Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

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October 1 "Flowers"
For 2 full minutes: make a list of all the flowers you can think of (e.g., violets, lavender, daffodils). Then circle the one you think is the most beautiful. Circle the one that strikes you as the least beautiful. You have 3 minutes left: Start writing. No rules.

October 2 "Wilting Poinsettia, Etc."
Write a brief scene that includes the following: a wilting poinsettia; misgivings; a scruffy dog; a loud bang; the smell of boiled shrimp.

October 3 "Woman, Dog, House"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Janice Eidus, a short story writer and novelist who lives in New York City.
A woman and a dog are inside a house. In five sentences or less, describe the woman; in five sentences or less, describe the dog; in five sentences or less, describe the house.

October 4 "Lawns"
The point of this exercise is to generate and make use of vivid detail. First, take 2 minutes to answer the following questions.What colors might a lawn be? What sounds might a lawn make? What smells might it have? What textures? What might a blade of grass taste like? What might you find in a lawn? What might you find on a lawn? What is the biggest lawn that comes to mind? What was the funkiest lawn that comes to mind? What was the lawn you walked by or on most recently? What is your idea of a truly beautiful lawn? Choose one of the lawns. In the remaining time, describe a child walking onto that lawn and then doing something.

October 5 "The Phobia"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Rigoberto González, a poet, novelist, essayist, and children's book writer who lives in Illinois.
A phobia usually refers to a common fear (heights, snakes, the dark), but it can also be a fear particular to a person, depending on the experience or trauma that first triggered its power and hold over that person. Think of an everyday object (a shoelace, a birdcage, an ice cube) and write a testimony in which the narrator explains how his/ her unique fear came about.

October 6 "Flea on a Golden Retriver"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
T.M. McNally, a short story writer and novelist who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Describe a golden retriever from the point of view of a flea. Note in particular that the golden retriever is deaf and blind. How does the flea know this?

October 7 "Upside Down"
You wake up with a thump: you
though none of your furniturehave landed on the ceiling. Your entire house is upside down. Describe your walk along the ceiling from room to room.

October 8 "City / Body Part"
This is an exercise in metaphor-making. After the Carl Sandburg poem, "Chicago" that contains the famous line, "City of the Big Shoulders": if Hollywood were a body part, which part would it be? Washington DC? New York? Toronto? Fairbanks, Alaska? Charleston? Miami? Houston? Boston? Phoenix? Salt Lake City? Baltimore? Cleveland? Your home town? Other? See how many you can come up with.

October 9 "First Job"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Kerry Madden, a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright who lives in Los Angeles.
Of this exercise, a favorite which Madden learned in Leon Martel's Playwriting workshop in Los Angeles, she says, "It never fails to get at plot and character and voice in one fell swoop." Write about your first job where you earned money away from the home. Describe the sensory details of the job. How did you feel half way through the day? The shift? Introduce a character who comes in and changes the routine.

October 10 "Interesting Pink"
There are endless "browns", e.g., coffee, chocolate, rust-brown, tocacco-spit-brown, umber, amber, cumin, walnut, hazelnut, toast, fawn, cardboard-brown, ditchwater-brown, polluted-sky-brown, auburn, mahogany, liver, chestnut, roan, sepia, goat's-eye-brown, slime-brown, tawny, potato-brown, bronze, slug-brown, russet, caramel, rotting pumpkin, pot-roast, velvety-brown & etc. So: make a list of pinks. Whatever occurs to you. Really dig around in there. (Feel free to check the Thesaurus if you need a jump-start.)

October 11 "Blind on a Sunny Day"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Leslie Pietrzyk, a short story writer and novelist who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
If you were blind, how would you describe a sunny day? (Think about sounds, smells, reactions of surrounding people, texture.)

