for writers and readers….
Actually, this isn’t a writing exercise at all. It is a writing prompt. There’s a difference: an exercise is designed, it is crafted and – ideally – should be tested on other writers and refined before you invest your time in working with it. It is a tight focus on a specific writing skill – how to convey speed, for example, or pin down a smell in one image. Or, it encourages the writer to develop their writing range: by working on the emotional response of a character perhaps or exploring how to write a flashback without confusing the reader about when the “now” (the main action) of the story is taking place.
A writing prompt is an idea, a spring board, a kick that gets you going. It shocks and surprises you and takes you in new directions which may or may not prove to be interesting, but you will only find out if you start writing. It comes from outside. Anyone can create a writing prompt. There’s no great skill in it which is why writing groups work. But you can’t make them up for yourself because you know how your mind works. You are on intimate terms. You can produce writing that surprises you – and it’s wonderful when that happens – but by definition you can’t manufacture that initial I-would-never-have-thought-of-that impulse. Life throws those writing prompts at us all the time and it is our business as writers to be open to them and make connection and stories where none existed before.
This prompt is for when life hasn’t thrown you any ideas at the exact moment you have the time to write and a blank page or screen in front of you. And the truly gorgeous thing about it is that it will never run out. You can use it day after day after day.
All you have to is pick up a book and go to page 101. Find the first sentence that doesn’t contain a person’s name or mentions something that would tie you down to a particular place or time, unless you want to be tied down, of course. You might suddenly discover that you want to write about a Mr Martin Chuzzlewit and no one else or a short story set in 6th century Damascus becomes meat and drink to you.
I can show you the riches the 101 exercise can provide by using the random collection of books on my bedside locker.
We gathered our things.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Get stuff done to my tooth.
Tom Gates:Excellent Excuses by Liz Pichon
He laboured to learn the long lists of declensions that his school gave him.
The Lie by Helen Dunmore
He began to adore policemen and daydream about becoming a bomber pilot.
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou
Does it work with non fiction books? You decide:
He was as much superior to his enemies in material resources as in military genius.
The Making of Modern Ireland 1603 -1923 by J.C.Beckett
Ironically, he was a slave trader.
The First Global Village by Martin Page
Right, over to you. Whatever you turn up is your opening line. You may cut it later, but it’s your starting point. Give yourself 10 minutes or two pages – which ever is the greater – before deciding if the idea has legs and you can run alongside it. And when you run out of page 101s, turn to page 100 or 102 or start at the beginning…
I told you it was everlasting.
Just thought I’d mention that my writing guide Back to Creative Writing School (30 exercises, 140+ reviews on Amazon UK)
It’s now at its lowest price ever £4 in the UK and $5.84 in the US . There, said it, advert over. Phew!