Tag Archives: weekend workout

Weekend Workout: How To Be

Just because it’s NaNo month and I’m on Team Pantser this year, doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing my long-hand exercises. I’m sure a lot of people (especially Pantsers) type everything straight into their computer. During NaNo month, far more of my first draft definitely happens through my keyboard. But, I almost always warm up with a hand-written exercise and when I get stuck, I always reach for a pen. Writing by hand, for me, opens me up creatively,  frees my ideas, my blocks, and my editor.

Whether you are participating in the NaNoWriMo this month or not (and cheers to you if you are), I’ve cooked up a little exercise that you might find helpful at some point when developing a character.

A few weeks ago, the students in one of my classes read How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor. A sweet middle grade story about a girl who must live in a car with her mother and brother after their father leaves them with no money and they are evicted from their apartment. Her mother is working two low-wage jobs in order to come up with rent and deposit for a new place. The girl decides she’s going to help her mother raise money by stealing a dog. She’ll wait for the owner to post a reward and then bring the dog back for the reward.


I didn’t find anything particularly surprising or eye-opening about the story, but I did like the concept, the characters, and the voice. I think voice is one of those things that’s difficult to teach, and even to explain to writers, but you kinda know it when you see it.

In the book, the main character creates a list of instructions in her journal on how to steal a dog. The assignment I gave to my students after they read the book was to write their own instruction list for something in the form of a poem, vignette, or short story (for example, one wrote instructions for “How to Make Someone Uncomfortable When You Pass them on the Sidewalk ).

It was a great exercise, so I decided to use it another way. What if the character in your story wasn’t giving someone instructions  on how to DO something, but how to BE something. What about how to be them? This might be a great way not only to develop voice, but backstory, motivation, wound, etc. In other words: character.


Set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Put your character in a place (so we know who her audience is): a psych ward, the waiting room of a dentist office, an auditorium, school lunchroom, or maybe just home in bed writing in her diary.

Your start line is: To be me, you have to…

Write without stopping and see where that takes you.

Don’t edit, cross out, or re-read while you write. Keep the pen moving!

If you like the exercise, try it again with another character.

And have a great weekend!

NaNo NaNo!


Filed under NaNoWriMo, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Hellooooooo! Weekend Workout: We Got Talent

Wow. It’s been over a month since I’ve blogged. I’ve been trying to get back to it, but life kept happening. I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say the circumnavigation included a computer death, a back injury (unrelated to the computer death), 3 elementary school visits (also unrelated to the back injury), a flashmob, a haircut, completing my latest rewrite on a new novel (yay), a dream about a roller coaster for executives. And this:

steaming jar of

The back injury happened while falling into a pile of logs trying to retrieve this one for my garden:

garden log

Okay, the part where I carried this by myself to the car may have exacerbated my back injury a bit. But lookie how cool my garden driftwood log is! And my free beach log only cost me $300 in massage and chiropractor expenses!

So, while I was grumbly and lying around recovering, I entertained myself by watching 2 seasons of The Killing – a really fantastic series (oh, but don’t tell my husband I watched season 2 without him) and inspirational youtube videos of X Factor auditions.

I’ve never watched X Factor, American Idol, The Voice, or any of these other singing shows, and I don’t think I’d watch a whole show or a whole season. But what I loved over and over again was when the person auditioning  took the judges by surprise. I loved when what they expected was turned on its head.

A few of my favourites included:

Jeffery Adam Gutt
Panda Ross
Tate Stevens
Luke Lucas
and from Britain’s Got Talent, Charlotte and Jonathan

The list goes on, really (I probably watched 100 videos). And it’s made me think both about expectation and inspiration. We can’t help but to judge people the moment we see them. It’s human nature. And I find it completely inspiring when my own expectations are blown out the door.


Literary agent Donald Maas, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, says that to make your characters universal, you have to make them unique, which sounds like an oxymoron. But, he explains, that our uniqueness is the universal thing about us.

What’s unique about us might be a talent – a small one or a large one or a quirky one. Remember in BREAKFAST CLUB when Claire (Molly Ringwald) placed her lipstick between her breasts and put it on without her hands, claiming it was her only talent? John Green’s protagonist in AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES  has a talent for making anagrams.

What is your character’s talent? Is it integral to the plot or a bonus character trait? Does your antagonist or villain have a talent as well?

1) Pick one of your characters to use for this exercise.

SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line:
If my character had nothing to do all day, he’d occupy himself by…

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: My character is most proud of the way he…

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Now write a SCENE in which another character comes upon your character doing this thing at which he or she is so talented.

Make the scene awkward for the character by either a) making the character ashamed of being caught, or b) making the person who catches him in the middle of this thing either critical or snide about it.

