How to Practice Writing a Novel — Without Writing a Novel

7 writing exercises you can do in 10 minutes or less

Writing is a skill set anyone can improve with a bit of dedication, direction, and practice. The trick is figuring out what actions will truly help you become a better writer and which are simply a waste of time.

One of the best strategies great writers use for improvement are writing exercises — guided written activities that develop specific writing-related skills. The key is to choose daily writing exercises that align with your goals.

Writing skills

The best writing exercises focus on helping you improve one or two specific elements at a time. It’s similar to how athletes go to the gym to train certain muscle groups. Impressive performance is the result of targeted practice.

Below, you’ll find a list of 8 activities you can try, along with clear directions on how to start them, and short explanations of how each one will help you grow as a writer.


Fanfiction is a bit of a taboo in the world of literature. Some people hate it, some people love it. Everyone makes fun of it. But as I’ve discussed at length in this article about Harry Potter, fanfiction is a prevalent part of today’s Internet culture, and that’s not a bad thing. Fanfiction isn’t the harbinger of death, copyright infringement, and teenage angst it’s painted to be. Okay, maybe a little. But in spite of its high volume of low-quality works (due to the non-existent barrier of entry), it has plenty of gems of great fiction.

Because you’re writing fiction based on a copyrighted work that you’re passionate about, there’s very likely a large group of individuals who are hungry to read, and critique, your contributions to the fandom. Having this built-in audience means that you don’t have to struggle to gain readers. But there’s another, hidden, benefit to fanfiction: feedback is used as a sort of currency.

Due to the fact that you can’t be paid for your work, users often provide commentary on your writing as a form of re-payment. Not monetarily valuable, but critical for anybody that’s looking to improve their writing. This comes with a small qualification, however: some comments will have nothing to do with your writing, and everything to do with the reader’s feelings about the plot you’ve created or how you handle character interactions. It’s up to your discretion to interpret these comments as being either constructive or useless.

Focus on telling a good story, stay true to the characters and theme of the canon, and you’ll find great success. Now that I think about it, actually, the writers of Game of Thrones might have benefited from writing fanfiction.

Practical ways to improve your essay writing

Wondering how to improve your essay writing skills? Well, you and I both know the only way to do this is to practice more. But practice what? And practice how? Easy: practice reading, writing, and getting feedback.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell asserts that you need 10,000 hours of practice at anything to become an expert at it. Okay, so we know you’re most probably not reading this to become an expert essay writer; you’re more likely here to get some advice on how to improve your writing skills and make essay writing more bearable, right? So instead of worrying about practicing 10,000 hours of essay writing, I’ll walk you through some practical ways you can improve your essays by reading, writing, and learning to get feedback.

The one thing that I will emphasise is that you need to get whatever you practice right. What do I mean? This: “practice makes permanent”. As opposed to perfect. Makes sense, right? Practice is nothing more than a repetitive behaviour and if you are practicing something wrong it’ll become a habit making it difficult to change. So getting started right with how you practice reading, writing, and getting feedback will serve you better throughout your essay writing career in school and university.

Read good examples of different types of essays . Ask anyone (who writes well!) how to improve your writing and I’m sure they’ll say: “read more.” There’s just no getting around this one. Fiction, non-fiction, science-fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, classical literature – whatever genre floats your boat, just read. But this is just reading for fun and learning to love reading. Where reading will really improve your essay writing is when you start reading actively. This just means that when you tackle a book or a text that is relevant to your essay topic with a specific aim in mind.

For example, if you’re writing an essay on the use of onomatopoeia in a poem, you’ll automatically read the poem looking out for words that phonetically recreate the sound they are trying to describe, words like “meow” for example. Similarly, you can actively read any book, paper, journal, or article to observe the style, language, grammar, vocabulary, structure, and anything else you want to learn to use better in your own writing. This is really useful because humans learn through mimicry. So, if you’re supposed to be writing an essay to apply for a scholarship (if you’re looking for a scholarship in Canada check out this list ) it might help to read through examples of successful scholarship essays and look at what worked for the applicants. Was it their style, clarity, focus, structure, etc.? So learn to read actively, and whenever you have a specific type or topic of the essay to write, try to find one or two good examples of previously written essays to understand what the end reader is looking for.

short essays, long essays, essays for competitions, timed essays. Yes, pretty obvious right? So what are you waiting for? Write! Okay wait, don’t just write anything, anyhow. Practice writing with a purpose. Just as I mentioned that practice makes permanent, if you get into the habit of writing essays haphazardly with no clear process or structure it’s going to make your essay writing life permanently stressful. If you’re already struggling to sift through your ideas and experiencing “writer’s block” often then, ironically enough, you probably just need more practice writing. There are two reasons why you might get stuck writing and improving your essays. The first is that you might not have a process before you actually start writing. Trust me, no one just gets a writing prompt, sits in front of a blank screen, and 30 minutes later has produced a flawless piece of writing. Just. Does. Not. Happen. Writing an essay is a process that begins with some brainstorming and outlining (at the very least), followed by the first draft. So create a pre-writing process that works for you.

The second reason is that you’re probably not fully aware that all writing has a simple and basic structure that is adapted depending on the type of essay you are required to write and the subject area involved. This is where EssayJack can help you break down the structure of the most common types of essays and guide you through the drafting process section-by-section. Practicing writing essays on EssayJack will teach you the conventions of essay writing, making sure you’re getting the all-important structure of essay writing right! So make sure you create a process for yourself and then practice essay writing as much as possible with the right guidance. If you need that extra bit of motivation to practice writing more try looking for engaging essay competitions (like this one by the GOI Peace Foundation) to enter your essays for. Alternatively, you could write short-timed essays to practice zipping through an essay and not wasting endless hours trying to figure out where to start!


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