Site icon Michael Wheatley

Exercise Eleven: First Thoughts

The Art of Writing Fiction Michael Wheatley

‘Think of the person you are closest to in the world, the person whose life you know the most intimately. You are going to write for fifteen minutes, describing in detail what you imagine that person to be doing (and thinking and feeling) at this very moment. Write in the present tense, and address it to ‘you’… No one is going to read what you write – not your teacher or your classmates, and especially not the person you’re describing’.

Exercise Eleven of Andrew Cowan’s ‘The Art of Writing Fiction’ moves us into the third chapter: Automatic Writing. An exercise favoured within early Modernism, automatic writing is meant to tap into your unconscious and bring to life ideas you didn’t know you had. As Cowan puts it, ‘the stuff that you don’t know you know’.

Being a blog, Cowan’s disclaimer for this First Thoughts exercise is unfortunately rendered moot; instead of nobody reading these thoughts, anybody can. However, I’ve decided to adapt this exercise. Truth is, as is hopefully clear by now, I can write. I’ve got a First Class degree in writing, so you and I would both hope as much. What this means, however, is that exercises like the following one I will take liberties with. So rather than an endless tirade of ‘you’ and a stream of unintelligible nonsense, I’ve crafted what came from the automatic writing process: not a lot, but enough.

Find my completed exercise below:


Exercise Eleven: First Thoughts

You don’t know where you are right now, but at least you’ve escaped the heat.
You’re in a holding room, waiting for the next step.
You’re alone, but you’d be okay with this, wherever you are or wherever you’re not.
You’re in a holding room, waiting for us to say goodbye.

You’re in a holding room, but you won’t be for much longer,
and then… I don’t know where you’ll be,
but I miss you, and I love you,
and I know you’ll be okay.



I quite enjoy automatic writing, but this exercise came at a time when my thoughts are all largely centered on the passing of my grandmother. How this exercise differed from what I expected of automatic writing, however, is that it remained writing with constraints – freeing the unconscious, but freeing it only to do one thing.

As such, as an additional exercise before the next of Cowan’s, I am going to do a broader exercise in automatic writing to compare whether the presence of a guiding subject is helpful or hindering. Previously, freed from the shackles of ‘you’, for instance, automatic writing has led to fully formed works such as ‘A Nightmare’. I can’t help but feel I should give my unconscious a chance to roam free.


Next: 12 Hour Automatico

Missed a post? Catch up here.

Exit mobile version