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 Writing with Workarounds 

A writing exercise 


1. Close your eyes and imagine that you are riding on a long-distance train.


2. Keep your eyes closed and let yourself settle into the experience of riding this train: the view out the window, the feel of the upholstery, the smells, the vibrations of the moving train.


3. With your eyes still closed, imagine the person seated next to you on the train. This person is a stranger. Notice this person’s appearance: their apparent age, gender, ethnicity, clothing and body type.


4. Now open your eyes and write a description of this person.

THE RULE FOR THIS EXERCISEThe description you write can only include what this person is NOT.

For example, you can’t describe their clothing, hair, face, manner.

If you need a phrase to get started, some options...

He/she/they had no...

Nothing about this person...

Being around them, I did not feel...


5. Now close your eyes again... and imagine a conversation you have with this person sitting next to you on the train.

   Let yourself hear their voice, see their mannerisms as they talk and listen, their gestures. Feel what it’s like to be in this person’s presence.

5a. Now open your eyes and write 5-10 sentences describing the conversation.


  • You cannot write what this person says.

  • You cannot write what you say.

  • You cannot describe the person as they behaved during the conversation.

You can only write what the conversation was not, what the person did not do or say, what it did not feel like talking to them.

6. Keep writing the scene on the train using the same approach.


A. Begin with “He/she/they was nothing like ________”[a person you know well].

Then write a long, winding sentence (even a run-on sentence) about the person you do know, describing them, and digressing into a memory about them.

B. Begin by writing what you don’t know about the person sitting next to you, and what you really would love to know.

7. The train comes to a sudden, unexpected stop.

Write what the person sitting next to you does NOT do when that happens.


Write how you (and, if you like, other passengers) react to what your seatmate does not do.

8. Reflection

Look over what you’ve just written.

What was easy or hard?

What gave you energy or was fun?

What ideas does this exercise spark?

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