Improve Your Writing Skills – Set 1 to 10 – Exercises

English Writing Skills Improve Exercise Eduhyme

Many of the questions in one set can well be applied to a different writing task. My groupings are sometimes arbitrary. You will find that some questions particularly suit your imagination and are especially fruitful for you on almost any enterprise. You will also find it helpful to start inventing your own questions.

  1. Questions to help you write about someone you have known or worked with.
  2. Questions to help you write about someone you have studied or read about.
  3. Questions to help you write about someone’s life as a whole.
  4. Questions to help you write a self-evaluation.
  5. Questions to help you write about a place.
  6. Questions to help you write about an object.
  7. Questions to help you write about a work of art.
  8. Questions to help you write about an organization or group,
  9. Questions to help you write about a problem or dilemma,
  10. Questions to help you write about an abstract concept.

Set 1. Questions to help you write about someone you have known or worked with (for example, you have to write an evaluation or a letter of recommendation or a case report, or perhaps you simply want to understand someone better).

  1. What would __________’s face tell if you knew nothing else?
  2. What would __________’s body tell if you knew nothing else?
  3. What would __________’s posture and gait tell you if you knew nothing else?
  4. What would __________’s manner or style tell if you knew nothing else?
  5. __________’s name is the name of a color. What color?
  6. __________ is an animal. What animal?
  7. __________ is a food. What food?
  8. Who would play __________ in a movie about her?
  9. __________’s brains are not in the head, heart not in the chest, guts not in the belly. Tell where they really are.
  10. __________ is two people. Describe them and how they work together or don’t work together.
  11. __________ is really a spy. For whom? What assignment?
  12. If you were going to spend a year in close contact with __________, where would you prefer it to be and under what circumstances? What would be the worst place and circumstances?
  13. Imagine that you believe all character and behavior comes from imitating significant “role models” when young. Who and what sorts of people do you suppose __________ imitated?
  14. Imagine you are a kind of Platonist/Pythagorean/Buddhist who believes souls are reincarnated over and over again as they work their way gradually from being a vegetable to being a pure spirit. Where __________ is in this cycle? What previously? What next? (You slip backwards for bad behavior.)
  15. Imagine you are an extreme Freudian who believes that all important behavior grows out of unconscious feelings—usually sexual or aggressive. Give a quick interpretation of __________’s behavior and functioning.
  16. If you were writing the history of the sounds you’ve heard while being with __________ (excluding words), what would be the three or four most important sounds in that history?
  17. Imagine you think __________ is a very good person. Now describe __________.
  18. Imagine you think __________ is a very bad person. Now describe __________.
  19. What is something that would never happen to __________? Imagine it happening? What would be the outcome?
  20. Imagine an important situation when you were with __________. Close your eyes and try to bring the experience back. Now pretend to be __________ and describe that situation.
  21. What weather does __________ bring into the room?

Set 2. Questions to help you write about someone you have studied or read about (for example, a politician or historical character or person in a work of art).

  1. Describe __________ as an ordinary person.
  2. Describe __________ as a unique and special person.
  3. Imagine __________ were the opposite sex. Describe the life that __________ would have lived.
  4. Describe the life __________ would have lived in a very different era.
  5. Make up or guess the most important childhood event in __________’s life.
  6. Describe __________’s life if that event hadn’t occurred or something entirely different had occurred.
  7. Tell a science fiction story with __________ in it.
  8. Tell a soap opera plot with __________ in it.
  9. What does __________ most need to cry about?
  10. Imagine you are very angry and strike __________. How and where do you strike?
  11. What is the caress that __________ most needs to get?
  12. Give __________ an accurate compliment that __________ probably never hears.
  13. Imagine __________’s hair were entirely different from how it is or was. What would it bring out that you hadn’t noticed before?
  14. What’s a secret about __________ that __________ hasn’t told anyone?
  15. What’s something about __________ that even __________ doesn’t know?
  16. How would __________’s mother or father describe __________?
  17. How would __________’s child describe __________?
  18. Describe __________ as a good president of the U. S. A. A bad president. What would be the important policies or decisions in both cases?
  19. Tell a recurring dream that __________ has.

Set 3. Questions to help you write about someone’s life as a whole.

