This 5 Minute Writing Exercise Will Make You A Better Writer For The Rest Of Your Life

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3 years ago

Or at least for the rest of your writing career.

What qualifies me to teach?

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I have very little formal education. I am primarily self-taught with many years of teaching experience under my belt.

I taught English, Essay Writing, and 7th-grade Math to adult GED students. I also taught Reading and Writing to English Second Language students. I taught Creative Writing in a men’s home. There, my students were serving out their jail sentence in a halfway house. These students were not in my class voluntarily. We still had a lot of fun, and I think they learned a bit.

“How to” not “what to”

I am still learning and honing my craft. I will never be done with that. Nor, I hope, will you be. I read all the how-to books, articles, and stories. I read online and offline. What I read has good content, but most of these articles tell us what to do rather than how to go about doing the thing. They tell you to write every day or to not write every day. They tell you to write a certain word count or to not write a word count. They tell you to write honestly, to make yourself vulnerable, to check your spelling and grammar, to write interesting stuff, and to give value to your readers. They give advice on staying motivated. They talk about getting organized and even offer their schedules as examples. They talk about how much money you can make from your writing.

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You’ve read all of these articles, too. And after reading, you eagerly sit down to write and . . .

. . .nothing. 

Because you don’t know how to get started.

I can help with that.

I will be giving you actionable exercises. You can get started right away. Well, as soon as you finish reading this. I will tell you what tools you need and why. The exercises I give you will help you go deep. They’ll help you be honest and show vulnerability in your writing. I’ll even tell you exactly how to get started. 

Warming up your writing muscles.

The exercises I give you can be used as warmups for the rest of your writing career. Whether you do technical writing or are writing a book. No matter what your subject matter is, memoir or cryptocurrency, journaling for yourself, or reporting on the news, these exercises will help you to warm up. You might be asking yourself, “Why do I need to warm up?”

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Athletes warm up before events and save themselves from injury and discomfort. Writers need to warm up to get their brains flowing, to avoid long moments staring at a blank screen or empty page.

Tools and Rules

You will need some tools before you can get started. If you don’t have them, then I lied when I said you can start as soon as you finish reading. You can start as soon as you gather together all of these tools.

You will need a notebook. Loose paper will work, as well, but you might consider a file folder to keep it in. We are going to use these first few exercises in later lessons. So, however you swing it, please don’t throw away your writing exercises.

You will need several ink pens. It sucks to be in full flow in the middle of a sentence only to run out of ink. Please, no erasable ink or pencils. This is important.

You will need a timer that makes noise. Egg timer, alarm on your phone, the timer on your oven or microwave. You may use your watch if it has an audible alarm, and if you are not wearing it. Put it somewhere out of sight. This goes for all the timer devices (unless you are more disciplined than I am). It’s too tempting to look at the count down. This takes away from writing time. It is best if you cannot see the timer to avoid the temptation of checking your time.

  • Notebook

  • Pens

  • Timer

Just like in any classroom, I do have a few rules.

The first rule is there are no rules. 

Throw out everything you’ve been taught about writing. Everything. Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, word usage. All of it. Put it in a mental box and tuck it away in a closet. Though you will need these rules of writing later to write clean copy, they are not needed or wanted here. Regarding what you write during these lessons there are no rules.

The second rule is no editing. 

No crossing out, going back to change sentence structure, no correcting spelling. This is the hardest rule for me to follow. Even after 30+ years. Follow this one rule, and your writing will improve whether you do these writing exercises or not.

The third rule is to keep your hand moving. 

Once you set the timer, keep writing. You may need a place holder word or phrase such as “writing writing writing” or “keeping my hand moving keeping it moving”.

The fourth and final rule is to jump around between timed exercises.  

Keeping your blood flowing is good for thinking. Also, for people new to writing longhand, it will give your tired fingers a much-needed break. So, when your five-minute timer goes off, get up. Step away from the table or desk. Stand up out of the chair. Wave your arms around, flap your hands, clap your hands. Jump up and down if you are able. If not, move your feet. Get circulation going.

1. There are no rules

2. No editing

3. Keep your hand moving

4. Jump around

That’s a lot of rules after saying there are no rules!

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Still with me? Fantastic!

