One of the best writing exercises I've found is writing what's called a "ficbit". A ficbit is 50 words or less version of a story. The purpose is to tell some part of a story, whether for example it's the plot development, individual or group character interactions, or scenes of action. Th focus is to tell this scene as concise as possible. The following is an example of a ficbit;
"Silent, calm, empty. Darkness surrounds me. I'm all alone. Past transgressions have resurfaced. I'm paying for my mistakes. I had it all. Perfection in every sense of the word. But now, full speed spiral into nothingness. I sit here, starring at the solution, starring at eternity in one swift act."
As you can see from the previous example, there are a lot of advantages to this type of writing exercise:
By forcing yourself to limit the ficbit to 50 words, it really stresses the word choices you make. You need to look at your vocabulary and determine which word best suits the situation you are attempting to describe. If you can't find that specific word, it forces you to expand your vocabulary through resources such as a thesaurus. For example, the first word of the ficbit is "silent". I could have chosen other single words or said "it's quiet out tonight" or "there is no sound anywhere". Instead, I chose the word "silent" because it gives a sense of finality and since that is what the rest of my ficbit is about, "silent" was the best word choice for me.
Even though it is only 50 words, you can really learn a lot about the scene you are trying to describe. For example, if you were writing a story and didn't know exactly how you wanted to portray your character either in a specific situation or in general, write a ficbit about that character. In doing that, the word choices that you make or the scene that you put them in may tell you a lot about how you want to portray your character in a larger story.
The sentence structure you choose is almost as important as the word choice. By shortening your sentences, you can practice creating suspenseful scenes because each sentence is short and concise, leaving the reader wanting more information. If you expand your sentence length, you can create a happier scene, or a character who is not tied down in their emotions as much.
By writing different types of ficbits, you can really learn what type of writing you enjoy. For example, in my own experience, I've learned through these practices that I enjoy writing suspense. I like to keep the reader guessing, and get into the mind of the characters I'm portraying. Through other papers I've written, I've seen that I know how to say what I want in a short amount of words, and thus, I can leave a lot to the reader's imagination in that way.
At the same time though, there are also some disadvantages to writing ficbits:
By limiting yourself to 50 words, you can fall into the habit of always choosing words that carefully. That isn't necessarily a bad thing when describing certain scenes, but you limit yourself when you want to describe something in more detail, which is sometimes necessary.
Tying into this, short sentences are great in certain cases, and especially in ficbits because you want to give as much information as possible in a short period of time. The problem however is that short sentences, and concise word choices don't allow for other important word plays such as analogies. For example, by simply saying it's "silent" does tell a lot about the scene, especially taken with the rest of the information laid out in the ficbit. But if I wanted to show just how silent it is by using an analogy, the concise word choice habit is one that would have to be broken, and that can be really tough.
Ficbits can benefit writers of all skill levels. For novice writers, it can open up your eyes to choosing words carefully, expanding specific scenes, and/or finding where your talents in writing lie. For more seasoned writers, ficbits can help you find new topics to write about or how to best portray a specific character or scene. For all types of writers, I would recommend trying this writing exercise at least once in your writing career.