Weekend Assignment: Strokes of Genius

Last week while traveling, I was stuck in a hotel room channel surfing while my hubby hogged the computer to feed his newfound Angry Birds addiction. (Yes, we keep him cloistered, so it takes awhile for things like AB to filter in.) I happened to stumble onto one of Bob Ross’s televised painting lessons. I’m always fascinated by how quickly he can add a few simple strokes of paint to a canvas and have a finished work.

Ross’s painting style reminded me of an exercise from Writer’s Digest contributing editor, Elizabeth Sims, in “10 Fast Hacks for Fiction Writers” Her exercise involves painting a scene in two strokes and though it was intended for fiction writers, I think it translates well for creative nonfiction as well.  Though the whole article isn’t available online, a portion of it is excepted in the Writer’s Digest editor’s blog by Jessica Strawser (scroll down to #2). For those who don’t have time to click through, I’ll sum up the exercise:

Use two “strokes” to describe your scene. Stroke 1: Use a sentence to show something visually. Stroke 2: Write a sentence that evokes one of the other senses (sound, taste, smell, or feel).


Dingy sailboats bobbed gray on gray against the dock of the marina. The coming storm kicked up a salt spray that tasted like tears.

You can read a couple of other examples by following the link above, but I think you get the gist.

If you combine Ross’s painting style, and Sims’ exercise with my latest “shiny” — images on flickr commons, you get this weekend’s assignment. Go browse the historical images on flickr, and choose a photo that speaks to you. Using Sims’ two-stroke method, paint a scene for a reader. Since practice makes perfect, whether you are painting with a brush or with words, add this exercise to your routine and use it regularly. Maybe we won’t all turn into Bob Ross-style wordsmiths, but the act of stopping to condense our descriptions into two sentence masterpieces can only make us better writers in the end.

Have fun, and happy writing!

2 comments on “Weekend Assignment: Strokes of Genius

  1. I’m glad my article prompted your imagination. I like your ‘salty harbor’ example!

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