Writing Exercises

Writing Exercise: Newspaper Headline

This exercise uses a newspaper headline as a starting point for a piece of writing. It’s not about trying to write something perfect or even interesting, just take a headline from a newspaper or online and see what ideas it triggers. Allow your pen to go with the flow of whatever comes up and write for 15 minutes.

I did this exercise a while ago and found the following in an old notebook. It’s kind of silly, so I thought I’d share it to show that you don’t need to write anything meaningful or good. Just let rip!

I picked: The Handbag of God

Burning Handbag“An actress talks about playing Margaret Thatcher. Comparing Thatcher to God is overdoing it a bit. It feeds into the woman’s vanity. But still. If God carried a handbag, what would he/she/it carry in it? What essentials would God not want to be without? Tissues, certainly. For all those unexpected spillages and the tears. Oh, the tears. So many tissues would be needed that the handbag would have to have capacities similar to Hermione’s bag in the Deathly Hallows. Some kind of magic (would God resort to such crude methods as magic?) makes the inside of the bag as large as you need it, like the TARDIS, but still light enough to carry. What else, beside infinite tissues? I can’t think of anything else…

This is absurd and it’s not working. It’s a stupid bloody idea. As if God would carry a handbag. I don’t even carry a handbag, well not really. It’s just got money in it, and plasters, and painkillers, and my address book, and a notebook and pen, and sunglasses in the summer and gloves in the winter, and a woolly hat. But it’s not a handbag really. It’s not got any hands in it.

And why would God need to carry a bag? Surely he/she/it could create whatever it needed on the spot. Not using that crude magic, of course.

A brick! That’s always useful. If you need to clobber someone or break a window.

Some people, normal people, would have a mobile phone. Of course, God wouldn’t need one of those either. He/she/it can beam thoughts and ideas directly into anyone’s head at any time. Free of charge. No magic required.

I don’t have a phone in my bag. Not because I have magical powers of telepathy, but because I don’t want any old person ringing me up all times of the day and night expecting me to be available.

God never considers that, of course. Just pops up, says his/her/its bit and buggers off again. Doesn’t think about the consequences. What will happen when all these people who’ve been spoken to by God get together and compare notes? The history of the world is your answer. So God leaves his/her/its handbag at home.”


I’m not going to even try to explain or analyse this. Moving quickly along…

Notepad smallYour turn! Choose a headline from a newspaper, magazine, TV report, or online and write something loosely based on it. Or you can use one of these:

A Chewy Problem

Time and the River

Thou Shalt Not Hug

There’s no need to address the content of the article connected to the headline – just take the headline and run with it. Avoid headlines that are too prosaic or obvious, and go for something poetic or imaginative. Write for 15 minutes.

If you’re feeling brave, share the results in the comments below, or write it up on your blog and share the link. I look forward to reading your ramblings!

Image: Handbag

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