Start with the line: Character X walks into the room and laughs …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

1 Comment

Filed under inspirational poop, truth and beauty, weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

Weekend Writing Workout: Add a Little Magic

I’ve developed a course called Introduction to Speculative Fiction and there’s a particular brainstorming exercise where students do sub-genre mash-ups to generate stories.

Once when I was teaching the class there was a woman in the front row who spent most of the class scribbling in her journal. She was a contemporary fiction writer working on a semi-autobiographic story. I thought she wasn’t interested in the class and was off on her own adventure. Turns out she had been inspired by the exercise.

She told me later that she had been stuck in her writing and depressed about it. She had been having trouble letting go of parts of the story that weren’t serving it because they were “true.” Even though it was a work of fiction, she was attached to these “truths.”

After our genre exercise, just for the heck of it, she decided to add a magical realism element to her “real world” story. She said not only did  it make her story more interesting, it freed her from this need to stick to “reality.” She apologized after class for spending the whole time working on her story and I said, “by all means, it was a perfect use of the time!”

from Wikipedia:

As recently as 2008, magical realism in literature has been defined as “a kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the ‘reliable’ tone of objective realistic report … fantastic attributes given to characters in such novels—levitation, flight, telepathy, telekinesis—are among the means that magic realism adopts in order to encompass the often phantasmagorical political realities of the 20th century.”


1) SET YOUR TIMER for 10 minutes.

Think about a moment in your life when you had to say good-bye to an inanimate object (a car, a dress, a book, a couch).

Start with the line:  It was time to say good-bye to …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 12-15 minutes.

Now make the object animate in some way. Give it a magical property. Have it visit you in your dreams. Give it some way to communicate with you.

Start with the line: The (object) looked at me and …

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 20 minutes.

And now write the SCENE between you and the object if you haven’t already.

Start with the line: In this scene …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

Have a great weekend!


Filed under weekend workout, workshops, writing exercises

Weekend Workout from FaerieCon West

Greetings from FaerieCon West, where I will be storytelling and causing mischief all weekend.

Danika and Spring Faerie

Before the workout, I have a few announcements:

First, today is the LAST day to enter the drawing to WIN a copy of the FUTUREDAZE anthology of YA science fiction. Co-editor Erin Underwood has generously donated a copy. (I’ll close comments at midnight PST)

Second, the 2013 Nebula Award nominations are in and Hydra House’s own Cat Rambo was nominated for her short story “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” from her Near + Far collection.


The Nebula’s Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy nominees are:

Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

CHECK OUT the entire list of nominees and congrats to all (I wouldn’t want to have to pick a winner from this lot).



This is a BRAND SPANKING NEW exercise that has nothing to do with character or plot or editing. I developed it for a recent writing workshop and had such a good time with it I wanted to share it here.

The workshop was for kids, so it’s broken down into small steps. Feel free to take whatever you’d like from it…


Create 5 columns across a sheet of paper and write:  Colour, Fruit or Vegetable, Instrument or type of Music, Location, Day of the Week. Then, below each, list something or place you’ve never really liked in this category. Something that doesn’t appeal to you and you’d never choose it voluntarily.

For instance, you do not like the colour brown, brussel sprouts, harmonicas, Los Angeles, or Tuesdays.


Next, under each category, write a sentence like this: “When I think of ______, it reminds me of ______.” Example:  When I think of brown it reminds me of camping in the rain with my Dad.


Choose one of the things that don’t appeal to you and write for 10 minutes straight using the start line:

I never picked you _____…

(without stopping, editing, or rereading – the more you write, the more material you will have)


From the 10 minute stream of consciousness writing, circle all the images, phrases, and lines that appeal to you and pull them out of the piece. Rewrite them on another piece of paper. When done, it might look like this:

orange reminds me of my softball jersey in 6th grade
we were the “losingest” team that year
I got in trouble for picking a bouquet of orange California poppies that year
orange is like a prison uniform
orange was never in my favour and i never had an “orange phase”
I had a “purple phase,” my bedroom was purple and pink with white curlies on the bedpost
I also had a “green phase” where everything I wore was green and I looked like a forest
I had a very brief “red phase,” I was trying it on for size
Even though sunsets and fire are orange, I still don’t like orange


Carve out your poem from these lines. There are many ways to do so: rearrange lines, leave out words, change words to create alliteration, add interesting space for breath, etc. Expand and change the language where necessary. Add more imagery.

