2021 Writing Exercise Series #107: Sentence Calisthenics 5

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 5
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 keeping cool during a very hot day (and also during hot nights). Think about the feeling of a hot night, trying to sleep when sweating/covered in sweat or however else you experience a hot night or day. Think both humid and dry heat. 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, DON'T LET THIS DISTRACT YOU FROM YOUR SENTENCES. When you feel set, read the set instructions, appropriate Wordbank, and start that timer. 

When the timer goes off move on to the next set regardless of if you met the 6 sentence goal, you wrote only 3, or 12—when the timer rings, move along and if you don't hit 6 for one set, do your dangedest to knock out 6 in the next set even if some of them are short or silly or straightforward or even a fragment.

Set 1: Using the first word bank write six (6) or more sentences which include one of the words and some sort of water (rain, river, drinking fountain etc). 

Wordbank 1:
  • Cult
  • Prodding
  • Stilted
  • Somersault
  • Nodding
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.

Wordbank 2:
  • Flawed
  • Wadding
  • Cotton
  • Jaw
  • Mauled
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 pre-selected words and one of the words from Wordbank 2.

Set 4:
 Now take a minute to look through this list of 'powerful verbs' and write down at least 5-8 of them. Write at least six (6) sentences which include two words from Wordbank 2 and one (or two) of those verbs. 

You're marking 1-2 favorites, right? Keep doing it.

Wordbank 3:
  • Bald
  • Bowels
  • Wanton
  • Hauled
  • Enthralled
Set 5: Take just 3 minutes now to write as many sentences that use at least two of the words from Wordbank 3 as you can.

Set 6: Now write six (6) sentences that include one word from each of the three wordbanks.

The Prompting Round-up
Step 1) Gather up all of your marked favorite lines and pick from those favorites at least three sentences to build your piece around. 
Step 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). 
Step 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.


If your piece hasn't jumped right out at you, use this 'formula' today using those six sentences. 

Step 1) First, throw out three of those six sentences that you don't care for as much. Look back at your original full list of sentences and see if any stick out. Sometimes in the rush of things you actually choke out something inadvertently kinda brilliant/interesting. That's the point of rush-rush-rushing. Pushing your brain. Ideally you'll have 4 sentences before you move onto step 2, so if none of those other sentences stick out (tweaks are acceptable of course), grab back one of the sentences you threw out at the beginning of this step, you want at least 3..

Step 2) Now write a piece which is broken roughly into 1/3s with the first 1/3 including one of your sentences and an instance where someone is struggling to swim, be sure to use lots of concrete details, and don't describe things with the first way that comes to mind—"Tell it slant". 

Step 3) The second 1/3 should include 1-2 of your sentences and speak about the person/animal that is struggling to swim, but when they were young (or, younger), and when they learned something (it can be swimming, but I'd go with something unrelated and figure out how that can come back to the swimming so that the piece has nice 'moves'. 

Step 4) Before moving onto the last section of the piece take a quick look back at your starred list of sentences and see if there's any that would fit in your piece. You want to use this as a little scaffolding for the final chunk, but if you don't find one or two that fit that is fine too. 

Step 5) The third 1/3 should include your remaining sentences and return to your swimming person/animal either once they've recovered/finished swimming or farther in the future when the near-drowning (or, 'incident' if it wasn't that close/scary) is being recalled by another person. Is that portrayal charitable, comic? You decide. Be sure that you keep in mind the 'lesson' that they'd learned and how that can inform their humility (or lack of) when in the face of someone else telling their story. 

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 "Wave", the 1967 album from Brazilian Antônio Carlos Jobim, the 'father of Bossa Nova'.