Writing exercises are…not my favourite. There, I said it. I don’t like being challenged to write a short story every day, or tell a tale in only six words, or come up with something based off a single-word prompt. Having to just make up everything on the spot is so much work.

Basically, I feel about writing exercises how Ann Perkins feels about jogging:

That’s why, if I feel like I need to strengthen some aspect of my writing, I usually skip writing exercises in favour of fanfiction. It’s fun to write, and it’s great practice. And it’s way more fun than jogging.

Fanfiction lets you do things like:

Improve your emotional punch by genre-hopping. Fanfiction “genres” aren’t like book genres. Instead of being based on setting (historical, dystopian, etc.), they’re based on the emotions that they’re meant to evoke. Write some angst (it’s a popular genre) and see if you can’t get a few comments that simply say, “HOW DARE.” (This is high praise and means you’ve succeeded in making a reader’s emotions hurt.)

Improve your character consistency with crossovers. Transposing characters to a totally different world is a great way to test how well you know them. If the kids from DuckTales found themselves in the Hunger Games, what would they do? Would they transform into mini murder machines? Probably not. Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby aren’t really like that. But they would adapt. Can you hold onto the core of what the characters are even if their circumstances are wildly different?

Improve your wordcount game oneshots and Game of Thrones-length epics. There is no word count limit in fanfiction. Stories can clock in at under 100 words or at over 100,000. If you want to experiment with really short or really long stories, a familiar set of characters can help you get over the initial intimidation that extreme writing tends to spark.

Improve your voice by trying to mimic an author’s style and tone. If your writing voice is feeling a little weak, try using someone else’s! Step into the proverbial shoes of your favourite author and see if you like what they do. I didn’t find my sense of humour until I tried my hand at Percy Jackson fanfiction. My sense of humour is much drier than Rick Riordan’s, but it was only by trying to mimic his super-funny style that I realised that I was more comfortable when I kept my humour subtle.

Improve your genre range by writing for a different kind of series. I’m weak for a good space aesthetic. I think I’d like to try a space odyssey-type of story someday, but sci-fi has never been my thing. I’m not really sure where to start…which is why I’ll probably start with some Zodiac fanfiction. Because that worldbuilding is rich and nuanced af.

Improve your discipline and resilience by posting online. Writers are famously shy about sharing their work, but if you want to publish, you’ve got to get comfortable with putting your stuff out there. You’ve got to be okay with the knowledge that some people won’t like what you write. You’ve got to separate yourself from your work and learn that people not liking it—or not knowing that it even exists—doesn’t make you a bad writer. Posting anonymously on a fanfiction website can help toughen your skin. And when you receive nice comments on your work (and believe me, you will), you’ll be even more glad that you did choose to share.