never orange

I’ve never picked you orange
as a favour as a phase        my youth
spent through pinks and purples
stringing the edges of my bedroom
with the white curliness
of imagination

orange was never curly it was
twang and offense
a softball team jersey hoisted upon
the losingest team on the playground
where only once      for a moment
I thought I might find comfort in you
orange, the poppies, sprung about the hill
and me picking a bouquet only to be told
those are California poppies,
you can’t pick them
it’s illegal

orange, you betrayer, you
prison sentence
you were never the greens of my wardrobe
of my fern forest         nor were you
my brief liaison with red
when it offered a chance
a sports car
a mini-skirt
a swiss army knife

orange, I’ve never loved you
never let you under my skin
even in your soft sunrise I’ve taken you
for an imposter even in your flames

Have a Great Weekend! I’ll be HERE. 🙂


Filed under poetry, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Writing Workout and Writing Workout Groups

Many people have writing groups where they read and critique each other’s work. It’s definitely a challenge, though, to find a good critique match. You want critique partners who have similar experience and who write in the same genres. And are just as committed to writing and critiquing as you are.

My critique partners are separate from my writing group. I have a handful of friends I trust with early drafts of work and they trust me with theirs. We’ve been reading and critiquing each other for years, growing together as professional writers.

My writing group does something else. We write.

The idea for our writing group stemmed from a long-standing writing group in Seattle called the Louisa’s Writers. (named for both Louisa street and Louisa’s Cafe where the writing happens) Writers show up and write for 45 minutes to an hour, twice a week. I mean write by hand straight, no stopping, no reviewing the work, no crossing out, no editing of any kind. It’s from the gut.

by Alison Woodward

by Alison Woodward

Then the work is shared. No critique involved, although people will point something out later if it struck them as interesting.

When I showed up there last week, there were about 25 people writing. When we started, it went quiet but for the few other patrons. The energy emanating from the collective minds, hearts, guts, and fingers was palpable and the time actually flew by.

Our much smaller writing group (called Louisa’s North, even though it takes place at The Grind) meets every Sunday. We write for 20 minutes, share, write for 20 more, and share again. Same thing – recommended writing by hand, no stopping, reviewing, or editing of any kind.

Why this works: this is far different than writing by yourself into your computer for 20 or 40 minutes. Usually when you write like that you stop and think about your word choice, your plot, your intention, and editing is too convenient. This is riding the momentum of something else. Strange inspirations come when you write with such forward momentum. Directions are explored without attachment. This kind of writing opens you up.

And it doesn’t matter your level of skill or what experiment you’re working on that day. It’s a personal experience. An added bonus to me is the letting go of ego. You read your work raw with no preambles or apologies.

Jack Remick and Bob Ray began the Louisa’s group over 15 years ago. I used to attend back in the late 90’s. Between them they have dozens of books, but they still attend the writing group when they can. And why not?


We work on whatever calls us to it. Could be a W.I.P. or something new. Jack and Bob used to make up start lines but discovered that whatever needs to be written will come though if everyone simply starts with the line:

Today I am writing about…

And off we go. The mess of the mind, heart, and gut shot through the pen. The rest of the world disappears. It could turn up lost memories, new insights, plot twists, four pages of dialogue, or a monologue from a goddess.

Sometimes I use the startlines I’ve come up with here on my Weekend Writing Workout if they pertain to what I’m working on. Wherever I start, though, something moves.

~   ~   ~


Sometimes I can’t get to my weekend workout post due to other writing/life stuff. I’m looking for 4 or 5 other bloggers who’d like to post a Weekend Workout with me on Friday mornings (sending me their links by midnight the night before). That way, writers can jump around from workout to workout, get a whole week full of them, and we can post each other’s links if we don’t have time for an original post. Workouts may vary: poetry, fiction, memoir, etc. As long as it’s a writing exercise AND something you would try yourself.

Contact me at info (at) danikadinsmore (dot) com if you are interested. Please pass the idea on to anyone else you think might be a good candidate.

CLICK HERE for more information about my Weekend Workouts.


Filed under weekend workout, writing exercises, writing life

End-of-Year Plerk-out!

It’s funny how little down time I allow myself by before I feel the need to get something done. My husband’s the same way. We like to be productive.

During the “holidays” one would most likely find us in our respective offices brain-deep in some type of creative or career project: digitizing rare audio cassettes, typing up old journal pages, writing a proposal for a conference, a class, a book.

Between the productivity we take a walk to a local coffee shop and the subject of how we rarely relax comes up. “It’s because we like our work,” I say to him. “But our work is our play. We don’t work; we plerk.”

(SIDENOTE: we discussed the spelling of the combination of “work” and “play” and decided against “plork” because no one would pronounce it right.)

Plerking for me is writing this now. It’s editing a manuscript. It’s jotting a poem down, capturing a melody, brainstorming TV movie ideas. Plerking is when one enjoys the work of one’s life so much that it doesn’t feel like work – which is not to be confused with the ease of the endeavour.

