Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz
Copyright © 2009 by
Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz, All Rights Reserved
If you are like many writers, you often find yourself at a loss for
words. You may have read different books about breaking through writer's
block, signed up for writing prompts e-mailed on a daily basis, or maybe
you attempted clustering, an exercise where you take a word and add
related words until you find yourself writing a story. It's not
uncommon to need something to get your muse jump-started, no matter how
talented or experienced a writer you may be.
Regardless of what you tried before, now there's a new and innovative
solution; one that I think you will find both useful and entertaining.
Terri L. Main, communications professor at Reedley College in
California, has written an informative book, Creative Calisthenics.
This work is designed to awaken your creative muse and allow you to have
fun while you're doing it. The book goes beyond the usual prompts and
gives writers new and exciting tips. Ms Main doesn't tell you how to
write, but gives you exercises to get you writing.
For years, Ms Main wrote a column for the Fellowship of Christian
Writers e-mail discussion group. As part of that column, she created
different writing exercises. Creative Calisthenics is a
compilation of the collected exercises plus an additional twenty new
essays. The book features over eighty articles providing more than 175
story starters, prompts, and exercises to get your creative writing
is intended as a reference, not something you would sit down and read.
You'll want to keep it handy so you can flip to an appropriate section
as needed. Listed at the front are chapter headings such as "Jumper
Cables for the Brain," "Getting Ideas," "Out and About," "Characters and
Settings," and "Organization and Plotting." You can use these headings
to focus your search when you are in need of a specific prompt to get
you started. This isn't a tool just for fiction writers; non‑fiction
writers will find plenty to jump-start their brains as well.
Each section is filled with intriguing ideas. When asked which was her
best-liked prompt, Ms Main stated her personal favorite is "Chance
Encounters." For this exercise, you will create twenty to thirty cards
with character types such as cardinal, homeless person, airline pilot,
ship's captain, alien, archeologist, etc. Another set of cards will
have locations like countryside, Mars, Egypt, Los Angeles, university,
Pacific Ocean, Rome, library, courthouse, etc. You then choose two
characters and a location and create a story. Ms Main sometimes does
this in her classes with two people and asks them to do a small play.
She feels it's "great fun and forces you to think not just outside the
box, but outside the room where the box is sitting."
One of my favorite exercises is "Build a Character." In this prompt, Ms
Main suggests creating a box with ten dividers. The dividers are
labeled "occupation, gender, age, nationality, height, weight, age,
mood, general outlook on life, conversational style, and novel
characteristics." The idea is to make cards for each of these
categories and add to them as you think of possibilities. For example,
some of my occupation cards are lawyer, secretary, teacher, firefighter,
detective, farrier, and bard. Some mood cards are angry, dedicated,
fiery, calm, persuasive, and patient. General outlook on life cards are
more detailed, such as, always looks for the good in people, or feels
stifled unless in a leadership position. You then pull one card from
each divider and create a character based on those cards.
Possibly you're more interested in writing non-fiction and have found
most writing prompt books geared toward fiction writers. If so, try the
"Interview of a Lifetime" prompt. Here Ms Main suggests choosing a
character from history. Prepare a set of interview questions for that
person. Imagine you are the person you chose to interview, and answer
the questions as that person might. This technique will not only get
you writing, but will help improve your interviewing skills as well.
Another prompt for those interested in non-fiction might be the "Only
$39.95 plus Shipping and Handling" exercise. In this exercise, you are
asked to create a product and write an infomercial for it. Think about
what your product does, who would use it, and what benefits it may have
to offer. This could get you started on a great how-to article.
"Freewriting" is another exercise suggested by Ms Main. This tool is
valuable to both fiction and non-fiction writers. In this exercise, you
start by reviewing your topic research. At this point, you're not
writing, just getting familiar with your topic. Take a 20-minute
break. When you come back to your computer, write for exactly
20-minutes whatever comes into your head, whether it's related to your
topic or not. Take another 20-minute break. Continue alternating
writing and taking breaks until your thoughts become clear and your
writing more coherent. You may find when you begin, you are writing
gibberish, but at the end, you have a complete, focused article.
The final chapter, "Writing Rx," is designed to help you put zing back
in your writing. The exercises listed will set you on the path to
overcoming your lack of confidence, help you write more creatively, show
you how to tighten your writing, and give you exercises for defeating
I know I'm going to keep my copy of Creative Calisthenics close
at hand for those days my brain just can't quite get started.
Creative Calisthenics carries a cover price of $12.57 for print,
$5.00 for PDF and $3.50 for Ereader. Stop by Ms Main's web site
http://www.creativecalisthenics.com/index.html for more information.
Title: Creative Calisthenics
Author: Terri Main
Publisher: Terri Main