In the beginning, you will be writing in 6- or 7-minute increments, depending on how long it takes you to set your timer. In my case, I would have to set the timer on my phone, put the phone where I can’t see the countdown, pick up my pen and notebook and start writing. It takes me about 30 seconds to do this. So, I would set my timer for 5 minutes 30 seconds. You’ll set your timer for 5 minutes + however many seconds you need to get situated. Then you’ll write, set timer for one minute, jump around, set the timer for 5 minutes, rinse, repeat.

  • Timer set for 5 minutes

  • Write

  • Timer set for 1 minute

  • Jump around

The why of it.

Writing longhand taps into your hindbrain and medulla, your primal brain. I call it Lizard Brain.

Tapping into your lizard brain while writing injects vulnerability and honesty into every word. I don’t know how this works, I’m not a scientist. My very unscientific explanation is that your writing hand is attached to your arm that leads directly to your heart.

(I got this explanation from Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. If you read some of her books you will notice my teaching style heavily reflects lessons I learned from those books, as well as from Natalie herself at a writer's conference.)

When you are editing while writing, you are using your frontal cortex, your modern brain. I call it Monkey Mind. When your primal brain is engaged, your modern brain isn’t working much. This is where authenticity comes from. You aren’t logic-ing. You are emotion-ing.

In order to show honesty and vulnerability in your writing, you want to engage Lizard Brain and lock Monkey Mind in a room somewhere. 

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Tapping into Lizard Brain can bring up repressed or suppressed emotions. This can get overwhelming for some of us. If you start feeling overwhelmed, please take a break from these writing exercises. For an hour or a day or a week. It’s up to you. It’s your rodeo. I’m just teaching you how to ride.

Writing with a pen keeps Monkey Mind in check. It is harder and less tempting to erase if you can’t. (duh, right?). Crossing out is another way Monkey Mind tries to take over. If you do find yourself crossing out, try to just use one line. Don’t scribble scrabble and eradicate what you’ve written.

For our purposes, Lizard Brain is the creator. Your writing hand. Picture a wise old iguana if you will. Monkey Mind is the corrector. Your editing side. Every time Lizard tries to write, here comes Monkey swinging from limb to limb, or idea to idea, chitter chattering away “No, not like this, like that. Or maybe like this over here. Oh, look squirrel.” 

In Chinese astrology, those born in the year of the monkey (raises hand) are highly intelligent but easily discouraged. I think those ancient Chinese astrologers were onto something.

Demonstration: Monkey v. Lizard

Before we get into the meat of the first exercise, I’d like you to do a pre-exercise, hands-on demonstration of Monkey mind versus Lizard brain.

I’d like you to grab your notebook and pen and start writing. Write your name, the date, your address, and your phone number. As soon as you start writing your name, I want you to use your other hand, your monkey hand, to grab the hand that is writing. Wrap your entire lizard hand, pen, and all, inside your monkey hand. Keep writing. How’d that go? Can you read your handwriting? (I never can when I do this. I do it every now and then as a reminder.) Did it take longer to write than expected? Yeah. . .

Don’t let monkey mind take over. This, of course, takes practice which is what we are about to do. Just a few more steps.

The exercise

The experts all tell us to write what we know. What do you know better than you know yourself? Not much. This first exercise is going to center on what you know about yourself. You’ll write for five minutes. After you set your timer, start writing “I am.” Just keep repeating I am I am over and over until something else surfaces. This usually happens pretty quickly. It’s hard to repeat two words over and over. Lizard Brain will show up to break the monotony. What comes after I am can be true or false. Can make sense or not. Just keep writing. Just keep your hand moving. It will look something like this:

“I amI am I am I am a woman I am writing I am I am I am I am I am an elehant. I am a fly. I am a circus tent. I am a fly suckling the tears from an elephants eye. I am not making any sense. IamIamIamIamIam…”

(Grammarly just went crazy over the above quote!)

Screenshot by Author

No crossing out. No correcting. No going back. No editing. No Monkey! Keep your hand moving the entire 5 minutes. Write nonsense words if you can’t come up with any others. Keep your hand moving!

That’s it. Some people can only do 1 five-minute exercise the first time. If that’s you, that’s ok. You did the one! Be proud of yourself. I do recommend, for maximum warm-up effect, doing two or three of these before sitting down to your official writing project. Remember! Don’t throw your writing exercises away. You’ll need them for later lessons.

