Nonfiction Writing exercises

Writing Exercise: First Memories

Created by Kara Bopp (co-founder of Living Words)

We all know that babies from a very young age can remember. For example, they remember family members – even in the first week of life they remember what Mom and Dad look like! When they are a couple of months old they remember what their crib looks like and smile at familiar toys. But for some reason as adults we cannot remember anything from before the age of about 4 or 5. This phenomenon is called “infantile amnesia”. The age of one’s first memory varies from person to person (some research has shown it may be related to one’s verbal intelligence). There are all sorts of theories for infantile amnesia… but that’s not the point of this exercise.

What is your FIRST MEMORY? This simple question may produce a lot of written responses. Write down your “first” memory, but allow yourself to remember back to those years and you might find that you remember an even earlier memory.

Most people tend to remember highly emotional events – either very positive ones (like birth of a sibling) or negative ones (like going to the ER for a broken arm). Although some people remember benign everyday experiences. It is sometimes difficult to put a date on a memory. It can also be difficult to be sure that it is your own memory and not just information you learned as an adult through stories or by looking at pictures.

Right NOW write down what you believe is your first memory. Describe it in as much detail as possible. What do you see, hear, feel? What were your thoughts at the time? Do you see this event from the perspective of your own eyes or from the perspective of a viewer (e.g. floating above the scene)? Are you sure that it is truly your own memory or is it possible that you learned about this or imagined it later in life? When did the event occur? How old were you? What about the memory gives you clues about the date?

Repeat this exercise if you remember an earlier “first” memory!

As always, we would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Fiction Writing exercises

Writing Exercise: A picture is worth a thousand words (aka Fictional postcard)

Created by Taylor Fenig (Wofford ’12)

Icebreaker (to get the writing juices flowing)

Describe a vacation. Describe the best trip you have ever been on. Or describe the trip that you always wanted to take. Answer the Where? When? What (did you do)? Who (are you with)? questions. Most important… Why is it “the best” vacation for you?

Writing exercise

Choose a picture from a location that you’ve never been to before. Choose from one of the images below or one you find from a magazine or the internet. Imagine this picture is the front of a postcard from the location where you are on vacation right NOW. Close your eyes and picture yourself there. What would you be doing? Why are you there? What time of year is it? Who are you with or who are you not with (alone)? Write a postcard note to a real or imaginary person from this place that answers those questions.


We love to do this exercise on damp and dreary days! Dream! Picture yourself doing all sorts of amazing things. Enjoy and please tell us about your pretend journey in the comments below.


Writing Exercise: Haiku

Created for Living Words by Dr. Deno Trakas (

Deno Trakas, has a knack for haiku – a short poem that consist of three lines in a 5/7/5 (a total of 17) “on”, which are Japanese units of sound that we usually translate to mean syllables. The poem usually depicts an image from the natural world that cuts to another image that suggests something more than the literal meaning.  Here’s a well-known example:

At the age old pond
Frog leaps into the water
A deep resonance

Trakas’ interest for haikus became a morning ritual, when for roughly 150 days he greeted each morning by creating a new haiku on a napkin. According to Trakas, “Writing a haiku is an experience that is of the moment, which then becomes a record of the moment.” To get started, look out the window. What do you see? Think of the meaning of the subject you have chosen. Consider similes and metaphors to describe the subject. Try to use original language to describe it. Play with words to fit the syllable pattern.

Here’s one created by a Living Words group. We hope it will help inspire you to create your own. You can do it!

Sagging mattress sky
Slowly opening my eyes
Morning light obscured

We would love it if you would share your haiku with us in the comments below!