  1. Describe __________’s life and character as essentially unchanging. What may look like changes are really just ways of staying essentially the same.
  2. Describe __________’s life and character as essentially determined by important changes or turning points (even if it looks to most people as though no such changes or turning points occurred).
  3. Imagine you believe people are truly free: they somehow choose or cause everything that happens to them. Describe __________’s life or character.
  4. Imagine you have the opposite point of view: people are not free, they are determined by events they cannot control. Describe __________’s life or character.
  5. Find as many rhythms as you can in __________’s life: events that repeat or recur whether the scale is in moments or years.
  6. What events in __________’s life only occurred once?
  7. Describe __________ as primarily a product of national, cultural, and ethnic influences.
  8. Describe __________ as primarily a product of personal and family influences.
  9. Describe __________ as primarily a product of economic and class influences.
  10. Describe __________ as essentially the product of conditioning. What behavior was rewarded and what was punished?
  11. Describe __________’s character as a solution to past problems.
  12. Describe __________’s character as carrying the seeds of future problems.
  13. Think of two or three very unlikely professions or occupations for __________. Describe __________ in those professions. (For example, describe Napoleon as a poet.)

Set 4. Questions to help you write a self-evaluation (for some job or enterprise or life period).

  1. Who will play you in the movie about this period or enterprise?
  2. What was the predominant weather for this whole time? Or what changes occurred in the weather?
  3. Think of yourself as having done a wonderful job. What do you notice?
  4. Think of yourself as having done a terrible job. What do you notice?
  5. Take responsibility for everything that went wrong. You did it all on purpose or because you didn’t give a damn or because you were mad. Explain the events.
  6. Tell the three most important moments in this period.
  7. What did you learn from each of those moments?
  8. What qualities in you did this period bring out?
  9. What qualities in you remained hidden or unused?
  10. Imagine this period as a journey. Where did it take you? Where did it start?
  11. Imagine it is only a half journey, you are only halfway there. Where? What is the second half of the journey?
  12. Imagine this period as an interruption or detour or setback in some larger journey. What is that larger journey and how does this function as a time-out?
  13. If this enterprise was work, describe it as play. Or vice versa.
  14. Imagine this enterprise turns out to have very different goals from the ones you expected. Imagine some of these surprising goals.
  15. Invent a dream you might have about yourself in this enterprise. Just use what first comes to mind. It doesn’t have to make sense.
  16. Imagine this whole enterprise was a dream. What is it a dream about? What will you wake up to?

Set 5. Questions to help you write about a place. Go to this place in your imagination. Pick a particular time of the year and of the day. See it, feel the weather, hear the sounds. Make contact for a few quiet moments.

  1. How is your mood affected by being there?
  2. Imagine being there for a whole year. How would that make you better? How worse?
  3. Imagine you have just seen, in only five minutes, the whole history of this place since the beginning of the world. Briefly tell this history.
  4. Imagine your body is the whole world. Where on your body is __________?
  5. If someone said “It’s a __________ day,” what kind of a day would it be?
  6. Imagine you have always been blind. Describe your place briefly.
  7. Let the place describe you.
  8. Your place is an animal. What animal is it?
  9. Your place is a person. Who?
  10. Name a story, a song, and a movie your place reminds you of.
  11. What is the first thing that comes to mind which your place would never remind you of?
  12. What other place does your place make you think of?
  13. In what weather is your place most itself?
  14. Some places have a proper name all to themselves—like “Chicago. ” Other places only have a general name they must share with similar places—like “bathroom.” Give your place the opposite kind of name from the one it has.
  15. How does this new name change things. (For example, how would your feelings be different? What things would you notice now? What would you not notice now? Would things happen differently there now?)
  16. Find as many of your place’s rhythms as you can. (For example, find things that happen there at regular intervals— whether they happen every second, every month, or every thousand years. Or any other sorts of rhythms you notice.)
  17. Name as many things as you can that only happen there once. Are there any rhythms among any of them?
  18. Think of your place as if it were old and near death. Now tell what place it was when it was only a child.
  19. Think of your place as if it were a young child or young animal. Now tell what place it will grow up to be.
  20. If “__________” stands for the regular name of your place, what does the following sentence mean: “If you do that again, I’m going to __________ you”?
  21. Imagine your place was the whole universe and you had always lived there. Tell how you and your neighbors explain the beginning of the universe. How do you folks think the universe is going to end?
  22. Think of your place as if it is carefully planned in every detail. Now describe it briefly from this point of view.
  23. Think of your place as if everything just happened by accident, chance, and luck. Describe it from this point of view.
  24. Think of your place as if it is haunted. Tell about it (for example, how it became haunted; what it does to people it doesn’t like).
  25. Imagine an anti-universe where everything is opposite or backwards from the way we know it. Describe your anti-place in this anti-universe.

