#8 Working Outside Yourself

This exercise works best in a group of four. Yes, you can do it on your own, but it’s best to pull ideas and images from outside of yourself.

Where does the good work live? As writers, we grope around for something substantial, and the groping is important. There is a stifling pressure on ideas that we hold sacred and there can be freedom and invention when stories come from unexpected places.

If you have a work that you’ve held dear to heart, consider tapping into the less-traveled territories and try to apply ideas that come from other writers, even if–especially if–it doesn’t seem like a good fit.

Here’s an Exercise:

  • You will need four people, paper, and a timer.
  • Each person should rip off three strips of paper.
  • On one, write down a type of room in a house. Could be an ordinary house or a big fancy one. Fold it in half and write 1 on the outside.
  • On the next slip of paper, write down a luxurious material. This could be a rare mineral or a gem or a type of glass. Pick something sumptuous. Fold it in half and write 2 on the outside.
  • On the last slip, write down something organic, something that can decay. Something that would transform if left alone in a room over time. It can be alive or dead at that moment. Then fold the paper in half and write 3 on the outside.

Now pass these slips around so that everyone has a 1, 2, and 3 that they did not create. I find the best way to do this is to sit in a circle, pass 1 to your left, exchange 2 with the person across from you, and pass 3 to your right. The set up is a bit formal, but it helps to make sure everyone gets something from someone else.

Set the timer for 10 minutes. Timer can add a helpful element of intensity.

Open up 1. And then 2.

Leave three off to the side.

The room in this house (1) is made entirely out of the material on 2.

How unusual! Describe it! How did it come to be? What does it look like? How did the architect plan such a structure? Why was it made?

The timer dings. Now, somewhere inside this gorgeous room is 3. Perhaps it is starting to rot. Open up 3. It’s not at all clear how 3 got there in the first place.

Set the timer for another 10 minutes and write about this new presence. All the tone to darken here.

Here’s an Exercise if you want to do it alone:

If you’re alone (or adamantly don’t want to do a group project) fill out the slips of paper yourself and make a few piles so that the combo is a surprise. You can also go online to use a random word generator and fill in your papers with words you didn’t generate.

Alternatively, you can ask your friends to submit their own choices and use those options.

By J. M. Tuckerman

J.M.Tuckerman is a neurodivergent writer with a big education. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in Writing, and a BA in Writing Arts (specializing in Creative Writing, New Media Writing, and Publication; concentrating in New Media Production), which she somehow managed to earn despite her three very loud and large dogs. Jessica was lucky enough to intern at Quirk Books and Picador, USA while earning her masterโ€™s degrees. Her service dog, Ringo, is very proud of all that she has accomplished and hopes to be on a back cover of a published book with her very soon. An avid reader, writer, and lover of young adult and middle-grade literature, Jessicaโ€™s bookshelf is overflowing with hardbacks, paperbacks, and a million half-filled notebooks. She is a proud fur-mommy to two lab/st-bernard littermates, a retriever-mix service dog, and one orange little hobgoblin cat, all of whom have made very audible appearances on the Booked All Night podcast.

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