Monday, August 30, 2010

Cross Training

                                                                                  Essays and Exercise

I'm writing lesson plans for the teen online writing classes I teach. This new session will cover how to write the essay. Not a popular topic with teens perhaps, but a good skill to learn whether college bound or not.

How does this relate to exercise? Well you see, it's part of my cross-training plan for writing.

My students are encouraged, through lessons and assignments, to stretch their writing muscles by trying different types of writing. Exposure to and the practice of different types of writing, I believe, is one key to growing as a writer.

How does this factor into the lessons? For the essay session, in addition to the standard assignment, I'll include exercises that provide a twist on writing the "serious essay". I might have them take the lesson's topic and put a humorous spin on it by having them write a paragraph that includes tall tale-like details. Or, we might try a Hemingway six word story, using the topic as a guide. The goal is to make students think, make it fun, and then have them write to stretch or cross train those muscles. Learning to write well is essential for good communication, but students can learn and be stretched in interesting and non-traditional ways.

And the point is...?

How does this relate to our writing? It reminded me that we need to engage in cross training exercises periodically in order to stretch and grow as writers. How? By dabbling in a different genre, doing a writing prompt or free writing, attending a conference, taking a writing course, or just taking time to play with words.

Have you done any cross training with your writing lately? What ideas do you have to stretch those writing muscles?

Speaking of Essays

So now that I've got you considering this cross training thing, here's a potential assignment. The 9th Annual Funds for Writers Essay Contest is looking for submissions. This year's theme is When Writing Made a Difference. There are two entry options, one with a $5 entry fee, and one with no entry fee. Prizes range from $300 to $20, depending on the entry choice. Deadline is October 31, 2010.

I entered the contest a few years ago, and while I didn't win, it was great practice for polishing and submitting a piece. Plus I still have the essay, and plan on submitting it somewhere eventually.

Don't forget to share those cross training ideas with us. Happy writing!

Photo credit:  pawel 231


  1. Hey, thanks Karen, I'll check that website. I am not much of an essay writer... but, you're so right: exercise builds up! If you don't go, you'll never know :)

  2. When I taught a writing workshop to 2nd-6th graders a few weeks ago, we went on a nature walk. They collected three items to write about. One girl found "a lantern" from a twisty vine thingy. Loved that exercise.
    ~ Wendy

  3. Essay? That's a neat challenge. Thanks for the info'!

  4. I guess I'm doing that right now as I write guest posts for my blog tour - they're sorta like essays.

  5. Marja,
    I bet you would do better than you think. I thought the same before I entered a while back. It was easier than I thought. Lots of writing muscles were stretched:)

    I know, I love those kinds of things too. Talk about a fun and visual writing prompt for kids - we should probaby give it a try!

    You are welcome! Let me know if you give it a try, okay?

    You know, I almost included blog posts in the list! I don't know why I left it out. Happy cross training!

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  6. I just submitted to a couple of non-fiction places just to keep fresh in that area while I am trying to learn fiction. I will check out the link. Thank you!

  7. This is a great reminder. I find myself writing the same way, over and over, in each book I write. I totally need to stretch my muscles a little bit.

  8. This is so practical! It's great for those days we're in a rut or in between writing projects. Thanks!

  9. Terri,
    You are welcome! Glad you are getting some good writing exercise:)

    Thanks:) I know, me too. I think it's too easy to get into a rut. I need to be jostled out from time to time,

    Thank you! I find myself in between projects sometimes, and I think a different type of writing would be a good thing.

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  10. I have to do technical writing for work and it's not a good way to cross-train for creative writing at all! I need to do some creative writing exercises - just word play - to get my creative writing muscles in shape again!

  11. I cross-train constantly with blog posts, "Reclaiming Lily," and Art Bites on Facebook.

    Quite a good workout!!

    Love this place...and you!

  12. Margo,
    I see your point about work. Well, your blog, though, reflects a lot of creativity! :) I'm all for toning up.

    You get a good workout, don't you? I need to follow your example. You are so sweet, thanks so much:)

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  13. Good advice and good exercises for the students. So often we get the concept that essay writing is tedium. I always enjoyed it when I was in school and had teachers that had some of the same approaches that you are talking about.

    What I enjoy about blogging is that it gives me an opportunity to just experiment and play around with writing. I see blogging as a fun way to exercise and stretch my writing skills.

    Tossing It Out

  14. Thank you for the information, this is definitely something I might take part in!

  15. Thanks Karen. Sounds like a good one!

  16. Hi Karen -

    Cross Training - a good term for what I do. Non-fiction is my first love, followed by fiction, writing Bible Studies, curriculum, newsletters, and journaling.

    Maybe I should take up essay writing. The contest topic piques my interest. Thanks for the info.

    Susan :)

  17. Lee,
    Thanks! I think that essay writing is misunderstood by many. Many of us write essays each time we write a blog post. I agree, blogging is a good way to stretch.

    You are welcome! Let me know if you enter, okay?

    It looks like it is. Thanks for coming by!

    Yes, you get a lot of writing exercise! Be sure and let us know if you enter, okay? :)

    Blessings to each of you,

  18. What a great idea! I think I may do this. I am a little busy with assignments now but how fun :) Thanks for sharing.

  19. Love the ideas, Karen! I've used a couple of different writing programs with my kids--Shurely English has it built into their grammar books. And then I've also dabbled in Excellence in Writing. I've like the "help" from these programs in teaching my kids more formal aspects of writing (like essays). But I've also tried not to stiffle them too much, especially with their creative writing, and especially since they're still pretty young. I'm going to try to do a little more this next school year though! So we'll see how it goes! :-) Thanks for the tips!

