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King has an exercise in his book and he invites you to send him your story with a promise that if he has time and if he feels like it he will respond back. Has anyone tried that?

Just for clarification, this was a contest rather than an exercise, and the contest deadline was December 31, 2000. Mr. King is no longer accepting entries for this, and he only commented on the top 5 stories he did receive (out of around 1,000.)

That doesn't mean you can't still use the contest as a private exercise, of course. Just don't bother sending it to King.

And while we are talking, I'll also chip in my vote for Stephen King's On Writing and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. If you are looking for exercises, you can find quite a bit in the book, "What If" and Natalie Goldman's "Wild Mind."

One other book I finished reading was "Telling Lies for Fun and Profit," by Lawrence Block. No exercises, but the short articles were very inspiring.

One thing I enjoy is reading books on writing that have autobiographical information, where the author talks about things like where he got an idea for a book, why she decided to start writing, what he did for a living before his first novel sold, etc. Reading things like this helps make the process more real. If I learn that someone was a cab driver and wrote on his lunch break, then that makes me think that I could do something similar. Not all authors have Master's degrees in Fine Arts and have been writing since they were three. The ones who stumbled into it later in life, or who just started out writing a novel to see what happened and discovered they sort of liked it--those types of authors resonate with me the most.

Be very careful about relying on exercises hoping they will make you a writer. There is a place for exercises--athletes spend a brief time warming up, but the majority of the time is in training. I spent some time doing exercises and after a while all I had was a handful of paragraphs that were interesting in themselves, but nothing publishable. Doing an exercise has never helped me finish or even start one of my stories. Sometimes fifteen minutes is all the time I'll have in a day, and if I spend the time doing a warmup, I consider the day wasted.

The best advice I have received is this: Read a lot, and write a lot. Nothing else will do. You've got to just write. Don't read about writing so much, don't talk about it, don't dream about it, just smear glue on the seat of your pants and sit down and write. Don't feel like writing? Write about that. Don't know what to write? Write that down and write about why you don't know what to write. Write bad stuff. Don't worry that what you write isn't comparable to what has been published--just write it. Write stuff you wouldn't dare read. Is it cliche? Great, you're learning.

Imaging someone came to you and said, "Gee, I'd love to be a runner, but I just don't know how to start. Should I do exercises first? Do you know any books about running I can read? What do you do before you start running? Should I watch other people run first so I can figure out what my running style is? Which is best, to run in the morning or the evening? What sort of running shoes do I need?" I think by now you would know that the advice you should give to your friend is, "Shut up and RUN!"

Likewise. You want to be a writer? Great--so does eighty percent of the people you will meet. Want the secret to put yourself out in front of the herd, in front of the always-dreaming crowd that will one day look back on their lives and moan they never fulfilled their dreams? Then shut up and write. The rest will follow.
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