Monday, November 2, 2009

Here's a writing challenge for you!

Here's a thought. And, actually, an exercise. I was talking to another poet about writing a sonnet a day for three months. We'd both done that in the past. Way in the past for me. And we'd both enjoyed it in a masochistic way. The rules were/are simple: one 16-line sonnet per day seven days a week. But they don't have to be good. Whew! Thank God for that last sentence.

When I started this discipline, I was floundering a bit, writing what struck me as the same sort of poem in the same way. Sonnets were so, as they say, not me. And though they were never my favorite form, after a month or so I was much more comfortable with them. And they had a wonderfully astringent effect on my writing style. It was a lot harder to write a loose, lazy line of free verse when I'd been counting iambs for sixty or ninety days.

I know most Hamline students aren't poets and don't want to be, so here's a variation on that exercise: write a one-page character sketch every day for ninety days. I've had the most luck with this by putting the pen to the paper, eschewing grammar and spelling, and never stopping to think until the page is full of what this character looks like, smells like, dines on, dresses like, has lubricous thoughts about, etc.

Some writers end the third month with ninety characters! Then they go through, find the ones that call to them, and ask what it is those characters have to say to the other characters and each other! Some writers find themselves -- more or less unconsciously -- writing about just a handful of characters under different aliases! As if the facets of one character have entire personalities of their own.

It is a whole other way to write a novel. Messy and surprising.

If you try this, let me know how it works out.



  1. Thank you, Ron! I'm sorely in need of a writing challenge to chisel through the block that is keeping me from finishing my novel. Back to pen and paper for me. Maybe I'll even pull out the movie "Stranger than Fiction" tonight and laugh a little.

    p.s. A couple of decades ago I spent a summer studying Shakespeare's history plays. I found myself thinking in iambic pentameter. I was pacing around my house muttering "I think it is the time to do the wash..."

  2. I attempted this challenge. I wrote 30 different character profiles for the month. Even though I thought I was writing "different" characters, I found that two of them kept reoccuring throught my session. They are well defined now, as I was able to put together three or four profiles and make one fabulous profile of a character that I thought I knew but obviously had more to say than I realized.
    Thank you for the suggestion!