Until then, you can do this warm-up/writing exercise daily, several times a day, or wait until the next lesson. It’s your rodeo. I’m just teaching you to ride.

Some variations to use as a starter:

  • I like

  • I remember

  • I hate

  • I can

  • I love

  • I want

  • I will

  • I can’t

Time to write.

Ready to get started? Go!

Find a comfortable spot and then

  • Close your eyes

  • Inhale deeply and exhale slowly 3 or 5 times

  • Open your eyes

  • Set timer

  • Start writing

  • Write for 5 minutes

  • Jump around

  • Rinse

  • Repeat

I'd like to give @Glez a shout-out for inspiring me to write this, @bmjc98 to let them know I'm thinking of them, and @CryptoMax for always being encouraging and energetic.

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Avatar for JonicaBradley
3 years ago


I am glad that I saw this in your feed recently. This reminds me of our English classes where we are given writing exercises like this. It helped me a lot for sure! The best part of writing for me is when I am in the flow state, where ideas come endlessly without minding the mistakes made.

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2 years ago

Yes. I taught this a lot in my writing classes.

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2 years ago

All very sound and good advice. I follow one very simple rule. "Just write and keep writing." I know, it sounds as goofy as some of the examples you cited here. But for me that's it. But I DO know some people do find it more difficult to get the words out and especially to get the words out the way they want to.

I like the no editing part—that is, just write. There that is again. Worry about the editing later. All editing does is stop the flow, and once the flow is stopped, it is often times pretty much lights out for going any farther.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

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2 years ago

I agree about the editing. Sometimes I really do have to change things a bit as I type. I'm a shit typist and can confuse the hell out of myself when I've no idea what I was actually trying to type.

But for the most part, write and keep writing is very good advice. Especially in 5 minute increments.

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2 years ago

Wow! Didn't know about this. In my case, I just take my notebook and my pen, listen to my heart, and write every word that my heart wants me to share.

But sometimes, if I go for my brain, I end up empty-handed so instead of forcing myself to come up with something, I just take a break and enjoy something like watching a movie.

Anyway, thank you for mentioning me and for helping me with my nieces' chick. They call the little fella, Blawie. Coz it's black and brown. Hehe

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2 years ago

Of course. You're welcome. I hope the chick makes it.

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2 years ago

I was using some of these techniques, but you gave me such new tips to improve my writing habit. Thank you for sharing ... looking forward to the next one! >D

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3 years ago

Thank you! I'm glad you found them useful. There's a link to part 2. It gets pretty intense!

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3 years ago

Whoa! I am very much amazed. So there's this exercise and warm up 😂 it is good to know these as a starter. Well I still call myself a starter because I never ever had any experience with writing or blogging since I found 2 mos ago. I love the way you write. I mean, just like @cryptomax you make me feel like you are just in front of me talking. And then instead of getting bored I feel more interested as I scroll down to the end of the article.

Thank you for mentioning me. I am humbled to meet such a great writer.

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3 years ago

Thank you! Yes, I pretty much write the way I talk. I'll keep more lessons and exercises coming. I think you do very well for a young writer! By young I mean new to writing. I've been a writer since before I could read. I would dictate stories to my mom and she would type them and I would illustrate them. So I have a lot of experience! Keep writing and you will too!

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3 years ago

That’s great man you explain very well I appreciate your work keep it up

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3 years ago

Really amazing article... I tried this exercise and the results are quite wonderful. Thank you so much for this post.

$ 0.05
3 years ago

I'm glad you tried it and you like it!

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3 years ago

Wow What a article !!

$ 0.01
3 years ago

Thank you!

$ 0.00
3 years ago

You welcome ☺️

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3 years ago

It's nice to know people like to read what I write.

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3 years ago

Ya same here bro ☺️

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3 years ago

Hello there, Great tips, happy that such a quality writer took up the challenge to try crypto blogging as well. Will keep on following. Cheers

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3 years ago

I've got a story outlined already.

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3 years ago

Thank you for this post. This is very helpful to me. I am saving this article.

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3 years ago

You are very welcome. You'll be surprised what comes out of the tip of your pen!

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3 years ago