F. Scott Fitzgerald is responsible for one of my favorite quotes about the craft: “All good writing is like swimming underwater and holding your breath.”

You might be wondering why there’s a giant fish tank sitting in the middle of the room.

Who would like to volunteer for a writing exercise?

Great, Janis—I had a feeling you’d raise your hand. Definitely take off the shoes, socks, and any jewelry. While you get ready, I’ll explain further…

Every day, no matter what, I wake up at 5 a.m., prepare a light breakfast, and write until noon—put this wetsuit on over your clothes, Janis… it’s actually mine so it might be a little loose… here’s some Windex and a rag if you just want to spot-check the inside.

Where was I? Ah, yes. In spite of my disciplined schedule, I sometimes fall into a rut, as all writers do. Consequently, I’ve devised some exercises, like the one Janis is about to try, that help me get into a more creative headspace while I’m writing.

Can somebody help Janis with those zippers? I usually need to wake my kids up for that—or my wife—small hands are best.

Challenging yourself with writing exercises on a regular basis is crucial to your development as an artist.

Here, Janis, climb up onto my desk so you can lower yourself into the water. Then I’ll hand you this typewriter.

In my book, You Can Write Prose like the Pros! (available at the university book store and also required reading for this class) I share thirty exercises inspired by quotes from great writers throughout history, and prove that you can write like a great author—if you learn to think like one.

Okay, Janis. Let’s see what you discover. Come up for air when you need it!

While she’s doing that, I’ll get us started on the next exercise.

Hemingway said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I bet you’re all curious why I’m hosting a blood drive up in the back row.

In fact, some of my students from this morning are still finishing up—stunning work today guys! Glad to see you’ve got your color back. Feel free to grab another cookie on the way out.

Wow, seems like Janis is making some very enticing discoveries.

[Taps on aquarium.]

It’s always so fun when a student has a breakthrough.

For the Hemingway exercise, five or six of you can participate at once, but first, who here is diagnosed with anemia or any blood borne pathogens? You can still participate if the answer is yes. I just need to know so that our Red Cross Volunteer can make adjustments.

Look at how Janis has fully surrendered to the exploration. She’s holding her breath under water while bleeding.

Or perhaps she just hit her head on the side of the tank.


Regardless, the purpose of this exercise is not to create a finished product. The “goal” is to challenge your comfort zone and inspire new ideas, which Janis has clearly accomplished. Result-oriented judgment will only hold you back in your process.

The final exercise is probably my favorite of the lot. Do I have a volunteer?

[Student raises hand.]

Fantastic—here’s a fishnet body stocking and some vinyl booty-shorts.

As Moliere once said: “Writing is like prostitution.”