Writing Exercise Wednesday: What’s In Those Boxes, Buddy?

From now on Wednesdays around here are going to be special. For a few reasons.

  1. Wednesdays are halfway to the weekend.
  2. Wednesdays are notoriously creative days. (A fact. Proven by science.)
  3. And Wednesdays will be all about unique and thought-provoking writing exercises.

I for one don’t do enough writing exercises and sometimes a good one often leads to the breakthrough you’ve been needing in your work. Sometimes they’re useful for coming up with new ideas, giving yourself some room to breathe and just allow you to put words on the page, and sometimes they’re simply fun.

But really, the best is when an exercise opens something up for you and helps you see where a piece is going.

I hope that you’ll share your favorite writing exercises in the comments so we can all get in on these mental crunches.

This week’s exercise works mainly for fiction writers, but feel free to improvise. If you really want to get deep, this would be great for someone who writes personal essays or memoirs. Just put position the exercise to focus on you and your boxes ‘o stuff.

The Exercise:

I got the idea for this exercise last week after my husband and I hauled six or seven huge boxes of my old junk to our house from my parents’ house. I spent a few days digging through all the stuff I had accumulated over 24 years living at my parents’ house, and it got me thinking: what would my main character have in his boxes?

The stuff we deem worthy of being saved for years and years says something about us.

For example, I saved a lot of pictures, pieces of paper with notes on them, movie tickets, airline boarding passes, books, letters, cards, scrapbooks, way too many bad poems that I wrote in high school, all of my college and grad school notes and binders.

I hold on to things that are probably worthless, but remind me of a certain time in my life.

So, like I said, I wondered what my main character would have in his boxes.

I started writing and was surprised. His boxes held stuff from his childhood, yes, but with those items came experiences with his father that I hadn’t even considered before. Experiences that shaped this person as we’re all shaped over the years. But the point was I hadn’t know these experiences were crucial to his character until I dug through some of his boxes.

That’s the kind of result I like to get from an exercise.

So here’s the prompt: Your character has just taken home a few boxes of stuff he/she needs to sort through. It’s stuff from an earlier period in his/her life (childhood, high school, college, marriage, divorce, whatever). Write about the things this character holds on to. Write about why he/she holds on to these things, and dig as deep as you can to understand what these things might mean overall to your character’s development. I found it most helpful to write in my character’s voice; this allowed him to tell me things rather than force me to make it up.

If you have a favorite writing exercise, or if you want to share your results from this one, leave a comment!

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