If Bonnie Neubauer’s previous blog entry on writing exercises has only whetted your appetite for more, I recommend that you check out the archives of C.M. Mayo’s Daily 5 Minute Writing Exercises: 365 writing exercises that each can be completed in five minutes. (Doing one of these is a great way to warm up your creative muscles—or to stay in touch with your creative side when you’re too busy to commit to a full writing binge.)
Or, here is one of my all-time favorites, from John Gardner’s classic writing book, The Art of Fiction. (Every time I assign this to students, they inevitably groan…and then inevitably produce AMAZING results.)
Describe a lake as seen by a young man or woman who has just committed murder. Do not mention the murder.
Or, more of an assignment than an exercise, is this one that I heard of when I was at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, in a workshop co-taught by Amy Hempel, who said that she got it from her teacher, the legendary editor/teacher/writer Gordon Lish. In her case, she came up with the extraordinary story, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.” When I tried the assignment on my own, several years later, I ended up with a story that was published by The Iowa Review and then cited in the back of the Best American Short Stories as one of the 100 best stories of the year. So—it’s a hard assignment but worth giving a try; again, I’ve seen amazing results when I’ve given this to students:
Write a story about the worst thing you ever did.