While interviewing someone today, the topic of writing practice came up. Someone–I won’t tell you who–was reading Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, and loved Goldberg’s short, 10-minute exercises that just jumpstart you rather than give you a bunch of rules.

One of my favorite writing starters is The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel. So today I randomly pulled out a card that said “Ask a Question,” and read the corresponding primer that suggests lines from Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child can help you through every stage of the writing process:

“I have six humble serving men
They taught me all I knew
Their names are what
and where and when
and why and how and who.”

Epel suggests building a character using those ‘serving men’ as your guide. Who is your character, and where does s/he live? What is his/her passion and flaws? What does s/he eat for each meal? Where does s/he relax? Aim for specific needs and desires, or fears.

Then, ask “What if?”, and your story will be on its way.