For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #11: Guided By Voices


For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Are we all a bit hot and bothered from last session’s laptop romp? I’m new to the erotic writing game, and, well… it was fun! It all seemed a bit illicit, which was exciting—which made it less of a slog to get things going on the page. In spite of my own instructions I was still somewhat shy, but am looking forward to revisiting this challenge and continuing to bang away—at a keyboard! c’mon!—to get it right. Mastering the art of romance, between love and lust and lost inhibitions, is a delicate balancing act and dammit, I’m going to try to achieve something that reads as real, in some way or another.

#11: Guided By Voices

Write what you know is a common refrain for newbie authors, and in a lot of ways it makes perfect sense; you’re absolutely the only person out there with your very particular take on what’s what. Sometimes, however, sticking with that singular perspective is just too limiting. It can be easy to lean on your own life for creative inspiration but this can also become a kind of literary crutch. Or maybe you’ve found yourself adopting a recurring identity that just seems to appear once you sit down to start typing.

During my (pretty extended) all-Bukowski-all-the-time phase, I wrote a lot of small pieces from the perspective of lonely, middle aged men who were awkward with the opposite sex and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with themselves. Strange, perhaps, but it felt right for me so I kept doing it.

Narration with a new personality can be a revelation. A challenge, to be sure, but hell—we’re up for it, right?


  • Something to write with.
  • Something to write on.


Try out at least four different narrative voices. If you’re having trouble conjuring a character, keep your eyes open on your morning commute and pick the third person you see. Alternatively, nab someone you know but with a twist: your mom as a teenager, your best friend as a stranger, your first grade teacher as an assassin-for-hire. Anyone and everyone is fair game, just make sure they’re in some way unfamiliar to you.

Time commitment: 

Give each person (or place, or thing, for that matter!) at least 20 uninterrupted minutes to begin to breathe on their own. Think of it as a splurge, and don’t be too precious about the story or how eloquently it unfolds. Unite thoughts, actions and reactions, dialogue, and try to get comfortably lost in the process.

Recommended Reading: 

Start a book that is as far as humanly possible from your standard fare. Shake up your usual go-to genres and swap romance for sci-fi for non-fiction travel tales for beat poetry for something you’d never in a million years have pulled off the shelf were it not for this nudge. Start that book, and see what happens.

As always, if you’re just joining us here, now’s a good time to catch up on the previous posts in the series.

#10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

#9: Q & A & Q & A ….

#8: Cut & Paste

#7: Show & Tell

#6: Stop, Look, and Listen

#5: Take a (Mindful) Break

#4: Go Big

#3: Letters

#2: Prompts

#1: Pencil on Paper

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