Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Get your exercise

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Sometimes the hardest part of writing is getting started. Much like cleaning the house, it can seem an insurmountable task until you actually get begin (I assume. I’m in the midst of cleaner’s block right now).

For me, a writing exercise can not only start a poem, but challenge me as a writer to stretch myself in new ways. I can’t say why writing exercises work for me, but they do. Even having a list of random words can be the challenge and direction I need to get started. When I had the opportunity to take Susan Musgrave’s poetry class at UBC I was delighted to find that Susan had a seemingly endless list of writing exercises. It was a really productive time for me, and I feel that I grew a lot as a writer. The Guardian used to have a monthly poetry workshop, and the one challenge I really responded to was the most random. It was an exercise in collisions: choose a person, a location, and a situation from a list. I chose someone I had never heard of and a place I’d never been to, and used wikipedia to bone up on the basics.

Here’s the link to the original exercise, and one to the resulting poem:

I can be wonderful to have a starting point, regardless of what it is, or a direction in which to point your creative energies can be all it takes to get you started. It’s like having someone else volunteer to do the dishes -- suddenly wiping the counters seems all that much more manageable.

In that spirit, I volunteer to do the metaphorical dishes for you (and only the metaphorical dishes). I hope it works for you!

Writing exercise #1: Flip through a book of short stories and pick a title at random. Write a poem based on the title, and not on the story.

Writing exercise #2: Take an existing poem that you have written. Take the 3rd line in it and make it the beginning of a new poem, on a totally different subject

Writing exercise #3: Write about a smell from your childhood.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang is the author of A Flock of Shoes (Annick Press, 2010), Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books, 2011), Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (Annick Press, 2011) and Warriors and Wailers: 100 Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (Annick Press, 2012). Her latest picture book, Stone Hatchlings, will be released in fall, 2012.

Go to Sarah Tsiang’s Author Page