It sounds like a wonderful weekend of workshops and Melbourne Uni is a lovely venue (Ed.)

More information here:

First published by Harlequin, Anne Gracie is now with Berkley USA/Penguin Australia. She’s a three-time RITA finalist, has twice won the Romantic Book of the Year (Australia) and the National Reader’s Choice Award in the USA, and was listed in Library Journal (USA) best books of the year. Five of her books have received DIK (Desert Island Keepers) status on All About Romance, and she’s been translated into sixteen different languages. Anne is proud to be a Lifetime Member of Romance Writers of Australia.

Leave a comment


  1. What great ideas Anne 🙂 There are days when my muse decides to have a sleep in. These tips will definitely help to shake him up! Wish I was closer to Melbourne to take one of your workshops.

  2. annegracie

     /  May 30, 2012

    Hi Juanita, wouldn’t it be great if we had an RWA plane to fly us all over? LOL. The Trinity workshops have been planned for a weekend, so that people from out of town can stay overnight for them.

    And having been on the first WA Romance Roadshow only whetted my appetite to come over to the West again. I’ll be there next year, too.

    But in the meantime, I can recommend starting a little box of writing exercises.

  3. Adding these to my list of techniques. When one doesn’t work, now I have others to try. Thanks, Anne.

    • annegracie

       /  May 30, 2012

      Best of luck with them, Judy. Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Maryde

     /  May 30, 2012

    Thank you for a stimulating topic Annie.
    *Doing Dorothea* does sounds interesting.
    I find there are stretches in my writing routine when the procrastination sets in and starting seems hard. This may help me to get past it.

    • annegracie

       /  May 30, 2012

      Maryde, Dorothea has saved me on so many occasions — pulled me out of writing ruts, given me energy, got me writing again when I really didn’t feel like it. Give it a try. All the best.

  5. Thanks, Anne. This is great (and very timely!) advice.

    • annegracie

       /  May 30, 2012

      Best of luck with it Cathryn. Timely, eh? Does that mean you’re starting another fabulous book? Excellent news for us all.

  6. Great tips Anne,
    It’s getting it to flow naturally I think is the key. Without forced words, forced anything. One has to be their heart and soul into writing a good book. Let’s hope the Gods are with me in June. 🙂

    • annegracie

       /  May 30, 2012

      Suzanne, I think I often start off with forced words, but it’s like any kind of exercise; after a bit you loosen up and the words start to flow. The longer it’s been between writing sessions, the more rubbish you write at first. But you write your way out of the rubbish and soon it comes. . .

      Dorothea herself gives some great advice about it — train the muse to perform (much as you train a dog) and once you do, the magic happens.

  7. Not sure how that to be arrived. lol.. Has to put their heart and soul…. Taking deep breaths. 🙂

    • annegracie

       /  May 30, 2012

      I knew what you meant. We all did. Typos happen 🙂

  8. Speaking of an RWA Plane. Hmmm, wish hubby would buy his own. I’ve imagined flying to conferences, hence Private Pilot…. He’s an excellent Pilot, just have to get that aircraft. lol

  9. annegracie

     /  May 30, 2012

    Fab, Suzanne — that’s half of the plan achieved. Now for the plane. . .Reminds me of that old monty python sketch — actually in Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book for Boys and Girls — the project, Build Your Own 707. 😉

  10. Anne, thanks for sharing. I never start writing with an exercise but I’m wondering if it’s something to try next time I really don’t feel like it. I procrastinate wondering whose POV a scene should be in and can delay starting a new scene till I sort it out in my head. Maybe as you say I should just jump in and see what happens.

    • annegracie

       /  May 30, 2012

      Annie, I can get stuck for ages sometimes, pondering those decisions, so in the meantime it’s good to do something different. I also like doing some different kind of writing, that’s not intended for a particular book — it really loosens me up and opens me to fresh possibilities.

  11. This is an excellent post Anne. Such a good reminder to me to exercise my writing muscles. Hmm…. maybe a trip to the Blue Mountains should be in your future. Workshop at Varuna? 🙂

    • annegracie

       /  May 30, 2012

      I’d love that, Keziah. I had a few days retreat in the Blue Mountains once years ago — just before a conference in Sydney, and it was so lovely. Have always through it would be great to organize a group there. One day. . .

  12. Edith

     /  May 31, 2012

    Lots of great ideas here, thank you!

  13. Fabulous post, Anne. I love your tips and exercise ideas for getting started. You’ve prodded me into starting today with a scene using revelation of a childhood event. I know it’ll end up fitting somewhere. And if that doesn’t get me going, I can always use the character’s sensory response one. Brilliant!

    (PS: I love the idea of an RWA plane but as RWA Treasurer…um…no.)

    • annegracie

       /  May 31, 2012

      Oh, stingy, stingy, stingy, Bron — I wasn’t talking a BIG plane! 😉

      I love writing childhood and teen memories of characters. I think it really helps flesh them out, and for me, they always come in useful in the wip, even if those actual words don’t make it in.

      And writing sensory, in-the-moment pieces from a character’s pov always helps ground the writing, I think. Have fun.

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