  20. I do try and cross train esp. when writing a new story. I'm not published. I'm not agented. Now is the time to explore. :)

  21. Thanks for that link, Karen. You are wonderful to help us like this. I appreciate your unselfish heart.

    I recently took a fiction editing class that stretched me beyond my comfortable non-fiction world, and it was SO. MUCH. FUN. I grew and learned a moon's worth.

  22. Tiffany,
    It sounded good so I thought I'd pass it along. The deadline isn't for a bit yet, so maybe you'd have time. Let me know if you enter!

    Glad to hear it! I agree with you; I prefer to focus on the creative aspect, especially when they are younger, to encourage them to write.

    I'm all for exploring too. Why not? If nothing else, we learn what we don't care to write and other valuable things.

    You are welcome, always happy to share. Someone recently commented on how they had a piece accepted from a link I'd shared. That was exciting! As far as taking a class; I'd like to soon. I could use some stretching!

    Blessings and thanks to each of you,
    Karen :)

  23. I begin another class in Professional Writing in a couple of weeks. This one is on rheotorical writing. I'm not even sure I know what rheoteric is, so I'm sure I'll be stretching my muscles. I actually kind of look forward to writing in one genre as I'm still figuring out what I like to write! Short on time to write for that contest but hope you remind us again about it next year!

  24. I guess I'm not doing that right now. Time (and a 4-year-old ) is the major factor right now. Are there seasons for this? I'm doing good just to get my reports in on time (day job) and the column in by deadline (early-morning job). Sighing...

  25. Karen..the second topic I taught my Creative Writing Students was Essays. They enjoyed it and came up with amazing ones.
    I agree with you that its important to stretch our writing muscles, else we may end up stagnating and that frankly speaking is not a good thing.

  26. Writing a self-help book in the middle of my YA fiction series was a stretch!

  27. Lynn,
    Wishing you the best with this new course! Hope you document your progress on your blog as before:)

    Looks like you are just keeping your head above water. But stretching your muscles for sure!

    Yes, essays don't have to be boring; they can reflect a wonderful creativity. We should rename them so they don't sound so dry and boring!

    Thanks for coming by! That does sound like a stretch; congrats to you!

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  28. Karen:
    Cross-training for me includes writing two newsletters in alternate months. Also, writing the skits for the drama ministry to consider performing and then my devotional essays.

  29. This is a really great post Karen!! I love the concept of cross-training. As to how I do it, well, I attend writers conferences which usually hit on a broad range of genres and also this week I've been working on a short fiction piece I plan on submitting to a woman's magazine I subscribe to. Besides that, I also read outside my own genre fairly often.
    Thanks for the post!

  30. I've been listening to my two teenagers work on an essay on courage this evening. Tom is studying To Kill a Mockingbird. Was it just yesterday when I worked on the same homework questions? What I love about essays is they make us dig for answers. That must be good exercise?
    Dorothy :)

  31. Cecelia,
    Seems like you get a lot of exercise! Good going. Your blog posts are an important part of that too:)

    Thanks so much! Glad you make the opportunity to stretch! And yes, reading is another way, and one of my favorites too:)

    Yes, I think it is! I remember studying TKAM in high school too. What a good book to use to stir creative thought.

    Thanks and blessings to each of you,

  32. Karen,
    Thanks for this prompt. I crossed genres yesterday, accidentally. Started out writing a happy little essay that turned itno a Stephen King kind of flash fiction piece. Surprised myself, but that is truly how to stretch the writing muscles.

  33. Great idea! I like to think I cross train with bog posts and Facebook posts, but me thinks I need to do something a little more strenuous. :)
    In fact, I really feel I need to do that this month.

  34. Hi Karen .. as a failed student & at English too .. let alone history?! It's a surprise to find way later in life .. I can write and I enjoy the process ..

    I hadn't ever written a story .. but Davina from Shades of Crimson threw out a challenge to write a 100 word story to include 9 given words. It was when I was moving etc .. so I put mine into the comments - with an immediate response from Davina 'please who did commit the murder?' .. so now I had to write a follow up story .. to my surprise I was able to & they were fun.

    I will be getting out onto FB and Twitter sometime this Autumn .. just one thing at a time ..

    Your students should have fun .. there's so many choices to write now - rapping, blogging, twittering and other mini-micro texting sites ..

    Enjoy your new term and the assignments etc .. Hilary

  35. Linda,
    Isn't it funny how we can start off in one direction only to find ourselves someplace completely different? Guess we're true artists in that sense!

    I hear you; I'm thinking I need to do that too! Now, for a few more hours in the day...:)

    I'd say you've made great strides then if English wasn't your thing in school! Your blog is entertaining and informative, and your style shines through nicely:)

  36. What a creative way to do it! You smartie. :-)

  37. Karen, great post. And I love the analogy between exercise and writing. I just might enter. No matter what, as you say, it's great exercise.

    Have a wonderful rest of the week. I loves ya. Oh and the math books Karen. They are the absolute greatest. They are the Life of Fred books from Polka Dot Publishing. WOOT! And I know you can relate to my joy. Hugs friend. :)

  38. Jessica,
    I like to keep my students on their toes and thinking:)

    Thanks so much:) You should enter! Let me know if you do, okay? Hey, those books sound great. Will keep them in mind for future reference.

    Blessings to you both,


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!