Fifty Random Sentences or How to Face the Blank Page

A writing tip from Kathy Fish

We all have experienced that frozen feeling when faced with the blank page. This is an exercise I have used often and it’s never failed to produce a piece of fiction:

Your goal is to write fifty sentences as quickly as you can. The sentences needn’t be connected in any way. In fact, it’s better if they aren’t. Allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind no matter how weird. You’ll want to number them as you go to keep track. You may start out with a bang, then flounder around sentence #20 or so. Don’t stop. If you have to, go ahead and write a few very simple sentences, like “the car is red” just to keep the words flowing.

When you have finished, go back and read the sentences aloud. Listen for the ones that have the most juice. Where does your voice falter? Which sentences evoke strong emotion? Which ones have their own peculiar beauty? Which demand further investigation?

Highlight these.

Now write each good sentence at the top of its own fresh sheet of paper and write new sentences beneath it. You want to follow a line of thought if you can. Move forward into a narrative if it feels right, but don’t force it. Write whatever emerges without judgment. I promise, at some point you’ll feel a sense of urgency that tells you: There’s a story here. Now tell it.


Kathy Fish's stories have been published in Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, Slice, and elsewhere. Her work is forthcoming in The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). She is the author of two short fiction collections, Together We Can Bury It (available now from The Lit Pub) and Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011).

Spanning nearly a decade of Kathy Fish’s writing, Together We Can Bury It draws heavily on the author’s Midwestern roots. Like the changing seasons, themes of childhood, siblinghood, and adult loss and betrayal are woven throughout these stories.

Click on the cover to view the book at The Lit Pub.


Deb said...

Kathy, I tried this exercise shortly after it was posted and have to say that was the fastest 600 words I've ever written! I'm now working on the third story to come from it, so thanks!

I look forward to reading Together We Can Bury It.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's great, Deb! It always works for me.Thrilling to hear you now have three stories from the exercise. Yay!


Jayne Martin said...

What a genius idea! Thanks, Kathy.

Anonymous said...

If you give it a try, Jayne, let me know how it worked for you. Thanks!


Randall Brown said...

Love this. Can't wait to try it--and introduce my students to this fantastic idea.

Anonymous said...

Yay, thanks Randall! Please let me know how it turns out with your students.


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