The main issue with writing a manual such as this is that one size does not fit all. Writers and writing groups differ around the world. To try to define them is like answering the old query – how long is a piece of string?
Some writers are novices wanting to test-run their first urges to put pen to paper; others are interested in honing the skills they have already developed. A few want to find their individual Voices; others want to transcribe a book already in their imagination onto paper, or to complete their memoirs. Some write in isolation, while others prefer to meet regularly in a writing group.
Groups themselves cover a wide spectrum. They have different time allocations and purposes. Some last for one hour, others are ninety minutes long, or some like North Coast Writers have the luxury of two hours. Some are classes in which members use the time solely to write. Others such as the group I facilitate respond to stimuli for approximately half the allotted time but use the rest to critique any work written throughout the previous week. I have even attended some groups in which the members critique each other’s work, and in which no stimuli are presented at all.
Consequently, stimuli exercises require varying levels of presentation. As a result, each chapter in the manual has been divided into four sections: Theory and Explanation, Examples and Challenges, a Suggested Stimuli Exercise, and Follow-On Activities. Read – or ignore – what you wish. I accept that these sections will fall prey to the ‘Goldilocks Effect’, being too long or too short, too detailed or too skimpy, but overall needing personal tweaking by writers at all levels. Please feel free to round off any square pegs to best suit your needs.
As you have read above, the examples given in the following pages have already been test-run on actual writers (though I assure you, no writer was injured in the process!) When you see the letters NCW in the rest of this manual, it refers to North Coast Writers, the wonderful body of Creatives with whom I work weekly. For the members of NCW, my aim in creating weekly stimuli was to produce the start of a first draft with potential, which could then be taken away and perhaps moulded into a more satisfying second or third draft. From time to time, with the permission of the authors, I have given examples of some of the finished pieces which resulted from this experimentation. I am delighted to say that these are only a few samples of the many and varied pieces which germinated over the last three years.
Finally, I fully acknowledge that providing stimuli is not enough to create inspired results. The enthusiasm, creativity and ingenuity of writers are vital ingredients which result in individual dishes of beautiful – and sometimes unexpected – tastes and textures to be shared and digested with much pleasure. I hope that some of the recipes here may provide you with many hours of fruitful production.
Happy Creative Baking to you all!