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A Quick Writing Exercise: Ten Scenes for Twenty Minutes

My spare writing-related time is running a little short this week (attempting the last big world-building push before diving into Draft 2 this coming weekend), but in the spirit of “I know I’ll be paralyzed with fear when I start drafting, and I know I’m not the only one this has happened to,” I wanted to share a writing exercise that’s worked really well for me in the past, courtesy of the lovely and talented Karen Bjorneby at the Writing Salon (the only formal institution I’ve ever taken writing classes through; if you’ve seen their advertisements and you’re wavering, I can say that in 4 different classes with 2 different teachers, I learned something from all of them). As the title up above might suggest, her exercise involves making a list of ten possible scenes you could write.

The theory behind it is that most of us who are in the midst of a writing project know something about what’s happening later in the story, and that almost all of us think we need LOTS of time in order to “sit down and write.” By making a list of scenes that need to get drafted (even in rough-rough form), you can take advantage of odd bits of time when you catch yourself thinking “what should I do now?” I used this to great success on the project I was working on when I took Karen’s class, and anticipate using it again when I dive back into my current project.

The basic idea:

  1. Grab an index card (or a stack of them)
  2. On it, ten scenes or bits-of-scenes that you know need to happen in your piece, that you haven’t yet written. Try to turn off your internal critic to do this; I definitely understand the impulse to write in chronological order to make sure everything fits together, but sometimes it can be liberating to jump ahead to a juicy bit and not worry too much about fitting details.
  3. Make a few copies; the idea is that you leave them in places where you’re apt to find yourself with that proverbial downtime.
  4. When you draft one of the scenes or scenelets, cross it out and add a new one to the list.

I’ve found it’s a really useful way to get myself reinvigorated about a project when I’m bogged down in details that seem far, FAR too far away from “the exciting stuff.”

That’s it for now; I’ll probably post a book review later in the week too. Meanwhile, back to bio-writing…

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