Writing Exercises

Here are some writing exercises and resources I use with my students. Listing them here is not the same as the wonderful interaction in workshops and classes, but it’s a start! I’ve adapted these over the years from things I’ve learned from other writers. Whether you’re an instructor or writer, I’d love to know if you adapt or improve these exercises, or if you have ideas to expand the list of resources here.
judybudreau AT gmail.com

List Poems — several variations on an exercise that takes about 5 minutes to do, and results in a fairly complete character study. Amazing.

Story Starters — a long list of writing prompts for writing quick essays about your life

How to Be So-and-So — write a paragraph of instructions about how to be a particular person

The Time In Between — write about what happened during the time between two photos or mental images


How To Write A Memoir by William Zinsser at The American Scholar

NPR interview with Marion Roach Smith, author or The Memoir Project

Editing your Life’s Stories Can Create Happier Endings — NPR article

David Brooks in the New York Times on using narrative to place our stories in context

3 Rules to Write World-Changing Memoir by Jeff Goins at thewritepractice.com

Memoir and Life Story links from the Assocication of Personal Historians

Key Elements of Writing a Good Memoir from Writers’ Digest

Writing Prompts by David and Susan Michael at The Journal

A compilation of memoir-writing articles at The Huffington Post

BOOKS YOU MIGHT LIKE — Ask your local independent bookseller about these. Or your local library.

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, 1994. Funny and irreverent and very encouraging, a      lesson on the power of presenting your true self on the page.

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg, 1986. The single best book to help you forget everything you learned about writing in school, in a good way. Very short chapters, a book you can pick up and put down.

On Writing, Stephen King, 2000. (Yes, that Stephen King) Reading this book is like having a one-to-one conversation with an all-time great storyteller.

Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood, 2002. Distilled from a series of lectures Atwood gave at Cambridge, she says she’s attempting to answer three questions: Who are you writing for? Why do you do it? Where dies it come from?  Dense, but a quick read.

Unless It Moves the Human Heart, Roger Rosenblatt, 2011. He’s an important writer, yes — but as impressive, he’s an excellent teacher. This book is like being in class with him at the local community center.

Escaping Into the Open, Elizabeth Berg, 1999. A well-organized book about the writing life, full of challenging and entertaining and useful exercises.

The Right to Write, Julia Cameron, 1998. Cameron is a master at describing the creative process. This book offers gentle persuasion to practice creativity.




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