Now It’s Your Turn: 25 Creative Writing Exercises
About the book:
Now It's Your Turn is a workshop itself with 25 creative writing prompts, all with model responses, penned by award-winning novelist and short story writer Mariano Quirós. The author challenges readers to let their creativity run wild with writing exercises that draw from everyday life. From childhood memories to heated discussions, anything is an excuse to help you overcome your fear of writing, and craft engaging and lively narratives.
An effective and fun teaching method that Quirós himself frequently uses in his creative writing workshops, Now It's Your Turn offers thought-provoking prompts to get readers writing.
Return to your childhood
We look at the world once, in childhood.
It is one of those quotes you would place on a shirt or in a frame. In part because it idealizes that stage of our lives, but also because the quote is simply beautiful.
Childhood can serve as a trench. Some of the many things children don't have, or haven’t fully developed yet, include value judgments and the censoring mechanism. Any child worth their breakfast wouldn’t care about anything, they would spit it all out.
Ángeles Rawson was a 16-year-old teenage girl who was murdered in 2013 by Jorge Mangeri, the doorman of the apartment building where Ángeles lived with her family. Mangieri was represented by attorney of some renown Miguel Ángel Pierri. The kind of attorney inclined to mar everything he touches. Pierri’s strategy was, shortly put, to turn “the case” into a public spectacle. He would tour TV sets with staggering frivolity. To one of the many TV shows he was in, he took his son, a boy who can’t have been older than eight and—just like any kid—always told nothing but the truth. In the middle of his father’s heartfelt—and slightly over-the-top—defense of Jorge Mangeri, the child said, “But he killed Ángeles, dumbass.” That immense innocence, that tiny impunity, that’s what we should strive to recover.
Writing well, writing correctly, is something anyone who has finished elementary school with some dignity can do. Write like a child, then.
Write about your childhood. It’s one of the good ways to start writing. Write about someone or something that used to be; “I pay attention to a memory and I guide it,” as Hebe Uhart would say.
Mariano Quirós’ answer:
On the Unlikely Ways of Becoming a Writer
I was eight years old the first time I saw a writer. I was in Buenos Aires, at La Ópera café, with my mother’s husband at the time. It was him that pointed at the tables next to the large windows at the café. “Look,” he said, “it’s Dalmiro Sáenz.”
Dalmiro Sáenz was—at least in the memory I reworked after all these years—a huge man, with a huge head and a face that stretched downwards, as if it was melting. His face screamed mischief, if not hustle. Naturally, I had no idea who Dalmiro Sáenz could be, but after my mom’s husband pointed at him I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I saw how he sat down, the gentle way in which he pulled the chair back, the insignificant gesture he made to get the waiter’s attention. And his jacket! When I was a child, I wanted to wear suit jackets. I looked at him for so long that Dalmiro Sáenz inevitably caught me and—maybe to get rid of the insolent child—threw me a wink. A fleeting expression that forced my eyes away. At least for a moment, because then I fixed my eyes on him and remained hypnotized for the rest of the afternoon. Or was it in the morning?
Back in the day I was a big fan of soccer and Japanese cartoons, two other good literary forms. I would read books, of course—I mostly remember Gustavo Roldán’s The Mount was a Party. One of the stories in the collection was about a know-it-all owl that had traveled the world and explained what an elephant was to the rest of the animals in the forest. The animal he described was small, whiny and extremely dangerous; it had nothing to do with a real elephant. I couldn't wrap my head around how the animals let themselves be deceived. How couldn’t they see that the owl was nothing but a phony? I would later understand—thank you, oh Great Gustavo Roldán—that what the owl was doing is called literature. Anyways, seeing Dalmiro Sáenz, as I was saying, was a weird shock.
The mind is a mystery, such a mystery that it transcends the cliché that “the mind is a mystery.” It was after seeing Dalmiro Sáenz that I decided I wanted to be a writer, that I decided I’d make a living out of it, and so I started to say it out loud so convincingly that I think it must have sounded as touching as it was stupid. I’m still not so sure about what it is, or what it is like, to be a writer. I only know that I want to remain one.
Dalmiro Sáenz was a famous writer back then. Or as famous as a writer can get around here. Besides, he had the exact level of irreverence that made him attractive and repulsive in equal measure. Of course, I only learned all this and thought about it when I grew up. Sáenz had written a best-seller, Open Letter to my Future Ex-Wife, which the cultured young ones read and commented on.
My dad had a copy. I tried reading it a few months after seeing Dalmiro Sáenz himself at La Ópera and, as expected, I didn’t understand a thing. However, presumptuous as it sounds, I felt there was something there, something I was yearning for. What I wanted to be. I stuck to soccer, I stuck to Japanese cartoons, and I stuck to reading.
When I was old enough, to honor the impression his figure had left on me, I decided to go after him. My life had already been changed by other things—other books, other Japanese cartoons—and I was sad it hadn’t gone the same way with the two novels by Dalmiro Sáenz I had read. I liked them, I enjoyed them, but that was it. The older you get, the more foolish you become.
There is, however, an exquisite decalogue that Dalmiro Sáenz crafted for those who wanted “to be writers.” It is as delicious as it is unlikely and debatable, and that frailty is its biggest charm.
Sáenz says, “What if I try this way? That should actually be the only prompt. And among the possible ‘ways’ are all the ‘ways’ that we consciously or unconsciously adopt in our countless daily acts of seduction. Selling, buying, suggesting, falling in love, insulting, choosing, showing, silencing, talking, being, simply being. What drives people the most? Not having what they want to have; the word ‘have’ includes all that can be desired, be it a thing, a situation, a location, a state, etc. (...). What drives the reader and makes the story really appealing is the desire to know what they don't know. We pull them into a story. We capture them with the narration of something we know and they don’t (...). The reader needs to not know. And every time they know something, that knowledge must bring about a new question, a new ignorance.”
It seems true, but sometimes—most of the time—the writer has no knowledge of the very same story they set out to tell. Besides, what does Dalmiro Sáenz know? Does he think readers only read to solve an enigma? To know something? But to know what? Who cares about solving things?
Dalmiro Sáenz also mentions that “writers are traitors to their world and their time, they are snitches that point fingers, that accuse, that betray their friends, their family, their country, themselves, their customs, their fears, their habits.”
In the moments of uneasiness—which are not few in this trade—I go back to that image of Dalmiro Sáenz at La Ópera and I mimic, even with no mirror before me, the gestures I saw him make—what I remember, what I reconstruct—on that distant afternoon of my childhood. It’s no use, of course not, just like literature. But that is all I need.
Translated by Sebastián Gutiérrez - Edited by Laura Estefania