Set 6. Questions to help you write about an object.

  1. Think of a particular moment in which this object was meaningful or important to you. Close your eyes and take yourself back into that moment. Bring back the reality of the object and the scene for a few moments. The time of day. The time of year. The air. The smells. Your feelings.
  2. If you had never seen the object before, what would you notice when you first looked at it?
  3. If you knew it fairly well, what would you notice when you looked at it?
  4. If you knew it better and longer than anyone else—if you knew it closely for a whole lifetime—what would you see when you looked at it?
  5. Tell two or three different ways you might take it apart.
  6. Tell what it’s like to take it apart and then to take apart the parts till you get down to its basic ingredients. (Go fast. Don’t worry.)
  7. Imagine a different world in which this object was made of completely different ingredients. What would they be? Tell the advantages and disadvantages of this new arrangement.
  8. Tell how this particular object came to exist. (Not this kind of object. That is, if you are talking about a pencil, don’t tell how pencils in general came to exist. Tell how this particular pencil came to exist: where it was made; where the wood, lead, and rubber came from; how they came to be put together.)
  9. Pretend it came to exist in a different way and tell what it was like.
  10. Tell the history of this particular object since it first existed.
  11. Tell its history for the last five minutes.
  12. Tell how this kind of object came to exist (for example, pencils in general).
  13. Tell another story of how this kind of object came to exist, but this time make the story a kind of a love story too.
  14. Think of as many ways as possible of grouping a whole bunch of these objects. (In the case of pencils, for example, by length, by color, chewed/unchewed, free/paid for, by color of lead, etc., etc.)
  15. Think of a lot of different ways it is actually used.
  16. Tell three ways it might be used, but isn’t.
  17. Tell a mystery story of how it came to be used in one of those ways.
  18. Tell three ways it could not possibly be used.
  19. Tell a science fiction story of how the world changes in such a way that it is used in one of the ways you just called impossible.
  20. If this object were an animal, what animal would it be?
  21. If it were a person, who would it be?
  22. If it could speak, what would it tell you about yourself that you weren’t aware of?
  23. Tell three things it might stand for or remind you of. (For example, a pencil might stand for a tree, school, or writing.)
  24. Imagine you are much richer than you are and think of something it might stand for. Imagine you are much poorer than you are and think of something it might stand for.
  25. What might it stand for if you were much older than you are? Much younger?

Set 7. Questions to help you write about a work of art.

  1. Pretend you made it. Something important was going on in your life and you poured strong feelings into it. What was going on? What were those feelings?
  2. Pretend you made it, but nothing special was going on in your life and you had no strong feelings. Describe what you liked about this thing you created.
  3. Pretend you made it and are very dissatisfied. Why are you dissatisfied with it?
  4. You made it as a gift for someone you know (a real person in your life). Who? How did she feel about your gift?
  5. Imagine this work of art as medicine. What is the disease? What are the symptoms? How does this medicine cure it?
  6. Imagine this work of art as poison. It destroys whoever experiences it. Describe the effects of this poison, the course of deterioration.
  7. Imagine that everyone on the globe owned this work of art or all infants were repeatedly exposed to it. What would be the effects?
  8. What is someone most apt to notice the first time she encounters this work of art?
  9. What would you notice about this work of art if you had never encountered any other works in its medium (any other novels, movies, ballets, or whatever)?
  10. What tiny detail in this work says more about it than any other?
  11. Is this work male or female?
  12. What other work of art would it marry?
  13. What works of art do they have for children?
  14. Imagine this work of art as part of an evolutionary process. What work did it evolve from? What work will it evolve into?
  15. This work is the only human artifact transported to Mars, the only evidence they have about humans. What guesses or conclusions would they reach about humans on the basis of this work?
  16. Imagine your work of art as evolving into different media (poetry, novels, movies, paintings, music, ballet, etc., etc.). Describe two or three of these new works of art. See what these evolutions tell you about the original work.
  17. High art/low art: describe __________ as though it were in the opposite category from the one it usually occupies. (For example, describe Paradise Lost as a soap opera.)
  18. Anonymous folk art/signed art made by individual artist: describe __________ as though it were in the opposite category from the one it usually occupies. (For example, describe a tribal chant as though it were a Beethoven symphony.)

Set 8. Questions to help you write about an organization or group of people.

