Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mixing Things Up--Another Look at How to Break out of Writer's Block

Alison McGhee, writing instructor and author of many wonderful novels including Shadow Baby and Rainlight, once taught a very effective exercise in a writing class I attended.

Lists were written on the whiteboard: people of different ages and different objects. She asked us to choose one specific from each list and
write a short scene.

This exercise was pivotal for me, opening up the theme for my novel, Qualities of Light, and giving me the primary dilemma for the story. So amazing, that one writing exercise can do this. I've also found it a great way to break free of writer's block, if that particular illness is hampering you this month.

Below is my adaptation of Alison's idea, adding place to the other items. Try it this week, if you want. It's very effective for getting out of a writing rut.

This Week's Writing Exercise
1. Set a timer for 20 minutes.

2. Write a scene that takes place in one of these places:

downtown bus station
O'Hare's airport security
streetside cafe in France
laundromat in Gillette, Wyoming
riverside picnic area

Where there's an argument about one of these objects:

penknife
silver coin
piece of sea glass
diaper
cell phone that doesn't work

Between two people who are:

a woman of 85
a young boy of 13
a girl of 24
a man of 49

Mix them up--one from each list--and see what happens!

PS Be sure to check out Alison's books, especially Shadow Baby. A wonderful story for a summer read.