The key to getting started writing is, as the old Nike ads stated, to just do it. But sometimes finding the right material to get started can be a daunting task, especially for the novice writer. Where do I get started? What do I write about? she asks herself. Writing exercises are a great way to jog the imagination and to create a notebook of possible ideas for longer pieces. Writing exercises are easier to tackle, don’t require more time than is necessary, and can be done in the space of twenty to thirty minutes, depending on the amount of time you want to devote to them. They can be done at any time of the day as long as you commit to your writing schedule. All that’s needed is a good prompt to get you started. I’ve compiled a list of writing prompts I’ve used over the years that have been very helpful in getting me started writing. Some of these prompts even inspired longer pieces that I’ve written. Use any of these prompts when you sit down to write an exercise:
1. Get a box and fill it with items that is lying around the house. These can include thimbles, figurines, buttons, a bottle of perfume, a lemon or lime, an avocado pit, a photograph, pen, feather duster, a leaf, a twig from a tree or plant, a piece of fabric, thread, a pot of lip balm, a vial of lipstick, or any other object you can find. Close the lid of the box and put it away for the next time you do a writing exercise. This will allow some distance and create an element of surprise. When it is time for your next writing exercise, pull out the box, stick your hand inside, and grasp the first thing your fingers touch. Pull the object out of the box. Look at it. Examine it. Treat it as though you had never laid eyes on it before, as though you were an alien come down from outer space and had no experience with the object before. Start writing. Describe the object. What does it look like? How do your fingers feel when it touches the object? What does it smell like? What does the odor bring to mind? Write every sensual detail the object brings out in you? Write for twenty minutes. Let your imagination go wild. Where do these sensual details lead you?
2. Write two columns on a sheet of paper: one column will list modifiers, the other will list nouns. List all the modifiers and nouns you can think of under each column. Twenty items should work. Once finished, pick ten modifiers and draw a line from each to ten nouns. Once finished, start writing, using the appropriate nouns and modifiers chosen from the list.
3. Finish this sentence: “The first time I…” Write for twenty minutes straight.
4. A woman walks across the street and is hit by a bus. Write this scene from three different perspectives: the woman who is hit by the bus; a passerby who witnesses the woman who is being hit; the bus driver who accidentally hits the woman.
5. Go to your favorite coffeehouse or bookstore and listen in on the conversations around you. Write down a few stray bits of comments, dialogue, etc. Write two pages of story based around one of the conversations you overheard.
6. Go online and sift through your favorite photo magazines and pick out a photograph that interests you. Write about the photo. Write from the perspective of the people in the picture.
7. The Tom Stoppard play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is based on incidental characters from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet.” Take a favorite novel or short story and write a five page story based on the perspective of an incidental character in it.
8. Pick a favorite song and write a story or poem based around it. Write about how this song affects you or what recollections it brings out of you.
9. Write a story based on a dream you had recently or one you had in the past that left an impression on you. Don’t write the story as a dream, but as something that actually occurred to you or your character. Don’t worry if the dream doesn’t make sense. Just write it.
10. Pick out a favorite recipe of yours and write a story around it. Write about gathering the ingredients and preparing the meal. Be specific. What are the smells, sounds, feels, and tastes you experience while preparing the food?