  1. What animal is __________ ?
  2. What are the rhythms in the history of __________? Events or cycles that recur, whether on a scale of decades or days?
  3. What are some of the things that have only happened once to __________?
  4. What are the three most important moments in the history of __________?
  5. __________ is alive, chooses, acts. Describe its behavior as completely conscious, willed, deliberate.
  6. __________ has feelings. What does it feel now? What is the history of its feelings?
  7. If there were two of __________, where would the second one be? How would they interact?
  8. Imagine __________ is a machine, like a car or a pinball machine. Describe how it works. (For example, where is the motor? the flipper?)
  9. What is the most important part of the machine? Which part breaks down most?
  10. Map __________ onto your body: where are the head, feet, hands, ears, eyes?
  11. Imagine all organizations had the same structure or mode of operating that __________ has. What would be the effect on the world?
  12. What human qualities does it bring out in members? Which ones does it suppress or fail to use?
  13. If in addition to French-kissing there were __________ kissing, what would that kind of kissing be like?
  14. Describe __________ as a poison; its effects; its antidote.
  15. Describe __________ as a weapon. How do you make it go off? What does it do? Who invented it?
  16. Think of __________ in the scheme of evolution. What did it evolve from? What is it evolving toward?
  17. What physical shape is __________? Imagine that shape in locomotion: how does it move?
  18. Think about __________ as part of an ecological system: What does it depend on? What depends on it? What does it eat? What does it emit? What eats it? What emits it?

Set 9. Suggestions to help you write about a problem or dilemma.

  1. The pump needs priming.
  2. Defective materials.
  3. Too many cooks: a committee designed or executed it.
  4. A bribe will do the trick. Bribe whom? With what?
  5. The problem is that God is angry. At whom? Why? What did that person do to make God angry?
  6. It’s a problem of addiction. Who is addicted to what?
  7. The problem has been stated wrong. Find two or three ways of stating it differently.
  8. The problem comes from bad data. Guess what data are wrong and why?
  9. It’s a Gordian knot: stop trying to untie it, cut through it with a sword.
  10. The problem is a car that won’t start in the winter. What are the things you would do.
  11. It’s a problem of logic; for example, a is to b as c is to d (A:B :: C:D).
  12. It looks like a problem, but really everything is fine if you only take the right point of view.
  13. Assume the problem has no solution. What is the sensible course of action or strategy that follows from this conclusion?
  14. It’s a problem in numbers. Try performing the following operations on it: addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, percentages, moving a decimal place.
  15. It’s just something wrong with digestion: someone ate the wrong thing or has diarrhea, constipation, vomiting.
  16. It’s a problem of people: incompatible temperaments; struggling for dominance; loving each other but unable to admit it; feeling scared but not admitting it.
  17. Outdated design.
  18. It’s problem of too little money; or rather too much money.
  19. It’s sabotage.
  20. It’s a matter of physical sickness. Need for
    • (a) special drug;
    • (b) long recuperation with not much medicine;
    • (c) helping the patient deal with the impossibility of cure.
  21. It’s mental illness. Needs:
    • (a) shock treatment;
    • (b) talking therapy;
    • (c) group therapy;
    • (d) conditioning therapy;
    • (e) help and support in going through craziness and coming out on the other side;
    • (f) recognition that society is crazy and patient is sane.

Set 10. Questions to help you write about an abstract concept (such as freedom, democracy, altruism, sexuality, justice; topics like these benefit particularly from the experiential techniques of the loop writing process, such as prejudices, stories, dialogues, moments, and portraits).

  1. What color is __________ ?
  2. What shape?
  3. Imagine that shape moving around: what is its mode of locomotion?
  4. Give the worst, most biased, distorted definitions of __________ you can give.
  5. Imagine this word or phrase did not exist. (Imagine a people with no word for it in their language.)
  6. What would be different because the word did not exist?
  7. Imagine __________ is a place. Describe it.
  8. What animal would make a good insignia for __________?
  9. What persons are connected in your mind with __________?
  10. If __________ fell in love with something else, what would that something else be? What would they have for children?
  11. Design a flag for __________.
  12. Think of three or four abstractions that are bigger than __________ or can beat it up; and three or four which are smaller or can be beaten up by .
  13. Think of ________ as part of an ecological system: What does it depend on? What depends on it? What does it eat? What does it emit? What eats it? What emits it?
  14. What are the most memorable sounds associated with __________ Smells?

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