How many freelance writers are out there who have gone months, years, or even a lifetime without producing their best work. Let’s be honest… Most of us are capable of producing better copy and getting kick-butt projects.

So, what separates great productive and lucrative writers from the good? A lot of it is routine, which includes daily or weekly writing exercises. Deliberate exercise strengthens your capabilities as a writer.  Just as a pianist would spend hours scaling keys, or a dancer practices footwork and jumps for hours on end. Writing is no different. It takes exercise to be on our “A” game.

4 writing exercises from famous authors that’ll help you hone your craft

So, whether you’re in a rut or simply trying to perfect your copywriting skills, learn from the pros… Here are four writing exercises from famous authors.

Ernest Hemingway: Honing observational skills

1. Ernest Hemingway: Honing observational skills

In the 1930s, a young, aspiring writer Arnold Samuelson visited famed author Ernest Hemingway for some writing advice. He told the young author to pick a situation to observe and then try to retell it on the page.

Hemingway said:

“Watch what happens today. If we get into a fish see exactly what it is that everyone does. If you get a kick out of it while he is jumping, remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you that emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped.”

This exercise forces writers to avoid vagueness by conveying emotion and detail. As you do this, think of yourself as an artist capturing the sights of nature or a beautiful landscape in a sketchbook. Be attentive to how you feel in the moment, what is happening around you, and the emotions you feel.

Source: Copywriting Secrets on

Jodi Picoult: You can’t edit a blank page

2. Jodi Picoult: You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult, a New York Times bestselling author (seven times running), shared her secrets in an interview with the Daily Beast on her approach to writing.

She said:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

What does this tell us? Don’t get discouraged by a blank piece of paper. Just start writing. Some days you’ll stare at a screen and some days you’ll be on fire. There’s no reason for it. But one thing is clear. The days you are pulling from the depths of your creativity to write, the best thing you can do is just type. You can always go back and edit your work, but it’s good to start somewhere.

Source: Daily Beast

George R.R. Martin: On writing dialogue

3. George R.R. Martin: On writing dialogue

Fantasy writer George R.R. Martin was asked what it takes to be a good writer at a recent film festival by a journalist. While he shared many tips, one of the most important ones was having a knack for dialogue. So, how can you practice this?

Martin said:

“I sometimes teach writing classes. And there are various exercises you can give to students. One of them is to describe a half dozen different characters. Write a speech for each of these different characters without a name tag… Invent whatever you want. Write a speech for each of them in which… they don’t give their name… just make each speech sound different from the other so you can instantly know just from the words this is the priest speaking, this is the prostitute speaking… If they all sound the same, you have a problem. They should sound different.”


Jack Hart: Trim the fat

4. Jack Hart: Trim the fat.

When editing your own work, it’s important to trim the fat. There are so many words that can muddle your sentences. So, keep your copy succinct.

Take it from journalist Jack Hart, who wrote this in his book ‘Storycraft‘:

“Any word that doesn’t advance a story slows it down. Which is reason enough to avoid expletives. Contrary to popular misconception, the term ‘expletive’ refers to a whole class of empty words, not just gratuitous profanities. Most expletives simply fill out the syntax of sentences. The most common is ‘there are,’ ‘there is,’ ‘there was,’ ‘it is,’ ‘it was,’ and so on.

Think about a sentence like ‘there were two airplanes on the runway.’ What’s the ‘there’ refer to, anyway? Nada. It just serves to turn ‘two airplanes on the runway’ into a complete sentence.

You don’t violate any grammatical rule when you use an expletive, and each expletive is of no great consequence. But they pile up, and eventually, they slow your storytelling.

Why not introduce a real verb that generates an image by writing, ‘two airplanes taxied on the runway’ or ‘two airplanes idled on the runway,’ or even ‘two airplanes sat on the runway’? …”

To turn this into a writing exercise, Hart suggests taking one of your recent drafts and hunt for the empty words to eliminate from your writing. Often, empty words can come in the form of connecting words like: at, by, for, in, it, of, to, and with; and even some adjectives.

Source: Copywriting Secrets on

Now get to it.

These exercises can boost your writing skills in a big way. Through deliberate practice, you can communicate your message more clearly and better educate and inspire readers. (And maybe get better freelance jobs while you’re at it.)