2021 Writing Exercise Series #8: Sentence Calisthenics 1


The 2021 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to keep their creative mind stretched and ready to go—fresh for your other writing endeavors. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive. It's like taking a 5 minute breather in the middle of a spin class—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the exercises in under 35 minutes.

Sentence Calisthenics 1
For today's writing exercise complete the following steps for a specific period of time, using the timer on your phone or computer and setting it for 5 minutes for each 'set'. The point here is to produce at very least 6 sentences in each set, but you're looking for both quality and quantity. Don't write a bunch of sentences with the same construction or that are boring—it's better if you have no idea how in the heck you might use the sentence. Something funky, interesting.  Normal, well-phrased sentences are of course good to have in the mix too, but include some quirky ones in each set.

At the end of every set mark your favorite 1-2 sentences.

In order to complete the large number of sentences demanded of this exercise it is imperative that you write fast. Don't stop to think too much at all until you've reached the final exercise. The process of this quick production is to thrust past second guesses or other stumbling blocks that sometimes impede your writing. You're aiming to write 30 individual, unlinked sentences in 25 minutes so you have ten minutes to organize and write that actual piece using the 'round up' prompt. This means you're going to be writing more than a sentence a minute. You can't do that if you're dawdling or trying to figure out the 'perfect' phrasing. The first couple times writing to these sprint-style prompts you may barely squeak the lines out in time, but as you get more used to it you'll get more both in quantity and in quality of your sentences. 

Save all of your sentences to a "Sentence Calisthenics" document, if you participate for awhile we'll have some bonus exercises that will refer back to these sentences, because sometimes you can't see the gold hiding in plain sight when you've just written something. Having fresh eyes might result in a quick, awesome piece. So, save those sentences!


Getting into the mindset: Before you start your timer, take a moment and breathe and think about things that work in sets of three, and instances when not succeeding at a goal could ultimately be a good experience. Keep thinking of these things in the back of your mind as you're writing and in between sets. By no means should all of your sentences revolve around these things, we just want your mind centered with a few anchors in place before we charge into our piece. When you feel set, read the set instructions, appropriate Wordbank, and start that timer.

Set 1: Using the first word bank write six (6) or more sentences which include one of the words and someone or something running (or at least moving forward somewhat quickly). Only use the word "run" a maximum of three times.

Wordbank 1:
  • Ruse
  • Intuition
  • Mole
  • Oregano
  • Spark
Set 2: Now write six (6) or more sentences which use two words from that first bank. At least two (2) of the sentences must be fewer than six words. Remember to mark 1-2 favorites for each set.

Set 3: In preparation of the next six (6) or more sentences you should first pick two words Wordbank 1 and type/write them out. Each of your sentences for this 5 minutes must include one of those two words, an adjective, and one of the words from Wordbank 2. Because there's a lot of moving parts be sure to write quick in order to get your six (6) or more sentences done in time.

Wordbank 2:
  • Truce
  • Cognition
  • Foal
  • Panel
  • Quirk
Set 4: Now write at least six (6) sentences which include one word from Wordbank 1 and one word from Wordbank 2 and either a color or a smell. You're marking 1-2 favorites, right? Keep doing it.

Wordbank 3:
  • Bruise
  • Mission
  • Explode
  • Marshmallow
  • Fork
Set 5: Now Look back at all of the sentences that you've written and re-write six (6) sentences to include a word from Wordbank 3 as well as the other required elements. One (and only one) sentence should be longer than 15 words.

The Round-up
1) Gather up all of your marked favorite lines and pick from those favorites at least three sentences to build your piece around. 
2) Now that you know the core of your piece, go back up to the un-favorite lines and pick three additional sentences that you must use (even if you 'spruce' them up by tightening or quirking up the language). 
3) Now you have 6 sentences that are unconnected. You have a large chunk of a jigsaw puzzle but you've lost all the rest of the pieces. So it's time to make those pieces yourself. Make sure your piece has a 'point' or some sort of larger meaning above just the literal narrative/descriptions. Make an observation for better or worse, large, small or teensy tiny even. But, something new, and unique to your brain.

4) OPTIONAL COMPLETE-A-PIECE. If your piece hasn't jumped right out at you, use this 'formula'. First, throw out three of those six sentences that you don't care for as much. At least two of them. Now write a piece which is broken roughly into 1/3s with the first 1/3 including one of your sentences and setting up a (relatively) content-with-their-life narrator looking back at a childhood hobby/interest/passion (a sport or something competitive). Give your narrator either a current job or spouse which is described with one quirky/unexpected concrete detail (things like: he always burns his marshmallows when making s'mores or the title is office assistant but it could be called shredding and coffee runs). The second 1/3 should briefly recall a failure at that passion or hobby (losing a game/match, embarrassing self etc) and include 1-2 of your sentences. The third 1/3 should return to your narrator's 'relatively-content' current life and think briefly about how little that failure ultimately mattered, ending with three positive images of small things that the narrator gets enjoyment from (you know, a 'few of your favorite things'), beginning with something with a taste/flavor, and ending with a gesture or 'tic' of a loved one that they love (the way they ___ shouldn't just be mentioned, it should be very succinctly shown to us so that we can picture our own loved one doing the exact same thing, no generalities here folks!). And that's it. You have your piece. This will definitely take longer than ten minutes but may just be worth it.


Want some unobtrusive background writing music? Try this "Lofi Coding Mix" [Stay Home Edition].