2022 Writing Exercise Series #8: Sentence Calisthenics 1

The 2022 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to spark their creative mind and to spur production of new pieces. 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 about" 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—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 series' exercises in under 30 minutes—SC is more like 45, but shhhh! 

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 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 wordbank you will write six (6) or more sentences which include one of those words and an item from this list and a color (take a minute and peruse this list if you want some unique ones). 

Wordbank 1:
  • Gnash
  • Popping
  • Lumpy
  • Box
  • Skeleton
Set 2: Now write six (6) or more sentences which use two words from that first wordbank. At least two (2) of the sentences must be fewer than seventh words. 

Remember to mark 1-2 favorites for each set.

Wordbank 2:
  • Mask
  • Clam
  • Yesterday
  • Rainy
  • Time
Set 3: Now write six (6) or more sentences which use one word from Wordbank 1 and one from Wordbank 2.

Set 4:
 Now write at least six (6) sentences which include a word from Wordbank 2 and any month of the year.

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

Wordbank 3:
  • Plant
  • Erupt
  • Kissed
  • Riled
  • Cotton
Set 5: Take just 5 minutes now to write as many sentences or fragments that use at least two of the words from Wordbank 3 as you can. Try to get ten! If ten is easy, go for fifteen! We're sprinting here, first thought best thought, get your numbers up.

Set 6Now write at least five (5) sentences that include at least 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.

Today you will write a piece which takes place over the course of a year. It should include at least three different scenes or stanzas that take place at least a month apart, and mentions at least one color that pops up in nature or culture during that month, and makes an observation about the passing of time. Try to make it something unique and not just the same 'you can't go to the past' or 'you don't know what you have until it's gone'. 

Step 2) Now we're going to write a piece which is broken roughly into 1/3s with the first 1/3 including one or two of your sentences and begin with a scene or stanza that takes place outside in nature during late winter or spring. Include melting ice or snow, even if it's just ice cubes melting in a glass in a tropical environment.

Step 3) The second 1/3 should include 1-2 of your sentences which takes place in either the summer or fall and include an animal that is at least 50 pounds (large dog or bigger). Also include someone or something that is sick to one degree or another.

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 final 1/3 should include your remaining sentences and take place in the winter or late fall. It should include the image of some sort of food that is either moldy or rotten, and here's where you tie things together, as well as add the observation about time. When I said don't do a take on 'you don't know what you have until it's gone', that can also work here, I take it back. It's not a goal, but it suffices as long as you have unique details to show it. Be sure that you phrase your observation in an interesting way. You can always go back and add some sort of 'stakes' or 'gravitas' to the piece in if you don't have something already in there, that's the joy of writing! Or, you know, one of them.

Step 6) When you're satisfied with the ending, take that knowledge back to the first 1/3 and add in a couple small details, especially imagery, which are in line with that ending. Add in subtle foreshadowing first 1/3 in an innocuous or 'fun' way. Also include one additional smell or texture and somewhere in that first section. 

And that's it. You have your piece. This will almost definitely take longer than ten minutes but may just be worth it.


Want some unobtrusive background writing music? Try this Refeeld & yutaka hirasaka's new lofi project "Traveler".