Write-Brain Exercises

I spent the last two weeks with sixteen other writers under the tutelage of Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress at the Taos Toolbox workshop. I probably should’ve planned ahead to have my Inkpunks post ready for today before I left. Alas, I did not have that foresight. At the moment I’m a little (make that a lot) brain dead, but in a happy, post-writer camp kind of way.

While we were there, Walter and Nancy gave us a couple of writing assigments to do that made us think about different aspects of writing, including plot structure, description, word choice and more. I thought, given my state of exhaustion, rather than try to write an awe inspiring and life enlightening post, I’d pass the task of writing on to you. (smart, right?)

On my shelves I have a great book called “The Write-Brain Workbook, 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing,” by Bonnie Neubauer. In this crazy writing life, one thing this is clear. Improving our writing requires practice, practice and more practice. I’ve mined some of my favourites for you. These can help you out of a writing slump, can serve as a warm up for your writing session or can spark ideas for larger works. However you use them, have fun!

I hope these exercises help you on your journey and feel free to come back and share what you’ve written!

Smell a Rat

Write three smells you love. Write three smells you hate. Use all six scents in a piece starting with: I pulled into the gas station…

Back in Time

Write about an important, big-time event in your childhood. Write in first person as if you are, once again, that age and it just happened. Use child-appropriate language. Don’t worry if it turns out to be more fiction than fact. Then write about the same event, but as an adult looking back.

No Ifs, Ands or Don’ts

Don’t use any of these words in your story: cold, chill, snow, ice, sleet, flurry, winter, freezing, shiver.

Start with: We arrived in the Arctic at noon and immediately ventured out in the thirty feet of blinding white..

Hang Ups

You are a 58-year old nurse who is a hypochondriac and works in an allergist’s office. Write from this perspective. Start with: I hung up on him twice…


Start with: The beads of sweat.. and conclude with the un-moral of the story: Every clown has a silver lining.

The Juniper June

You are a groundskeeper who talks to all your plants. You believe that talking to them is better than talking to friends about your problems., and definitely better than talking to a therapist. One tree, a Juniper, who you have named June, is your favorite. Start with: Can you believe it? She called me again last night..

Tooth Fairy

You are a disgruntled Tooth Fairy. You can’t understand why Santa and even the Easter Bunny get more attention than you. You just visited twins who expected $20 per tooth. Start with: I can’t believe..


Write about getting an autograph from a famous person whom you’ve idolized for a very long time. Use these five words in your story: fly swatter, scale, rye bread, law, ebony. Start with: I always carry a pen with me, except for the time..


Picture a basement/cellar from your childhood. Mentally open the door, descend the stairs, feel the banister, take in the smells, notice the quality of light, wht’s on the steps, floor, walls. Hear the sound of the pipes, and the other noises. Behind a hot water heater, in the shadows, is something you never noticed before…an old wooden door! You go to it, take the knob in your hand, turn it..now start writing!

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  1. Wendy Wagner
    26/06/2012 at 4:19 pm Permalink

    I cant wait to try these exercises! I think they’ll be a great way to warm up my writing muscles after the break I’ve taken post-novel.

    Thanks, Sandra!