What can you #write in Ten #Sentences ? #heywriters

I’ve been botching up taking an open online creative writing course from Iowa Writer’s workshop. It is in its last week, and after doing the first two classes, I mostly missed out on all the others. I traveled, worked on stuff at home, basically did anything but write.

I’ve missed the deadline for the writing assignment in the last class, so I thought I would make a fool of myself by doing it here, in public. Here’s the assignment:

Write a scene of ten sentences and include in each sentence a numeral. If you’ve reached ten sentences and you’d like to keep going, you can make this a scene of twenty sentences, or thirty — the idea is just to write within this pattern. Example: On the day my town flooded, I was ten years old. It was four o’clock in the morning. In the darkness, right before I heard the water coming, two roosters crowed.

Boy soldiers in Syria
A Boy Soldier: Copyright Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via the Guardian

And here’s my attempt:

Shut your mouth or I’ll kill you, he’d said, on day one at the camp, the day they brought his brother in. After a month, when opening his schoolbag, I found three packets of white powder, larger than the packs salt came in, but much smaller than the packs of sugar.

I found these in your bag, I said to him two days later, when I felt able to look him square in his bloodshot eyes.

He snatched them from my hand, slammed them on the table, and banged it with his stringy hands: You listen to me, woman, he said, though his thirteen-year-old body wasn’t yet as tall as mine, You listen to me good. I’m tired of eating your kabsa and your kushary, and I’m tired of Abba’s begging for rations– give me one month, and I’ll sort this all out.

You listen to me, son, I said, making the tremble in my voice a scream of anger, not fear, as my mind whispered the ninety-nine names of Allah.

I ignored the bulge in his pockets, tried not to think of the steel they hid, the two spitfires that made his voice so loud, and the new masked bosses who had given them to him.


Now there he lies, six months later, one dead body minus its head, the two spitfires on his chest, folded in prayer.

Shut your mouth, I tell the Mullah at the funeral, He may be the One and Only, but He has taken a mother’s sons from her.

They’ll kill me soon, maybe in twelve hours when night falls, but I’ll use each of those hours, each minute, taking my boys’ names, and I won’t take their names in vain.

So that was some fiction on my blog, the first time in six months, I think.

Have you ever taken an online creative writing course from Iowa? Have ever written exercises with constraints in mind? Did the constraints of my assignment overwhelm the piece above? Would you like to do a similar 10-line writing exercise (fiction/ nonfiction) and post it on your blog?

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !


Add Yours
  1. daydreema

    Here’s my attempt.
    ‘At some point I must have woken up- my hazy view of the stark white room clears and only ONE thought goes through my mind- I have to find my sister.
    As I jerk upwards to move I realise I obviously didn’t look well enough; there are tubes attached to my arms, legs, chest and neck, connecting to bags of liquid and TWO rapidly blinking screens. They must be sedating me, because my legs slowly start drooping downwards and my arms become heavy- I know what will happen and I count in my head: THREE, two-
    A door that I hadn’t noticed bangs open- FOUR men walk in and by now I am too tired to move: I try to scream no, but the only sound that escapes me is a pathetically quiet whimper.
    They’re coming closer, carrying something I can just about recognise, and then I remember my father’s voice: “Stay away from the lab, Jenna, this stuff can knock you out in FIVE seconds flat”.
    ‘Jenna’, so that’s my name- I could hardly remember anything from before I arrived here SIX hours ago. Where even was I- all I could tell from the large SEVEN on the door and the men with the syringes was that this was some type of hospital.
    The needle can’t be more than EIGHT inches away from my face when the memories start.
    I remember my sister- dancing in a field of flowers, the sun shining through her dark, thick hair- only NINE years old- what was it that I had said to her?
    “TEN minutes” I remember now “I promise I’ll be back, you stay here, don’t move- I’ll be back in ten minutes” I realise how many promises I have broken, and how I can never make up for it, just as the needle penetrated my skin- “Ten minutes”, I said- not knowing how wrong I had been.

  2. Steve LeBlanc


    I am in that class as well. Although I joined way late, following full knee replacement surgery. I only posted a few of the exercises. I found this particular exercise with the number in each sentence particularly bothersome. I hated the idea of making my work artificially difficult. It’s difficult enough on its own. I thought of the exercise as more trouble than it was worth. That is until I found an old story line I’ve been kicking around that worked quite well. So, much as I hate to admit it, the artificial constraint did open up some vast creativity. Although after I wrote it, I realized the exercise was limited to 10 or 20 sentences. I’m not sure I’ll have time to clean it up and post. I did however enjoy the exercise on opening lines and posted my work there. User SteveL

    I knew I was coming to the party late, and I’m glad I got to see the videos. You’ve done a great job of collecting friends for this blog. I read your post on how you did that. Good work.

