Kate Flora: I really wanted to teach a writing class this summer. Alas, the kind of six week class I like to teach didn’t fit MWPA’s needs. Still, today I found myself rummaging through the files, looking at some of the exercises I’ve used, and I was reminded of how I like to send my class home at the end with some exercises to do at home to continue their writing practice.
With summer on the horizon (Yes, Virginia, it will eventually come), and the possibility of those leisurely summer lunches, maybe outside, maybe by the sea, maybe in a place that provides a rich collection of fellow lunchers to observe, here are ideas:
1. Pick a couple in the room and write the conversation you imagine they’re having.
Ex: I know the first thing she said was, “Why didn’t you call?” because I overheard that as I passed their table. What I didn’t expect was his reply. “They don’t let you make calls from jail, Kat.” She didn’t look like a Kat, and he didn’t look like a jailbird, so I hunched nosily over my coffee, waiting to hear what they’d say next.
2. A variation on the exercise above is to pick two people in the room who aren’t together, and imagine their conversation. You can do this with two people you think would go well together, then try it a different time with two people who look like they’d ordinarily never meet.
Ex: You wouldn’t put them together in a million years. She was a saggy-baggy old hippie in Birkenstocks and a snarled Peruvian shawl. He was pimply, pierced and Mohawked.
3. Pick a particular food scent out of the air and write what it makes you think of. You can go so many places with this exercise, so you can do it many times. Pick soup. Fried food. Breakfast smells. Coffee. Ethnic foods.
Ex: Frying bacon on a winter morning flashes me back to Uncle Henry’s camp. A few deep, greasy breaths and this neighborhood diner melts away.
4. Using only one of your senses, describe what is going on in the room around you. Repeat the exercise, using a different sense.
5. You’re about to bite into your favorite sandwich. Before you bite, describe that sandwich in a way that make someone else want to eat it. Go overboard, be lavish and excessive.
6. Describe the same sandwich in only 20 words.
7. Find someone who is wearing an interesting piece of clothing, an unusual hat or tee shirt message, or carrying an interesting object—pack, purse, umbrella, walking stick—and write the story of how they got it.
Note: the idea behind these exercises is to get you thinking and observing like a writer and practicing the skills of writing description, dialogue, and interior narration.