Magazine Feature / People

Author encourages writers to exercise

To hone their skills, Brian Kiteley might recommend writers try the Marlon Brando, the Bacon in Egypt or the Donald Rumsfeld. They are all exercises in his new book The 4 a.m. Breakthrough: Unconventional Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008).

“The idea is to trick yourself into creativity,” says Kiteley, professor of English at DU. The fiction writer has published Still Life With Insects (Ticknor & Fields, 1989), I Know Many Songs, But I Cannot Sing (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and is expecting a new novel titled The River Gods to debut in August.

Kiteley offers readers 200 writing exercises. He gives readers specific instructions and then some motivation or context for each exercise.

For example, here is an excerpt from the chapter in the book on writing patterns:

PARAGRAPHS AS CONTAINERS. Write five paragraphs of narrative about one individual who has decided to stop spending so much time with a gang of friends. Each paragraph should be about an isolated problem of this larger issue. All five paragraphs should have overlapping characters, but you do not have to follow one character all the way through the five paragraphs. Think of the paragraphs as tiny stories in and of themselves. Separate each paragraph by a space. 1,000 words.
“That’s the myth about fiction… that it is not assignment driven,” he says.

Kiteley says many writers do not believe in exercises. But, he thinks writers, just like professionals in other fields, become more creative exactly because of deadlines. He quotes Alice LaPlante, who says, “Psychologists and scientists are finding … that constraints, or limits in choices, are often more conducive to creativity than the blank page.”

Kiteley recalls a time when he was living in Seattle and he set aside time to write before he left for work.
“I often did my best writing in the last 15 minutes before I had to leave the apartment,” he says. From that experience, he learned that it is not always the quantity of time that improves writing.

“Writing even just a little bit every day is just as important as having big blocks of time to write — to stay in the mind of the story or novel,” he says.

Kiteley’s book is available at

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