Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mental calisthenics

Can writing prompts inspire you to write a serious story, or are they mere mental calisthenics? Recently the El Paso Writers’ League tried an exercise with about two dozen people attending. As members arrived at the meeting, they drew slips of paper that assigned them to a pair of specific tables in succession. Each table had a card identifying it by topic or genre: mystery, historical, poetry, romance, and fantasy. People had a list of words they were to incorporate into a ten-minute writing exercise in the specified genre. The idea was to spur creativity and to get people thinking outside their normal comfort zones. At the end of the exercise many of us read our masterpieces to the entire group, and then we switched to the second table to start again with another genre.

Lucky me, I started at the history table, and in my mind I became a Confederate soldier. The underlined words were the seven we had to use:

At Gettysburg, I lay bleeding amid an ocean of gray uniforms, my face buried in the weeds. This should be a dream, I thought. The acrid smell of smoke, the deafening cannons, the soft whimpers of the dying for the hard demands of union and justice. We sacrifice our lives for generals’ ego, for our country, for our God, while the enemy in blue dies for all the same reasons. May God damn General Grant. May God damn General Lee.

Is there the beginning of a short story here? Maybe flash fiction reflecting the senselessness of war? We’ll see.  

The second table featured fantasy, too long a reach for me. For ten minutes I wrote of winning big money in the lottery—no gnomes, trolls, magic dragons, or anything without a connection to the physical world we know.

Exercises like this are fun and stimulating. Sometime in between your projects and your daily chores, you might pick up the dictionary and write for ten minutes around the first word you see. Your mental calisthenics might spur you to something new.

--Bob Sanchez

Incidentally, this is stop #7 in my Blog Book Tour. My three novels, When Pigs Fly, Getting Lucky, and Little Mountain, are all available as ebooks and paperbacks, and you can find out more about them at my blog,  Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win an e-copy of your choice of these books, or to win the grand prize of all three signed paperbacks.

Here is my tour schedule.


Morgan Mandel said...

Great idea. Sometimes we need a nudge to get our minds working better.

Morgan Mandel

Debra St. John said...

This is a great exercise Bob. Thanks for sharing the idea with us. It would be a great way to warm up those writing muscles when staring at a blank computer screen wondering where to begin.

I've seen something similar done with pictures, but I love the idea of having to put certain words into the passage.

Bob Sanchez said...

Top of the morning, Morgan and Debra! I just want to remind your visitors, Morgan, that I'm giving away an ebook version of Little Mountain at every stop in the tour. Winners so far are Kathryn Craft, Lynn Kelley, Cara Lopez Lee, Karen Lange, and Michael De Gesu. Lynn has already posted her thoughts about Little Mountain on Amazon. Thanks, Lynn!

Cheryl said...

This is a neat idea, Bob. I find lately that I get hung up while writing because I am so anal about details. I'm writing a kid's book set in 1876, and when I don't know what to call something I wander off to surf the Net. Bad thing to do. Maybe using this idea will get me back into the swing of things.



Bob Sanchez said...

Cheryl, there's a time to research and a time to write. If you don't know a fact, just make yourself a note right in the manuscript and keep on writing. No one but you should see your first draft anyway.

Carlene Rae Dater said...

I teach a beginning novel writing class and we do 10 minute free-writing exercises in almost every class. We are all amazed at what comes out!


hotcha12 said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for including me in your book offer.
Your exercise may help to stimulate me to write again and to follow in my late husband Ron's footsteps to accomplish a published book of my own.

Have a Sunny Day,
Sara Siemientkowski

Morgan Mandel said...

Yikes, I'm at the part in my book's development where I have to look up and verify everything I skipped over before. It was lots more fun the other way.

Morgan Mandel

Unknown said...

Great post which touched me. I do need a bit of a push now and again with ideas. Once ideas come I can write like crazy with new ideas toppling over each other, but it's the initial generation that I often need. I just found your blog and that has made my day :)

Tianna Xander said...

That is a great idea that I may employ on a weekly basis, just to keep myself sharp and my ideas fresh. Thank you!

Deb Larson said...

Bob ~ Great post! I do a similar thing with my summer reading kids at the library. We usually have a theme - like they are TV writers and have to pull words from 3 jars: characters/plot/conflict. They then pool thier words together to create a TV show. The kids love it!

Heidiwriter said...

This is a great exercise--we do this in our writers group every once in awhile. It's amazing what people come up with!

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