Like to Write?  Nonfiction Writing Workshop for Beginners  back to opening page


Warm up exercises and how to do them.

Keep these short---less than two hundred words.  Write as quickly as you can,.  Time yourself.  Five minutes per exercise.

1,  A place you go to every day.

2.  A place that charges admission

3.  A place other people keep telling you about.

4.   A place where you keep stuff.

It is better to choose smaller and less complicated places.  Instead of an entire city, a neighborhood.  Instead of a neighborhood, a street corner.  Instead of a school, a classroom.  Instead of a house, a room.  Remember, these warmup exercises are going to be short.  You want material that will fit in the space.

Write up your exercises, copy and paste them into your email, and sent them to me. 

Mail Your Exercise
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Now for the "full length" exercise.  "A Place You Know Well"

This exercise should run about 1000 words, just long enough to force you to find extra things to say.  You may rewrite and lengthen one of the warmup exercises for your article if you choose.

Some things to look for in your exercise.

Objects.  What objects are present?   Where are they? 

Sounds.  What sounds do you hear in your place? 

Smells:  What smells are present in your place.

Textures.  What are some of the things you touch in your place.

People and other creatures.  Yes, see the people in your place, but do keep the focus on the place itself.  Don't let an essay on your mother's kitchen turn into an essay on your mother.  You will get your chance to do that next week.

One of the purposes of this exercise is to encourage you to focus on one idea, without blocking out related material.  But If you do begin to ramble a bit, that doesn't necessarily ruin the exercise.  Better to ramble than to be dull.

It is important that you accept the challenge this assignment offers.  Perhaps you'd rather write about something else. Save it for later.  Right now, accept the challenge, and make the most of it.  Make it interesting.

A good nonfiction writer makes it his or her business to get interested in the topic.

Here is an example from a book review by Ann Roiphe

The Anatomy of a Recovery.
By Maxine Kumin.
206 pp. New York:
W. W. Norton & Company. $21.95.

By Anne Roiphe

AT 73, Maxine Kumin, Pulitzer Prizewinning  poet,  wife, mother, lover of horses and vegetables, had an accident that nearly killed her. She was preparing her beloved horse Deuter for a dressage event in a carriage~driving show in Vermont. The horse was startled by a truck passing on the road and turned the carriage over. Kumin broke her neck and suffered serious internal injuries, including a punctured lung, bruised kidneys and liver and 11 broken ribs. She was taken by helicopter to a hospital trauma center where, gasping for breath, heartbeat faint, spirit hovering, unable at first to move limbs, she was saved. Ninety-five percent of all those with injuries as severe as hers die, her doctor later told her. Ninety-five percent of those who survive are left permanently quadriplegic. Kumin won this most cruel lottery. "Inside the Halo and Beyond" is the story of that hard victory.

That's just the first paragraph, of course.  And no one expects you to write this well.  But please notice how that first sentence sets up what follows. 

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