Writing Exercises

What do you do to keep fit? Run? Walk? Swim? Ride a bike? Calisthenics? Nothing?

What about your mind? There are writer’s gymnastics to keep your mind limber. For several years, I brought activities to the Louisville Writer’s Meet Up, a group that meets weekly in east Louisville, to let others do different writing exercises to keep those creative juices flowing. I assembled a list of different exercises, put them on slips of paper and we’d each draw one.

Five minute writing exercises

Out format was simple: Each exercise had to be done in 5 minutes (with a timer). We’d allow the completion of a sentence but brevity was necessary to get four activities completed in a timely manner. We’d read each of our results aloud.

You can stretch these out but a short time frame makes you think fast. Remember, we’re being creative here, not thorough.

I remember. Write about something that pops into your head.

Here’s an example of what what I wrote in a 5-minute exercise: “I remember the first time I camped in a cave. Bandy Cave was the name, near a crossroads in Breckinridge Co., Kentucky called Bewleyville. Myself and four friends brought sleeping bags. We slogged through the nasty, muddy cave stream to a high mudbank that was bowl-shaped. We spread plastic to keep the bedding dry – which was so slippery, we kept sliding to the bottom. On our way out the next morning, as I was walking toward the entrance my right foot suddenly felt cold. My sock got sucked out through a hole by my big toe from the mud! I found the sock deep in the last footstep covered by muddy water. It was good for some laughs. That’s why you shouldn’t wear holey shows in caves.”

Alan Goldstein exploring a cave around 1978
My early days of cave exploring ca. 1978ish

You found an artifact. Outline a fictional story about the last person to use it. (Not necessarily the person who discarded it.) Suggestions: Victorian tear catching vial, prehistoric projectile point, Roman oil lamp, 1792 U.S. penny, Spanish gold doubloon.

Here an example of my exercise: I stubbed my toe on a rock. I dug it up – it turned out to be an ancient stone ax. How did it end up here, on the side of a hill near a creek? Did someone drop it on purpose? Did it fall out of a bag of skin or reeds? Did they miss it like a lost cell phone? Or did they drop it because they didn’t need it anymore? Perhaps they were trimming a branch and got poked in eye. In anger, they might have hurled it deep into the woods. Who knows? Such mysteries run as deep as the imagination.

Three-quarter grooved ax
Three-quarter grooved ax

Write a letter to your great grandchildren about your philosophy of life this year.

To my descendants: What will life be for you in 40 or 50 years? My philosophy is, “be kind.” In 2022, that mindset seems to be in short supply. I hope it is only a pandemic-guided way of thinking. Kindness is always a positive attribute that will be returned back in time. Sometimes, being nice is a reflection of a smile or a nod. Sometimes it’s a firm handshake or a pat on the back. Be nice – it’s worth the effort!

A young Alan (circa 1972) in front of a chicken shaped dish of chopped liver.
In 1972, I stood in front of a chopped liver chicken at my bar mitzvah reception.
My expression is reveals my opinion about chopped liver.

A story without a scene has no depth. Here’s a writing prompt designed to help create a scene. Create a scene where something bad should happen, but instead, something completely unexpected occurs.

Tumbleweeds rolled out of the west. Silt sifted across the dirt road in snake-like ribbons. A thunderhead boiled ominously a few miles away. A horse nickered nervously. It’s long, silky tail swished like a broom trying to sweep the road without success.

The saloon sighed as wind blew beneath the covered walkway. The air felt heavy, like the storm would pound them with hail instead of rain. Then Bob and Shirley bounded out of the saloon, the doors creaked and slapped as they opened and closed.

The crowd on the porch yelled, “Congratulations!” and sprayed them with rice. The couple looked at the crowd, the horse, and the storm, and ran to their Pontiac Firebird to drive out of town to beat the weather.

A house in Crittenden County, Kentucky, with mammatus clouds at sunset.
Storm over western Kentucky (my photo)

Take on the persona of someone from a different culture, gender and age.

Describe a haunted location. Who or what is haunting it? Why?

Select a photo from a magazine – Write a story concept based on the photo or something inside the photo. What is the genre?

Read aloud the first paragraph of a novel. What makes it attractive… or not.


Write something funny or interesting that happened to someone you know as if you were him/her.

Write a story in 5 minutes using a song title or one line of lyrics.

Describe a first experience you have had.

Use a favorite quote and write a fictional situation where it applies.

Rewrite the following – “It was a dark and stormy night,” into a paragraph in one of these genres: SciFi/Fantasy, Historical fiction, Horror, Dramatic, or Poetry

To be continued…

Some longer exercises

Write a paragraph (short story) with words beginning with every letter in the alphabet – in order. (Example below.)

ABC Story Writing, by Alan

After? Before? Carrie did everything finding great honor. Indeed, just knowing lots more now on personal quests. Really? She took umbrage very well. Xenia, you’re zapped!

What is the best title of a literary work? Describe in 200 words why you think so.

Write the opening paragraph of a novel.

Find a word you have no idea its meaning. Create a definition and use it in a descriptive paragraph.

Write an ad for the most unusual pet you can think of.

Write a paragraph (short story) with words beginning with every letter in the alphabet – in order. (Example below.)