Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, January 6, 2012

Writing Exercises

By Ashley Lister

As Lisabet mentioned at the start of the year, the ERWA blog is going to see a lot more activity in 2012. My name is Ashley Lister and, aside from being a regular columnist and reviewer at ERWA, I’m also a freelance writer and a creative writing lecturer.

Because of that last qualification, I figured I could use this space to share some of my favourite exercises for all those erotica writers reading this who want to polish their craft.

I usually work with three types of writing exercise.

The first type is the sort that’s traditionally used in the lecture hall. It’s a timed exercise designed to get students writing. These are usually ‘on-demand’ type exercises where students write haikus, limericks, cinquains etc. The purpose of these exercises is to get students familiar with the form being discussed.

From a writer’s perspective, timed lecture hall exercises work best when they can be recreated at home. That way the writer has the scope to properly use the exercise but without the pressure of meeting unreasonable standards set by peers.

The second type of writing exercise is the sort that’s solely intended to be done at home. For these, in my classes, I’ll give a theme or the opening paragraph to a story and ask learners to create a short piece of fiction to share with the rest of the class the following week.

Last term I used the opening pages from a piece of werewolf fiction I’d written (‘Scratched’, Red Velvet and Absinthe). The class’s responses to this exercise produced a lot of differing results. Few had gone for the traditional approach to telling a werewolf story. One had simply gone to see the latest Twilight film and told me the plot of that movie. Some of the stories were dark – dark even for werewolf stories. Some of them were whimsical. All of them had been written when the writers had the time and enthusiasm to engage with the subject. This level of personal involvement showed in the quality of the writing.

From a writer’s perspective, these are the exercises which I prefer. I can complete them at my own pace, in my own writing place, and without the pressure demanded by the need for immediate quality results.

The third type, to my mind, is the sort of exercise used for creating fresh ideas. Creating ideas can be daunting for any new writer and these are the sorts of collaborative exercises where we share our suggestions and bounce them off other writers. It’s a chance to voice ideas to others, see how they’re received, and to also get an insight into the way peers are thinking. In short: it’s a chance to hear some unusual ideas which can often prove tangentially inspirational.

One of my favourite exercises of this type is adapted from Margaret Geraghty’s The Five Minute Writer. Learners are expected to spend five minutes compiling a short list in response to the question: What does it feel like to…?
My personal responses to this included items such as:

What does it feel like to run a marathon?
What does it feel like to lick a hedgehog?
What does it feel like to taste an emotion?


Your exercise, should you wish to participate, is to produce five original responses to that question: What does it feel like to…? Feel free to share your suggestions via the comments box below and let’s see if we can inspire each other with some wonderful and original ideas.

Ash

14 comments:

  1. What does it feel like to lick a hedgehog?

    Well, it would depend on the direction, wouldn't it? Licking along the grain of growth might be like tonguing a tightly woven basket, or an ear of corn, a nubby, linear, regular texture. I doubt it would be possible to lick against the direction of growth. At the first attempt, your tongue would be snagged and pricked, perhaps to the point of bleeding. Possibly the experience would be akin to licking one of those wire brushes used to clean the burnt-on crud off barbeque grills.

    All this assumes, of course, that the hedgehog will agree to remain still. As I have no personal experience with hedgehogs - indeed, I'm not sure they even occur in the U.S. - I can't evaluate the likelihood of their putting up with this imagined hedge-hog-lingus. Of course, they might roll up into balls like in Alice in Wonderland!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lisabet,

    One of the truly fun things about this sort of writing exercise is the places it can take people.

    When you woke up this morning, I can almost guarantee you would not have expected to finish the day wondering about this activity, or creating the phrase hedge-hog-lingus :-)

    And, if nothing else, writing exercises can often take us to unusual and unexpected places.

    Ash

    ReplyDelete
  3. Now my tongue is prickly! Excellent post on ways to exercise the creative muscles, Ashley. "What does it feel like" is really the heart of erotica. You get that right and the reader is yours.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "hedge-hog-lingus"

    Squeals.

    Oh, it IS an excellent post. And Donna is so spot on. "What does it feel like is indeed the heart of erotica.

    Bravo! You're going to be a tough act to follow!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Donna,

    I made your tongue prickly? I'm so pleased I can have this effect on women :-)

    And yes: 'What does it feel like...?' is the heart of erotica.

    Ash

    ReplyDelete
  6. RG,

    I'm going to spend a miserable evening trying to find a way of dropping the word 'hedge-hog-lingus' into a conversation. It's one of those that needs to be said :-)

    I'm looking forward to reading you next Friday.

    Ash

    ReplyDelete
  7. Such an intriguing post, Ash, and so pertinent to me personally.

    I'm knee deep in a big change in my life that will leave me lots of opportunities to explore the "what does it feel like" dynamic in real life, such as: What does it feel like to be an old buzzard starting a new job with a bunch of dynamic young professionals on the other side of a continent?

    Perhaps it is that spirit of change that leads me to ask the following, more ethereal questions:

    What does it feel like when computer data passes through you?

    What does it feel like to shed your leaves?

    What does it feel like to push your beak through the shell of a egg?

    What does it feel like to pull the moon just an inch closer?

    What does it feel like to be a film negative when the shutter snaps?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Craig,

    I love the idea of experiencing the passage of computer data as a sensation. And would that experience be coloured by different emotions depending on the content? i.e. would scary data be felt as frightening? would erotic data be felt as arousing?

    Every one of those would be a great starting point for a piece of fiction.

    Thanks for responding. And good luck being an old buzzard. I hope it works out well.

    Ash

    ReplyDelete
  9. Craig,

    First of all, good luck with your big change.

    And you've really got me thinking with: What does it feel like to shed your leaves? There's definitely a story there.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I loved this exercise as it engaged amazing sensory responses. I hope my questions are not too detailed.

    What does pink cotton candy feel like as it melts on the tip of your tongue?

    What does it feel like to allow your lover to explore your body while you are blindfolded?

    What does it feel like to be overwhelmed with smoke?

    What does it feel like to cut your finger on the edge of a metal can?

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'll participate although I'm pretty late to the conversation.
    What does it feel like to know emotions exist but not be able to experience them yourself?
    What does it feel like to don a hijab and niqab, the first time?
    What does it feel like to know your decisions will affect the lives of millions of people?
    What does it feel like to kill someone accidentally?
    What does it feel like to lose a child?
    Forgive the dark tone to some of my questions. They are what came to mind when I decided to respond.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Taylor,

    I'm glad the exercise worked for you. The physicality of your questions could lead to some very exciting scenes that are begging to be written.

    My mouth started watering as soon as you mentioned the cotton candy melting on someone's tongue.

    Ms T Garden,

    There's nothing wrong with exploring dark themes in fiction. I'm not sure if it's true but someone once told me that Margaret Atwell was inspired to write The Handmaid's Tale after donning a hijab, which suggests such speculation can provide fertile and successful ground for our writing.

    Best,

    Ash

    ReplyDelete
  13. What does it feel like to be tortured for information - information that you do not know?

    What does it feel like to be an old oak of 300 years plus by the side of a modern busy road?

    What does it feel like to not have a safeword knowing that you are going to need one?

    What does it feel like to be a neutrino as it leaves the sun and goes straight through the earth with no interactions and carries on . . . forever?

    What does it feel like (for me, as a straight hetero man - well as straight as one can be) to be roughly deep throated? I have imagined this and I am writing a story that has this as a theme but really . . .?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Willing Submissive -

    Some powerful prompt questions in there, a couple of which would work as strong metaphors on their own.

    Ash

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.