Do you want to write about a scent memory but don’t know where to begin? Try these timed writing exercises provided by acclaimed writing instructor, Judy Reeves.

One tip before you begin: Generating writing is a different process from editing a completed text. In this stage, just let your pen (or keyboard) lead the way.

Exercise: The Scatterpage of Childhood Scent Memories

Part I
Duration: 3 minutes 
Take 3 minutes and begin writing a list of smells you remember from childhood. Start with a phrase or an image or just a few words about your childhood scent memories. Don’t think too much; just let one thought flow into the next without judgment. Once you begin writing them, and get your "thinking" mind out of the way, the intuitive memory will begin spilling over. 

Part II
Duration: Up to 20 minutes

Now, look at your list with fresh eyes and choose one of those images/phrases and for an extended writing. This can start anywhere, a detail of the actual scent, the time, place, anywhere at all. Take 15-20 minutes and see where you end up!

Do you like what you have? If so, post it here. If you want to keep exploring, go on to our next exercise.


Exercise: Association and Unraveling Scent Memories

For this exercise, which is adapted from one by Gabriela Pereira from her site, DIY MFA, we'll respond to several questions that will help us flesh out a particular childhood scent memory.

Part I
Duration: 2 minutes per question

  1. Think of a childhood scent that evokes deep emotions for you. Use your scatterpage as a reference. Write it down on a clean sheet of paper. Now, flesh out the following questions, in quick succession. (Limit yourself to 2-3 minutes per question.)
  2. Describe this scent.
  3. Is there a place you associate with this scent? What about this place? Is it significant? How? Write a few details of the place in addition to its smell.
  4. Is there a person associated with this scent? What is your relationship to this person? Again, write some details about the person and the relationship.
  5. Why does this scent remind you of this person or place? Did something happen? What was the experience?
  6. What is the emotional content of the scent memory? What is the feeling inside the memory?

Part II
Duration: Up to 20 minutes

Take the details you've uncovered or discovered and write a narrative, pulling in the details and expanding as you write.You can begin with any of the details you’ve written down. There is no particular order to this other than what makes sense to your narrative.

Do you like what you have? If so, post it here. If you want to keep exploring, go on to our next exercise.


Exercise: …from the random “pull one/pick one” bag of prompts 

Scroll through the prompts listed below. Pull one at random and write to that prompt. You can begin the exercise with "I remember the smell of…" if you need a prompt to get started. Remember the rules for writing: don't think, keep the hand moving, don't stop to edit or rephrase, just follow the pen. Give things their names: you honor people, places and things by naming them. Find the emotion in the memory.

If you can't respond to the prompt (example: it's something you didn't experience or can't relate to), then pull another one. Caution: don't turn a prompt away because at first glance you can't "think" of anything. Give it a moment… breathe it in and let it settle before you change too quickly.