October 12 "S + 7"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Kim Roberts, a poet who lives in Washington, D.C.
Here's an assignment to lure you away from the need for everything in a paragraph or poem to make sense and lure you toward the pure, mysterious, playful qualities of words. This exercise was developed by the French literary group OuLiPo (short for Ouvoir de Litterature Potentielle).
Take a paragraph or poem of yours or someone you admire and remove all the nouns. Now take out a good dictionary and look up each word you removed and replace it with words that are seven entries away from the original word. Seven entries is not very far; very often the replaced word will share the same root as the original word. You are allowed leeway to change tenses, to make a singular word plural or vice versa, and of course, when editing you may even change the sequence of things. What this exercise brings to the writer is an unfamiliar vocabulary that breaks you of a dependence on the same words used again and again--- and of course, the wonderful element of surprise.

October 13 "The House is Alive"
This is an exercise in generating imagery. For example:
~Windows yawning open
~Windows like mouths screaming in surprise
~A red tile roof snug as a little cap
~Lacy wrought-iron balcony as pretty as a pettycoat
~An oaken backbone of a staircase
~The kitchen door slapping in the wind as if to say, No! No!
How many more can you come up with in 5 minutes?

October 14 "Reaction to the News"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Daniel Olivas, a novelist and short story writer who lives in California's San Fernando Valley.
Quite often when I'm writing a short story, I want to share a character's internal reaction to something that doesn't have a direct relation to the action of the story. In doing so, however, I'm "fleshing out" the character and making her more real. One device I've used involves having my character ponder an item from a newspaper. Find a news item and for five minutes write a character's reaction to that item.

October 15 "Spooky (?) Story"
Write a story, or the beginning of a story, that includes the following:
~ He knew that something terrible was about to happen
~ The feel of cobwebs on his face
~ The smell of rotting flesh
~ Moonlight
~ A hollow-sounding whisper
~ peppermint marshamallow patties

October 16 "Breakfast"
Describe each character's typical breakfast (what, where, when, how, etc.):
a successful engineer's; a struggling actress's; a melancholy teenager's.

October 17 "Favorite Things"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Alexandra van de Kamp, a poet, essayist, and literary translator who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
For two minutes, list your favorite objects: a piece of furniture, a photograph, a gift, a souvenir from a trip, a piece of artwork, a particular tree, etc. Choose one object from this list and, using sense details (touch, sight, taste, smell, hearing), try to describe this object physically for the next few minutes. With whatever time you have left, begin to consider what makes this object special to you (its associations, personal history, etc). Write whatever comes to mind and keep going.

October 18 "Bird's Eye View"
Describe your residence from the point of view of a bird.

October 19 "Nun of the Above"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Mary Kay Zuravleff, a novelist who lives in Washington, DC.
Take a short joke, like, "What do you call Mother Theresa now that she's dead? Nun of the Above." Now, write a scene in which someone tells that joke.

October 20 "A Tree in Time"
Pick a tree
be as specific as you possibly can. Name it. Describe it in detail (smell, sounds, textures, colors, etc). What's in it? What's on it? What is around it? What is nearby? Then describe that same tree in winter; in spring; in summer; and in autumn.Then describe that same tree when it was a sapling. Then describe that same tree when it is about to meet it its end. How does it end? What takes its place?

October 21 "Dog Wants Bone"
A dog wants a bone. Boy howdy, does that dog want that bone. Very briefly describe the dog. Very briefly describe the bone. Then list three incidents in which the dog tries to get that bone but is frustrated. In the end, does he get bone or not? Voila: you now have the bones of a plot. Flesh it out as best you can in the remaining time.

October 22 "Falling Mirror"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Christine Boyka Kluge, a poet and visual artist who lives in North Salem, New York.
Imagine a mirror falling. Into a canyon, into a river, onto a tile floor. Is it an antique hand mirror framed with silver roses, a faceted disco ball, or a fitting room triptych, flapping through space? Was it accidently thrown? Is the owner of the mirror beautiful and vain, or grotesque and horrified? Perhaps the owner isn't even human. Is it a flawed angel, an escaped gorilla, a mystified alien? View the world in reflected fragments, be the eye of the mirror as it falls. What scenes are captured as it plummets / drifts / explodes? How do these images impact / "reflect" the mirror's owner?

October 23
"Wedding Disasters"
Make a list of all the things that have gone (very) wrong in weddings
weddings you have attended, and weddings you have heard about. If your experience wedding-wise is somewhat slim, make things up! Once you've done 5 minutes' worth, go back and circle the three disasters that most impress you.

