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20 Minutes of Storytelling

While it is easy to fall prey to writer's block, it is just as easy to unlock a good story. This exercise will get you to a beginning, middle and end in less time than it takes to watch a sitcom.

Reading Time: About 1 minute

20 minutes.

That’s what is required. Set an alarm on your phone to sound in 20 minutes, then start writing. Your mission: to write as fast as you can and to tell a complete story. It needs a beginning, middle and an end.

I first learned about this exercise several years ago in an edition of McSweeney’s. Several well-known authors were invited to participate. Each was challenged to write a story in 20 minutes (no more, no less). They were not allowed to edit their piece after it was finished. The work was astonishingly good. Ever since reading that collection, I’ve returned to this exercise from time to time. Sometimes it’s because I’m stuck. Other times it’s because I want to write and don’t haveĀ an objective.

The 20-minute exercise works well because it uses one of the oldest tricks in the book. It’s a time-boxed assignment. It takes the pressure off of you, as the writer, to worry about perfection. You don’t have time to second-guess your work. You’re focused on getting to the end without the clock running out. It forces your mind to think about a complete structure for your piece. Your creativity and storytelling muscles have to work overtime.

This exercise isn’t just for writers. I recommend it to clients; even the ones who think they can’t tell a story or can’t write. I remind them to think to the finish. When I say, “go,” they will have 20 minutes to take me on a journey. It can be as simple as boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. Tell me that story on paper in your own way. Inevitably, most of them love it. They never knew they had it in them! And, that’s what makes the drill thrilling. It’s a mandate for storytelling.

Now, it’s your turn. Go!


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