Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

You already know better, but can you do better? That’s the question for the New Year.

The clean slate that January provides allows an author some mindspace to put all the knowledge into practice. But how will you do it?  I suggest you join the dots…

A dot connection puzzle is a group of numbered dots on a page that magically becomes a recognizable object once lines are drawn between the empty spaces. A join-the-dottist (a puzzle solver like yourself) will reveal a complex image and get a sense of satisfaction once an accurate image is revealed, because they’ll know it’s been rendered through effort.

Join the dottist

Here are six exercises you can practice that will help you connect the dots. However, keep in mind that these exercises will not (necessarily) improve the quality of what you write or improve your language skills (or even your basic penmanship), but will enhance your novelistic skills because they help you join-the-dots in your mental approach. These exercises allow you to see the bigger picture in your work. These exercises will help you write what you feel. And that’s stuff is only found deep down inside… which is why you have to work at it. Ultimately, these efforts will supercharge your writing: because a talented writer is an emotional writer.


If the idea of ​​“doing” writing exercises sounds bothersome, remember that being an accomplished artist takes practice ( a concert pianist will tell you they practice their scales every day). Also, think of writing as a physical undertaking (a workout for your imagination, if you like.) A marathon runner doesn’t run without warm-up exercises, right? And when is there a better time to be strict with yourself than the New Year? Think of these exercises as part of your disciplined approach to writing. Try them all:

Bigger Picture

1: Highlight emotions

Review a chapter (any chapter) that you wrote back in November. Grab a coloured pencil or highlighter, or use some other way to emphasize your words (you’d better print a chapter to do this exercise, although it’s not essential if you want to be kind to trees.) Now highlight every word that you think carries “emotional” weight or has some kind of emotional baggage

I will not help by telling you what emotional means to you (it’s your own private world), but, just a hint, the words you underline will probably be visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic

Done that? Now try to group them into aggressive, passive; positive, negative or uncertain. Too many in one group, but none in another? Ask yourself why that might be

2: Write out a recent dream

Try to “connect” with the feelings you experienced in a recent dream and then see how those feelings translate onto paper. Don’t worry about form, punctuation, or grammar when doing this exercise. Just allow your feelings to flow from an unconscious mind and into blank space

3: Create a pyramid of beliefs

Do you believe in what you write? This exercise will help you understand your core beliefs so you can test your writing for truth and passion. (Note: don’t worry — it’s not narcissistic to “know thyself” better)

So, put down a list of single words that mean something to you, perhaps they might be :  love, family, music, friendship, animals, freedom, spirituality, literature, video games, etc. (find your own… if you don’t know where to look, check your heart, because that’s the last place you left them!) Once you’ve completed your list, draw a pyramid on a piece of paper and put your beliefs (from that list) into the pyramid. Put the beliefs that are most important to you at the bottom (because they are the foundation stones of all your core beliefs) and put the most confusing and/or nebulous beliefs at the top, near the pointy bit. Pin your belief pyramid on your mood board.

4: Write a letter to your imaginary character

When did you last write a letter?  Hopefully, you write letters a few times a year to relatives and friends. Well, now is the time to write a letter to your most recently made up protagonist (you can also try your antagonist, if you want a real challenge!) Tell your fictional character about your New Year plans. Let them know you still appreciate their friendship. Tell them what you like about them. Tell them what you like about yourself. Note: if you think this is a totally worthless exercise, why not polish and edit your letter once it’s ready and post it on your social media? It’s a great way to promote your new book and will keep your readers curious (if not fascinated) by your creative processes.

5: To thine own self be true

Jot down six things you know are true about yourself. They can be good, bad, or entirely unremarkable. The key thing is that they must be true and you must find six. Also, you gotta write them down. That’s because this is a commitment. Put them in a list form (a bulleted list, if you like that kind of thing) and then reflect on them for a while. Next (the fun part) write down six things that are completely false about yourself. Again, these can be good, bad, or totally nondescript. Done that? Put them in a list form too.

Now pick two from the first list and two from the second list and shuffle them and put them in a social media post. Ask your readers which one (yes, one) is true and which one (yes one) is untrue. See what results come back! It may surprise you what others think of you. You can later admit that two were false and two were true (but I’ll leave that to your sense of scruples and fair play ha ha!)

read alound

6: Read aloud the first paragraph of your most recent manuscript

You can skip this exercise if you already read your work aloud. Maybe you narrate a regular podcast (like me) or upload YouTube reviews, or host a radio show, etc. Or you might perform poetry or plays. But if you don’t do any of these things (regularly), you gotta do this exercise…

Go on, read that paragraph out loud. You can yell, you can whisper, or you can put on a silly voice. And yes, you will look stupid in the mirror, but so what? No one is judging (except you!)

What do you learn from reading a paragraph of your work out loud? If you are anything like me, you will probably start to edit and redraft the paragraph right away. Why? Because the muscles in your mouth “see” the sound of words and even the meaning of words differently to how your mind “sees” and reads them. Strange, huh? So you will find that some of your words are not as strong as you might want, some spaces might be in the wrong place, some sentences are twisted around the wrong way, and some ideas do not work at all. Why is that? It’s because reading aloud helps with cadence. Reading aloud helps with rhythm. Reading aloud helps define ideas. Reading aloud brings about comprehension.

The desire to write
grows with writing

Desiderius Erasmus

Good luck! And I wish you lots of happy writing in 2021

Words: @neilmach 2021 ©

Neil Mach is author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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