September Writing Calisthenics


My mini writing group and I are doing our best to get in shape for another Novel Writing Month in November.

Our tiny task this month: We take turns sending each other writing prompts and do our best to write for 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week.

The only rule: We don’t ever need to edit, share or even re-read what we’ve written. (Thank goodness!)

This experiment lets us play with different topics, characters, points of view and writing styles as we get reacquainted with writing regularly and let our story ideas percolate. In October we’ll plan our novels, and in November we’ll do some madcap writing.

Want to join us? Below are a few sources for writing prompts, as well as some of the prompts we’ve enjoyed so far.

Need more persuasion? If so, let me back up a little…

My mini writing group consists of two amateur, non-aspiring fiction writers. We’re both busy with other obligations. We don’t find fiction writing particularly easy (or, in my case, easy at all). And we’re fairly sure that, come December, we’ll end up with hot messes, not masterpieces.

So, you may ask: WHY DO IT? And that’s a very good question.

It’s one, however, that doesn’t have an easy answer. As lovers of fiction, spending a little time writing lets us honor a craft that we admire. As humans, writing (like all creative action) helps us slow down, get quiet, pay attention and learn more than we would otherwise. But this can be a very uncomfortable thing to do, even if only for 30 minutes each day. Paradoxically, this discomfort is one of the best reasons to do it.

As Eric Maisel writes:

“Life is a difficult enough affair, so why pile difficulty upon difficulty? Because the best things are also the most difficult things. Acting justly is always a difficulty, but still it’s our best course. Living with another person leads to a few difficulties, but still we should opt for love. Creating deeply is a difficulty of the first magnitude— and our only possible choice is to cast a vote for it.”

Are you convinced?

If so, here are some helpful sources for writing prompts so you can begin your own writing calisthenics program:

Sarah Selecky’s Daily Prompts

I’ve been a fan of Sarah Selecky’s writing about writing for a while now. Her encouraging words are a good balm for an anxious writer’s soul, and her writing prompts are varied, intriguing, reflective and playful. You can subscribe to Sarah’s daily writing prompts or scroll through her archive on Twitter.

Some samples to tempt you:

  • Write a scene where the protagonist does something you would never do.
  • Describe your mother from the point of view of your father.
  • Write a list titled, “Things that I used to love.”

Story Cards

Story cards like Storymatic offer ample fodder for your storytelling inspiration. Storymatic’s cards include character traits and plot/setting points– you randomly select two character cards to create a character and two plot/setting cards to drive your story.

Better yet, create your own story cards with things that you intrigue you (words, character traits, places, subjects, etc.) and randomly draw a set of cards. This is an excellent way to ask the universe to hand you a good story. Here are a few from my arsenal:

  • Write a scene involving dreams, a bar and bitterness.
  • Write a scene that takes place in Las Vegas involving water and sarcasm.
  • Write a scene with a secret romance, a strong heroine and a drawing.


PostSecret is a community art project where people anonymously submit postcards revealing their innermost secrets. The submissions are full of humor, sadness, longing and regret. They offer insight into common human experiences and emotions, offering powerful inspiration for your characters and story lines.

Here are a few samples:

“I never believed you when you told me you loved me no matter how hard I tried. But I always meant it when I said it to you.”
“I make everyone believe that I like to be different, but really I just don’t know how to fit in.”
“I am 33 years old. I have my own house and a great job. And EVERY DAY I dream about running away from home.”

September Calisthenics

Last but not least, here are a few of our writing group’s own calisthenic prompts that I’ve enjoyed so far this month:

  • Write a scene about someone who can control the weather.
  • Write a story that feels like a song (or a song that feels like a story).
  • Pick up a nearby novel, flip to a random page and rewrite the page with some big twists.

What about you? Do you have a good source for writing prompts? Are you exercising your creativity this month? I hope so!

All my best,

6 Responses

  1. What a great project! I love the quote, and I think Sarah Seleck is wonderful. I also think Sarah Mattern is awesome, creative and so generous to share these interesting, touching and always stimulating ideas. Plus I love the pictures!
    Thanks Sarah.

  2. Sarah – I meant to post this over the weekend! Is this an online writing group? I might want to join if so! I’m not very good at fiction but every now and then an idea comes to me or inspiration suddenly arrives and I try my hand at it. I’ve written a handful of short stories over the years — I got close to getting a couple published — but never quite succeeded :-(. It’s a tough, tough, craft… Anyways one of the best fiction writing books I’ve come across over the years is “Writing Fiction ” by Burroway & Stuckey-French. Includes exercises and prompts. But also helped me learn about some of the essentials of plot, characterization, etc. There’s also “Fiction Writer’s Workshop” by Novakovich…

    1. Cool Jeanene! We’d love for you to join. It’s more an informal “writing support” type email group. I’ll email you with more info.

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