4-Step Writing Exercise to Create 1,000 Words

Updated on December 20, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and I love helping my students improve their writing skills.

A 19th century humorous cartoon. Choose a picture that interests or inspires you.
A 19th century humorous cartoon. Choose a picture that interests or inspires you. | Source

Don’t Let Writer’s Block Take Control

We all have days when our mind goes blank, and it is impossible to write anything. If this happens too often, you may get discouraged and stop thinking of yourself as a writer. Do not give up! With a little help, you can prompt your unconscious mind to start producing creative ideas again.

This 4-step writing exercise consists of a series of easy prompts to get you writing. Using a painting or photograph as a starting point, you will study and then write about the image.

Choose Your Favorite Image

4 Steps to Heaven
Just Follow The Rules
Step 1
Pick an unforgetable picture.
Step 2
Describe it to an imaginary friend.
Step 3
Decide why you love or hate it.
Step 4
Think outside the box.
Dancers by Edgar Degas. Think about this scene from the viewpoint of the artist. Then put yourself in the shoes of one of the dancers. How do they differ?
Dancers by Edgar Degas. Think about this scene from the viewpoint of the artist. Then put yourself in the shoes of one of the dancers. How do they differ? | Source

Step 1: Choose a Picture That Interests You

Your picture could be a family photo or an valuable oil painting, a cheap thrift store print or a favorite greeting card. Choose an image that gives you pleasure; one that intrigues and invites you to study it in greater detail. Try not to pick something that scares is unpleasant as this may stop you enjoying the writing exercise. For this project you need to be able to spend time really understanding the detail of the selected painting or photo.

It is helpful to have a copy of the picture close at hand. If you don't already have a postcard or print of your choice, you could download a copy from the internet. Or you could borrow a book from the library with relevant color illustrations. Maybe you have chosen an artwork on display at your local museum? If so, take a notepad with you to the gallery and complete this writing exercise while studying it close up.

Flatford Mill by John Constable is an idyllic view of rural England in the 19th century. But what was life really like for an agricultural worker with no sewerage system or tarmac roads?
Flatford Mill by John Constable is an idyllic view of rural England in the 19th century. But what was life really like for an agricultural worker with no sewerage system or tarmac roads? | Source

Step 2: Paint a Picture in Words

This first exercise is to encourage you to describe your picture without thinking too deeply about it.

Imagine you have a pen-friend who has never seen your chosen photo or painting. For the next five minutes you are going to describe the picture to them. Use free-flow writing; i.e. write down your thoughts as they come to you without stopping to correct spelling or grammar.

  • For five minutes write solidly without lifting your pen from the paper or your fingers from the keyboard.
  • Put down any thoughts about the image as they occur to you.
  • Anyhow, any order, higgledy-piggledy.

Utah's Little Grand Canyon. This photo draws you into the landscape. You start to wonder who the woman is and what she is thinking.
Utah's Little Grand Canyon. This photo draws you into the landscape. You start to wonder who the woman is and what she is thinking. | Source

Step 3: Convince Your Reader the Image Has Merit

Pretend you have seen the picture in an auction sale. You can’t afford the purchase price but you know someone who can. You need to convince them the item is worth buying.

10 sentences to “sell” your choice.

  • Broad brushstrokes create the outline. Write four sentences describing why you like the picture.
  • Fine lines accentuate the detail. Write another four sentences detailing what in particular fascinates you about the image.
  • Highlights and lowlights bring the subject matter into sharp focus. The last two sentences compare it to other paintings or photos you have seen. The picture is better than X (and give reasons why). It is not as interesting as Y (and explain why not.)

NYC subway. As a writer you can create a back-story for each traveller.
NYC subway. As a writer you can create a back-story for each traveller. | Source

Step 4: Frame the Picture

Color and context are important when creating fiction. The characters in a story do not exist in isolation. Neither do those in an artist’s or photographer’s tableau.

  • Look carefully at your chosen picture. Notice your gaze is drawn to particular parts of the painting. This effect is not accidental but has been deliberately created. You can do the same for your writing. Include things that further your storyline, but also weave in items with symbolic or veiled meanings.
  • Think about the context of your picture. How did the life of the artist or photographer impact on their composition? Now frame the story of your picture by writing about the symbols and characters you can see.
  • You live in the 21st century. You are viewing the scene through a glass-pane of historical distance. Does the story change if you write it through the eyes of a Jane Austin or a George Washington? Why not try it and see?

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt uses real gold. It was created just before the outbreak of World War One. Is there a story here about wealth and decadence vs death and destruction?
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt uses real gold. It was created just before the outbreak of World War One. Is there a story here about wealth and decadence vs death and destruction? | Source

Forward to the Future

By the end of this exercise you will have produced at least a thousand words, possibly more. You may decide none of them are worth keeping. That’s ok. Give yourself permission to get rid of the notes and scribbles you have made. The aim of the project is not to create a completed piece of work. The idea is to kick-start you into the right frame of mind for starting to write once more.

As an accidental by-product, you may find your selected picture has got you thinking “outside the box”. Artwork is a great resource for authors and can trigger fresh ideas for articles and stories. I recommend your visiting local museums and art galleries to help you with your next creative project.

The crew of Apollo 11 must have amazing tales to tell. They would make dream interviewees. Let your stories take readers to another world.
The crew of Apollo 11 must have amazing tales to tell. They would make dream interviewees. Let your stories take readers to another world. | Source

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  • K S Lane profile image

    K S Lane 4 weeks ago from Melbourne, Australia

    This sounds like a great exercise! I'll have to try it out the next time I have writers block.

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