Writing Exercises

One of my favorite things about being a writer is the connections that writing helps me make. Everyone has a story, and I’m always meeting people who tell me that they also want to write. For anyone out there who has an itch to write, I’m going to start posting occasional writing exercises. If you have an interest in writing — either in telling your own story, or the story of someone you are making up, maybe these exercises will help you along.

Alphabetical Autobiography: Years ago, when I was about to teach one of my first Fiction Writing workshops, I asked my friend, poet Sue Standing for advice on exercises. She told me about the Alphabetical Autobiography — an exercise I’ve used in every single workshop I’ve taught since. The premise is simple, write the alphabet down the side of a page, then fill in one biographical detail for each letter. The exercise can be done for fiction or memoir. So, for example, if I were using it as a memoir exercise for myself under E, I could write Elkins Park, for where I live, or Eden for my youngest daughter. If I were using it as a fiction exercise, and I was writing trying to imagine the details of my main character from Henna House, Adela Damari’s life, I could write Aminah, under A for her aunt, or Asaf, under A for her cousin, both major people in her life, or I could write Notebook, under N, signifying an important key to an important plot point or Magic Carpet under M for the name of the operation that brought the Jews of Yemen to Israel. The alphabetical autobiography can be used before you start writing, to jump start your ideas, or during the writing process, to help you fill in details. And it can be adapted to lead you forward. For example, I often ask students to choose three of their words from their lists and to write sentences from them. Then I ask students to choose one sentence and use it as the seed for a paragraph. And then a page, a chapter… You get the idea.

If you try the Alphabetical Autobiography, feel free to post your lists on this page. It would be fun to see what people come up with.

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