Play can be just as challenging as work. Have you ever played sports? Sports are challenging physically and mentally, but we never ask, “what sport do you work?” Not even to professionals.

A few weeks ago I gave myself (and invited others) the challenge of writing a short story by the end of the year using a paragraph from the 50 First Lines exercise. I posted my top 5 and ended up choosing the following paragraph:

Green, red, blue . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge? He lay his head back down on the institutional hospital pillow. The nurses didn’t know what to do with him. He had red blood spurting from a gash in his arm and green blood coming from his nose. He reached up and touched it. His nose. Where Karmen had punched him.


I was on a panel about editing at VCon with four other authors. All of us had different techniques and rituals around editing. The only thing we all completely agreed upon was the importance of it.

When someone asked if it was possible to spend too much time editing, I said, “Perfectionism is the opposite of done, but I have never heard anyone say, ‘Wow, that was a great story, too bad it suffered from over-editing.’ It’s a bit of a balance.”

Here are some basic steps I take when I edit a short story:

-After I pound out the first draft, I usually read it over a few times and do some straight intuitive editing.

-I tend to explain too much in the first drafts of my short stories. If I explain anything I first ask myself, is this information necessary? If so, is there a way to show it in action or dialogue instead?

For instance, here’s a doozy:

Karmen had always loved attention, had loved flaunting her nerdy boy toy with his natural, baby-faced good looks. One-hundred percent human, not like those trendy “mutants” with their artificial modifications. She liked showing him off like a pet, daring any man, woman, or hermaph to challenge her claim.

Instead of explaining all of this, I could have a scene where she takes her boy toy to a party and threatens someone or makes a snide remark about a “mutant.”

-I examine each character individually. What is her motivation? What is his character arc? Who is this person? I visualize each character in my mind doing something. I think it’s important to visualize them in action, not just what they look like physically.

-Once I’ve edited it a few times, I give it to one or two people in my crit arena. I get some feedback, take some notes, read over my notes, and then set them aside. (I don’t obsess over notes. If something clicks, it will reveal itself in the rewrite)

-I PRINT the story out and read it OUT LOUD. This is vital. I read every line for “sound” and “sense.” Meaning, does it sound good and does it make sense for the story.

-I question my “darlings.” If certain lines make me feel clever, I examine them in the context of the story. Yes, cleverness is good, but I was a bit in love with the last line of my story so that each of 3 versions of the ending still contained that final line. I wanted to make sure the last line actually worked.

-I look for the logic of the story. The overall holds-together-ness of it. If I look at it objectively, do the pieces of the story fall together so that the outcome is believed to be a necessary conclusion?

Sometimes when I’m editing I freeze up and procrastinate, fearing that I will somehow “ruin” the story by editing. That I’ll make it worse. I can’t say that has ever happened. I have to remind myself of that. I always save each new version just in case, but I rarely find that I need to refer back to it.

Your End-Of-Year Plerkout:

If you’ve started a short story, use that. If not, find something you’d like to “plerk” on that needs finishing (assess that it is finishable in 6 days). A poem, a song, a collage, even a novel – but only if you’re that close to the end.

The idea is to FINISH something, as in, ready for submission. An actual edit and polish so that you can start the New Year with a brand new story to toss to the story-catchers.

Have a Great New Year and Be Safe.











Leave a comment

Filed under 50 First Lines, Rewriting, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: Too Much Information (in a good way)

This is a tardy Weekend Workout, but all my ‘Merican friends were probably digesting for the past two days and couldn’t write anyway.

I was planning to do a rerun this weekend, but ran across a note to myself about using TMI (too much information) to create conflict (big, small, serious, humorous). I was specifically thinking about it because of a real life example. Okay, my 74-year-old mom has discovered boys again. I think this is great, since my dad died 6 years ago. But there’s only so much I want to hear about my mom’s escapades. Can you imagine writing that scene into a comedy script?

That’s a minor conflict, but there are other ways TMI can create serious internal and external conflicts, like if your character learns something she doesn’t want to know or shouldn’t know. TMI can put your character’s marriage, job, or life at risk. Maybe she knows her sister is having an affair, maybe she knows her boss is bribing the mafia, maybe she knows (as in one of the Cloud Atlas stories) that a report about an unsafe energy source is being hidden from public eye.

You get the point.

I put this brand spanking new exercise together based on this idea. If you try it, let me know how you think it worked.

your workout

Set your timer for 5 minutes.
Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

1) My protagonist is in EXTERNAL conflict when she learns . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

1) My protagonist is in INTERNAL conflict when she learns . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

3) Too Much Information for my protagonist means that she must . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

Happy (Thanksgiving) Weekend!



Leave a comment

Filed under weekend workout, writing exercises