    My own blog is woefully out of date.

  3. adriana

    This is a great writing prompt. I’m going to use it in my weekly writers group and perhaps it will inspire online sharing. It takes courage to share a prompt like you did for all to see. Nice work.

  4. hilarycustancegreen

    Brave you. Very impressive, both as an exercise and a piece of fiction. I started a creative writing course at the same time as publishing my third novel, as I know where I have some issues. I am battling with a short story, a form I rarely write. Good steep learning curve.

  5. Birgit

    I took a creative writing course many moons ago at University and there were formulas to work from and some were quite challenging. This was great and a sad way to state what does happen. Great story

  6. J.C. Henry

    I haven’t taken a writing course. I always wanted to though. The exercise looks like brutal fun. Your response was really interesting and worth reading.

  7. asarpota

    Damyanti.. Fabulous.. I am quite inspired to take up the course, and yes, can imagine the amount of brain racking I will need to do (no where close to a writer, am I), but I also know that If I do, with the places that I wonderfully committed to writing regularly, I will surely need 40 hour days.. Lovely read, wonderful concept, will surely keep this one on my to do list..

    • Damyanti

      The course is almost over, but you can go through the forum, and watch the videos. It was a wonderful refresher for me, and some very talented writers are chipping in, in the discussions.

  8. Sean McCann


    Ten sentences is a test of anybody’s story-telling ability.

    I’ve never tried to write a flash piece before. For some reason I find it daunting. I guess I probably need to read a lot first, to see how it works, the way that reading short stories helps in the understanding of how to write them.

    Iowa’s got some good rep and I like the idea of it, this little creative hub in middle-of-nowhere America, miles away from the metropolisisisisises of the east and west coasts, my nauseating image of a Ralph-Lauren-and-chinos geek-filled dystopian MIT, and even the lakeland southern belt. If I planned to study lit in America, Iowa’s probably where I’d want to be. Of course it’d be even better if buffalo still roamed the plains instead of combine harvesters. It would make staring out of the window at the ‘traffic’ more interesting.

  9. Lauri Kubuitsile

    It really shows your craft that the numbers disappeared. Good job! I think this assignment especially was an epiphany for me (the course in general was very good). I think I’m a writer who needs constraint. I find that my sentences in longer works like novels (as opposed to flash fiction, with the word count constraint) tend to be flabbier with less impact. I’m thinking in my next novel I’m going to purposefully impose constraints on myself to see if that forces me to pay closer attention.

  10. Joanna (Lazuli Portals Trilogy)

    That was ery effective!

    As to the constraints, yes: Friday Fictioneers (100 words), Seven Sentence Stories (our own ‘creation’), and, an idea from a local writing tutorial, choosing three words at random and incorporating them into a piece. I find having constraints – particularly as to length – helps to keep my writing ticking over when I’m feeling less than inspired or don’t have a larger project in the works.

    Thanks for this interesting post. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Deanna Willmon

    What a fun excercise. Nicely done! Thanks for posting. I’ve been in a group where we’ve chosen a book from a stack, took turns calling out page numbers, then wrote down 1-2 words from each page. Once we had 15-20, we wrote for 10 min and tried to incorporate them all. It’s great to hear all the different approaches. Yay uniqueness! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

  12. macjam47

    That was fantastic! I agree with Alex. I wouldn’t have noticed the numbers if you hadn’t mentioned them, but since you did, I was looking for them.

  13. Capt Jill

    good job! I think assignments like that can get the creative juices flowing. I’ve never taken any course from Iowa but I think sometimes the Daily Post has some similar challenging projects. I’ve done a couple of those. I think the main thing is to practice.

  14. amcmulin914

    Reblogged this on First Draft and commented:
    “One don’t talk to me like that,” he said. “Two, you put that that money back in your purse, and shut it up there. The women held the three things clumsily, the five grand, a phone, and here small purse.
    “LIsten John,” she said, “you been bugging me for five months for this cash. Now I give it to ya, and you eighty-six it?”
    “Listen Carol, you and Mike have owed me money for the last Twenty years, all right?”
    “Mikes, been in the hospital seven months, after five of those, I started hearing this all.”
    “Carol, lets be reasonable you take twenty-five hundred, and then you just give me a four or five dates, all right?”
    “You got me once John,” Carol said, “leave it at that.”
    “How about the hundred grand I put in that house?” She grabbed her pack of cigarettes out of the purse and fumbled and dropped four into the cup holder. John picked up one and sparked it.