I’ve mentioned writing exercises in the past and the sites offering examples or lists are many and varied. Of course, as aids to improve your writing, variety is no bad thing at all. To first glance they seem a little arbitrary, a little random but, having now looked around at some of the suggestions out there I can see the structure in these exercises, the ‘subjects’ as it were. In no particular order they mostly seem to fall into the following categories.
Descriptive – the want you to focus on a sense or sensation, touch, taste or smell, pain or pleasure. They want you to explore the words and ways that you can describe feelings or objects. These exercises promote your exploration and use of adjectives, adverbs, gerunds and verbiage.
Dialogue – I’ve seen the ‘Write a scene using only dialogue’ tool a few times now, read a couple too. It’s a very useful tool in developing distinctive manners of speech for your principles and participants. It also helps you to cut down on the ‘he said, she said, they said’ to keep your dialogue popping!
Thought Exercises – Some sites recommend writing letters to your younger self or rewriting stories that you’ve heard or scenes from other works. In considering how you would present these scenes and stories, how you’d talk to your adolescent self, these exercises invite you to think more deeply about your work, the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’, what’s the best way to say something or depict something.
Prompts – A writing prompt is a word or phrase that you are invited to spin a story around. Sometimes they’re presented as ‘Two-Sentence’ stories or have to be completed in the length of a Tweet. These are ‘refreshers’, good ways to step away from work that has you stuck or hung up and revitalise your thought processes. The prompts with length constrictions are good ways to practice getting more meaning into fewer words. I doubt many of us struggle with being florid, poetic of wordy but I know I have had problems with delivering precise, concise statements and it might surprise some people to know just how much effort goes into making characters laconic and witty.
So, with those in mind I’m going to do a quick writing exercise my self below. The task is to take a common-use phrase and write a 20-minute stream-of-thought with different ‘spin’ on it. And that phrase is;
‘Just a Minute’
‘Just a minute’, but it’s not just a minute is it? It’s never been ‘just a minute’. It’s more than a unit of time, it’s a measure of your life, and not just yours, but everyone’s. That minute encompasses the whole scope of existence, life and death, seen and unseen. If a tree falls in the forest and no-one’s there to hear it it may or may-not make a sound but, in the span of a minute it has fallen. A minute is and emotional eternity, more than enough time to tumble from the heights of joy or rise from the miasma of misery. In less than a minute you suffer utter disappointment, have your heart broken of feel your world fall apart around you.
And that all-encompassing, omnipresent minute is never the same for any two people. ‘Just a minute’, a ‘Just’ minute? Has there ever been a ‘Just Minute’? A moment in time where everyone got what they deserved? Where the good rejoiced in unison and the bad cried out in dismay? I doubt it very much because the minute has no emotion for you, for me for them. It has no capacity to care, to show malice or mercy, it simply is but what it isn’t ever is ‘Just a Minute’.
It’s life, death, the spin of the solar-system and the roar of the universe, it is, as they say, relative. Every minute is a tragically fleeting second for those standing around the deathbed, a interminable eternity for the kid waiting for the update to load. It’s a lost moment, a last chance, a final stand for victory of defeat and, once it’s gone you’ll never get that same minute back. It can’t be hoarded, but it can be treasured, it can’t be earned but it can be well-spent. In the grand scheme that minute might seem minute but in the hear and now it is everything that is important.
It’s not ‘just a minute’, it never has been and the sooner we realise that, the better use we’ll make of them all.