May 17


Seven days to get writing again: day five

The introduction to this series is here. But the idea is simple: one quick writing exercise a day for seven days. Post the results in a comment below, or, if you prefer, email them to me (at my name at gmail).

Day Five: Day Five? Wow. Even if you’ve just done a couple of these, you’ve done some very good (and not easy) work this week.

Day five is stealing from the poets. This should be fun and simple: it’s one of my favourite ways to get writing.

Below, I have chosen two verses more or less at random from two different poets: John Keats and Langston Hughes. Take five or so images from the lines below and write the first 100-150 words of a story using them–or more if it grabs you.

No need to combine this with one of the previous exercises: it’s not necessary to use these images to write a Malamud-style opening. Although that would be cool. The point is just to produce material for a story you might not normally.

Verse one. This is Keats reflecting that while he and every human will grow old and die, the nightingale’s song will not.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

The same that ofttimes hath

Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam

Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Verse two:

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

Here are a few sentences from me:

Wruth arrived in Brighton in the last carriage of an off-white train. The grand houses of the rich old ladies faced the sea, their Italianate pallour muddied by the dimming sunset and the coming of night. Wruth walked about the town, delighted. The peculiar antiques sold down the many winding lanes, the small cafes still busy in the evening, the oddly designed palaces, they seemed to be opening some kind of doorway to himself, to the alien and unknown Nile flowing in his veins.

I’m not sure who “Wruth” is, or where this one is going–but maybe that’s a good thing.

Have a go yourself: take inspiration from Hughes and Keats and write!

Best wishes,

Daniel Wallace


Keats, Langston Hughes, writing exercise

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  • Driving past a cornfield never failed to make Linc nostalgic, homesick. The golden yellow stretching far off towards the horizon, crows flying in circles above. Immediately his mind and heart lurched to his childhood in Mississippi. Pictures formed quickly and strongly behind his eyes of the stalks towering over his head as he darted around the field, hiding from his father hard at work. He felt like if he just yelled loud enough, Hudson and Abigail would hear his cries echoing after them as they ran towards the river. He could almost feel the mud of the river banks between his toes, a long afternoon of fishing and swimming stretched ahead of him. But these cornfields weren’t in Mississippi. And Linc could no longer run. Instead he was driving back to his new life in Des Moines. Away from the fields and the golden sunset. Back to his desk and the faint blue glow of his computer screen.

  • Peregrine says:

    You r leaving us dangling. Does the rabbi find a bride? Why is he tormented at the thought of marriage? The other story: why is the young woman called a tramp.? Resented? Tell us. Peregrine

    • Peregrine: Well, you can read the rabbi’s whole story here:

      There are a few typos, sadly.

      As for Eric Loft, and the girl his aunt calls a “tramp”–I don’t know why she’s called a tramp. I just made that up today…

      I’ll try to figure out her story soon 🙂

      • Peregrine says:

        The aunt is jealous of the pretty girl. Girl is slender, aunt is fat, homely.

  • I wrote an opening based on some passages of Keats’ “Eve of St. Agnes,” Milton’s “Lycidas,” and Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

    “John came to the Brooklyn Bridge in his Porsche which was recently handed to him from his father, and from his father’s father, and from that father’s father. The bridge stood sturdy on the wide gulf of the undisturbed urban river that swelled gently and slept soundfully as boats swum upon its earthy waters and as the bridge stood like a faithful sheepdog holding against hordes of wolves, potential and actual. Cars, trains, minivans, and motorcycles rode in the great expanse of the old bridge. The morning was a-cold, and the birds flew with outstretched wings, and the sound of the gentle waters was folded by the droning and the smoke of the city-plants, and the rumble of the vehicles took fellowship in the crowded life of the bridge’s wide life. John was going with his engines of judgment to smite them that sought after him, and then to smite no more. He also had a handmade two-handed implement, on which he etched the print of his right thumb as he molded the elements to shape this implement. It would take a while for him to get to them.”

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