Monday, December 15, 2008

Mixing Things Up--A Recipe to Break the Block

Alison McGhee, writing instructor and author of many wonderful novels including Shadow Baby, once taught a very effective exercise in a writing class I attended. She had three lists on the whiteboard: people, different ages (such as 13 year old, 2 year old), and different objects. She asked us to choose one from each list and write a scene.

I loved it. It led to the pivotal theme for my new novel, Qualities of Light, which will be published in 2009 by Spinsters Ink.

Here's an adaptation of Alison's idea. You can try it this week, if you want. It's very effective for getting out of a writing rut.

Set a timer for 20 minutes. Write a scene that takes place in one of these places:
in a bus stop shelter in downtown Minneapolis
at O'Hare's airport security
streetside cafe in Gordes, France
laundromat in Gillette, Wyoming
riverside picnic area

Where there's an argument about one of these objects:
silver coin
piece of sea glass
cell phone that doesn't work

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


  1. Thanks for including A Writer's Time on your list. Would love to post your post on my blogsite. Keep up the good work.--Ken Atchity

  2. Thanks, Ken. I'm a great fan of A Writer's Time, have recommended it to many students in my classes, and used your "island" method for several of my own books.

    Certainly, feel free to post my post on your site. Thanks for all your good work too!