Posts Tagged ‘writing exercise’

As I said at the weekend, I am not reading as I am focussed on writing, so there’s nothing book- related today.

Instead, I opened a book at a random page, closed my eyes and pointed, and the sentence has to inform my next poem.

I chose Wild Swans by Jung Chang.  The sentence reads:

But all this introspection was really designed to serve no other purpose than to create a people who had no thoughts of their own.

So that’s my next challenge…  A few ideas are swimming in my head; I just need to land one!

Happy reading,



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Firstly, apologies for another short post; it’s been a long day and I have no idea where the last hour of it went!

This week I have been thinking about titles.  In all sorts of ways, actually, but keeping to the writing point, I focussed on how a title builds a poem.

When I did my second writing course way back in 2010-11, there was an exercise where we had to write a poem based on a given title.  I have shared the poem that came from it before but if you’re interested let me know and I’ll post it again.

I loved that exercise, because it relied on something sparking in me, and led to me creating my own list of possible titles. ‘Stone Dragon’, the poem about my Grandfather, was born from that list.

I am struggling now with the poem inspired by the sofa cushions and thought this ‘pick a title’ approach might help.  I won’t post the options but I will admit some make me want to go in a completely different direction.

Maybe I should let them: writing to demand is hard enough, writing to a particular theme on demand is worse.

Still, a working title to build from might be helpful if only to focus my attention on something specific.  I need to really get to grips with this project before another year is over…

If you have any fun ideas or useful words for me, feel free to post them; I need all the help I can get!

Happy writing,



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Today I was visiting someone in one of our local hospitals.  As I said on Thursday, this week is not so much productive as reflective, and following this particular visit I thought it would be worth playing about by using a hospital visit as the basis for an exercise.

This is setting as described by a particular character – 20 year old Emma, a reluctant visitor to her grandfather’s sickbed.

What the place seems like to her: A waiting room, for a train with an unknown destination. Everything is in shades of grey-beige, bland and porridgelike.  Oversized wall art and brightly-coloured medical zones can’t hide the functional feel of the place, and the bird-like chatter from the nurses only seems to make the silence in between wards more oppressive.

The floors are polished, but only the edges retain the shine by the end of visiting hours: countless feet have stripped away the surface care.  There are scuffs – from beds, sticks, frames, shoes – gouged into the floor like graffiti on old stone.  It tells the story of the place, but no-one wants to read it.

There is a smell she can’t quite place, like disinfectant with an undertone of gravy from the restaurant.  It comes and goes in waves as the doors around her open and close.  As she nears the right ward and squirts her hands with anti-bacterial gel, she adds a chemical rose to the olfactory experience.

Walking through the ward is like walking past a badly-tuned radio: conversation in waves, bed by bed, with the white noise of beeping machines and blood pressure monitors always in her ears. She looks into each bay, vaguely ashamed of seeing people so vulnerable.  A sleeping stranger kicks his bare foot out of the covers, and she hastily looks away.

Finally, at the end of the marathon, is the finish line: Grandpa’s bed.  She is glad to see he’s sitting next to it: her heart slows down and she takes a careful breath.  This time, she can smell the aftershave she bought at Christmas and wrapped so carefully.

What do you think?  What am I missing, what could be made clearer, what could be enhanced?  This is a first draft and just reading it out loud there are some changes I’d like to make, but they aren’t all about setting…

I enjoyed this exercise, and I might try to create an alternative for next week if there’s limited writing time again – perhaps a father arriving at the delivery suite, or a young nursing student in her first placement. Inevitably there are multiple ways of approaching hospitals as settings because there are multiple reasons to be there; there’s a reason they are the basis of so many tv shows!

I would much prefer to be staying on track but at least this is a way of testing out what I’ve learnt about setting so far.

Until next time,

Happy writing,




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As I have decided to use Thursday posts to reflect on my writing generally, I am going to use these Sunday posts to focus on one element.  For now, anyway!

You may have heard the quote ‘nothing happens nowhere’, attributed to Eudora Welty, or as an alternative Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘nothing can happen nowhere’.

These two quotes are a starting point for my next challenge.


During one of my courses, the idea of setting as a part of plot was raised – and I remember long ago reading something along the lines that location is another character.  We have to remember its features and foibles just as we do with the people we create.

But how can you choose somewhere?

In my work, it’s generally instinctual: I feel if a scene needs to be set inside, or outside; if it’s a cosy bedroom or a dank, overgrown woods. I trust my characters to put themselves where they need to be and I follow in their footsteps to see where exactly we all end up.

That’s not to say I have no choice, of course; but that as a writer I might know I want a scene to take place covering specific interventions or unveilings, but that I don’t know where it takes place until I have got to that point.

My very first scene in my family tree novel is in a bathroom.  The choice arose from three elements: the need for the character to be alone and aware of their body; a clock, which was important in setting out some bigraphical details of the character and her background; the ability for the character to show frustration through activity in a way that met points 1 and 2.

I have faith in my choices through that story, as each represents an element of character and experience.  However, I need to work more on this in my current planning.

When developing my ideas from last year into a better, more tangible, more cohesive story I need to work on setting, and this is going to be my writing focus for the next week or two. I want to keep my settings cliche free – or if using a cliched setting do it with a knowing wink to the reader.

I can of course use places as I have done before – as a basis, a sound foundation on which to build my fiction.  Or I can create a new environment, free of human intervention, or I can do something in between.  Who knows what it’ll end up being: the only limit is my imagination.

So next week I’ll report back on what I’ve learnt this week and how my aims have progressed.  Maybe I’ll even have a new world to share with you!


Happy writing,



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This week’s inspiration post is an exercise I have just attempted, to make sure it’ll work.  It’s a bit of fun mixed in with a tried and tested writing exercise – writing to music.  I enjoyed this one so I hope you have a go and let me know what you think!

Firstly, find the theme tune from a TV programme you watched as a child – there are loads of these on YouTube.  In fact, I got lost in the nostalgia when I was looking for something!  Listen to as many or as few as you like, but choose a particular one and listen to it a couple of times, thinking about when you might have watched the programme.  Let your mind wander back in time!  If the introductory video is also attached watch it if you like.  Then write down everything you can think of from your childhood related to that programme – the chair you sat in/the wallpaper in the room/what you might have had for tea/who was with you.  If you struggle to be accurate, don’t worry – you can focus on  a particular day or a time of day, or simply a few clear details from your house as you grew up, or school.  Whatever you find most compelling.

Once you’ve done all of this write a short piece of autobiography or fiction based on what you have written down.  I cheated a little, and used the outcome of this exercise for flash fiction as a possible example for my writing group because my partner and I had, independently, both written about space travel so I needed a new approach!

Here’s the theme tune I started with – I’m dating myself a bit with this and can only say I watched it when it was repeated some time after the original release 🙂

My first thought was tea time with cutlery on the table, the retro place-mats we had (and I think my parents still have – they were built to last!); I then thought about a particular food I loved, about the dogs we had growing up that sat semi-patiently waiting for us to drop something.  I thought about the carpet, the fireplace, the door to the kitchen.  I don’t think all the memories fit together chronologically, but it doesn’t really matter because I write fiction. In fact, what I ended up with was nothing to do with any of these memories, but came from them.

When I’ve shared the piece in my writing group, and had a chance to tidy it up a little, I’ll post it here.  And unlike the poem I’ve meant to finish and post, I’ll actually do it!

I’ve given up on that poem for now, by the way.  I’m not sure I can focus on an Anglo-Saxon feasting hall  – although maybe it’ll be easier than I think, if this exercise took me straight to dinner time..!

Happy writing,



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