October 24 "Orange + First Word"
This is an exercise in generating imagery. For 3 minutes, make a list of all the things you can think of that are orange. In the remaining 2 minutes, for each item, ask, what is the first word you think of? Jot down whatever pops into your head.

October 25 "Small Emotional Moment"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Lex Williford, a novelist and short story and screenplay writer based in El Paso, Texas.
What makes for what John Gardner calls "the vivid and continuous dream" in fiction? How do you create "film" in the reader's mind? By making even the most seemingly insignificant detail so precise that the reader forgets she's reading. Take a small emotional moment in any scene you've written, especially a scene which seems to skimp on detail or lack that extra "something"; then, in 5 minutes, write a sentence or two that focuses on a seemingly insignificant detail, deepening that moment's significance just by describing that detail (or details) precisely. If possible, use inventive verbs, metaphors that appeal to the senses and rhythmical language, something lyrical but not too self-conscious, something just short of poetry.

October 26 "Holiday Shopping Advice"
This is a simple exercise in writing musical language. Write a paragaph's worth of advice
either in your own voice or that of a fictional character's to a younger person who is somewhat flighty. Include at least one question and at least one command.

October 27 "Watching the World Series"
This is a point of view exercise. In 5 sentences, describe a retired major league baseball star watching the World Series on TV. Assume that he retired in disgrace (but do not mention this). If you have time, in another 5 sentences, describe a retired major league baseball star watching the World Series on TV-- but in this case, assume that he retired as a beloved celebrity (but do not mention this).

October 28 "The Four Comedy Adjectives"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Basil White, a comedy coach, standup comic and joke writer who lives in Washington, D.C.
This is a favorite technique of mine to use when I'm coaching or brainstorming comedy. We also use it in my comedy workshop. Choose something that's weird, stupid, hard and scary. There. You've thought of it already, before you started thinking "oh, no, can't use that, it's
one or two of them, but it's not all four." Yes. That one, Write it down. Well done. Now write what's weird about it. This is your weird line. Write what's stupid about it. This is your stupid line. Write what's hard about it. This is your hard line. Write what's scary about it. This is your scary line.
Now for Level Two, where the dollar values are double. Write four separate lines about your weird line, one line each for what's weird, stupid, hard and scary about your weird line. Then do this for your original stupid, hard and scary lines. Now you have twenty lines about what's weird, stupid, hard and scary about your topic. That's six more than you need for a sonnet. The magic happens at Level Three. Take your favorite line from Level Two and make another set of weird, stupid, hard and scary lines for it. Comedy erupts at this level because at this point, you're explaining the humorous nature of your humorous explanations, which puts us in the mindset of being funny in a way that keeps the writer's editorial voice out of the way of getting something on the page.

October 29 "Good Cat, Bad Cat"
In a pet store: he wants a cat; she does not. Write 5 lines he could say; then, write 5 lines she could say. Briefly describe the cat in question. If you have time, write the scene.

October 30 "Peek Through a Keyhole"
Today's exercise is courtesy of
Pat Schneider, a poet, writer, playwright, and librettist who lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
In your memory or imagination, peek through a keyhole. Write what you see.

October 31 "20 Questions"
The object of this exercise is to generate material and insights about a character. (Note: the fast pace and randomness of the questions help quiet the "censor.")
1. What is the character's name?
2. Where was the character born?
3. Does the character have a pet? If so, what is it?
4. What is the character's favorite snack?
5. What would the character wear to a wedding?
6. What is the character's favorite music?
7. What is the one possession that the character is most proud of?
8. What does the character do on Sunday morning?
9. What adjective best describes the feeling of the character's home?
10. How does the character get along with his/ her neighbors?
11. What does the character believe about God?
12. Describe the character's best friend.
13. What does the character do for a living?
14. Describe the character's hairstyle.
15. What jewlery does the character wear?
16. What is the character's biggest regret?
17. If the character could change one thing about his / her appearance, what would it be?
18. What does the character eat for lunch?
19. What is the one thing the character is procrastinating about?
20. What adverb best describes the way the character walks / moves?

September <> November

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