SO, you start with a given sentence, actually one of the best known in 20th century fiction: ‘It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen’.

It’s the opening line from George Orwell’s 1984, but that’s not the important thing; it wouldn’t have mattered if it was a line from George Osborne’s first autumn statement, or from Not the Nine O’clock News.

The rules are simple: take those few words — whether or not you’re familiar with the book, and actually better if you don’t know it at all — and for 20 minutes of the most furious concentration you can muster, extend them into a new piece of work.

Go on, scribble. Put aside all thoughts of Big Brother (the sinister dictator in the book, not the ghastly TV programme. Actually, put aside all thoughts of that as well); put aside all thoughts of Room 101 (the scary prison cell in the book, not the ghastly TV programme. Hmm, there I go again). Just . . . scribble.

The point of the exercise is to loosen everything up. Start with an unfamiliar idea, one that you’d never choose for your own. Run with it; don’t let yourself think it’s not good enough, or it’s not good enough, or somebody’s done it before.

Don’t get it right. Get it written. And tell the inner censor to shut up, well and truly.

Get something on the page and you can always go back and fix it later: change it, rephrase it, improve it; throw it away and have another go. The important thing is, you’ve got something to work with; more — and better — than an empty page and a stewed forehead.

Twenty minutes isn’t long, whether you’re typing or writing longhand in your best illegible scrawl; my own effort didn’t reach 200 words and the last few lines were a blur.

But there was something there, something that existed, when 20 minutes earlier there was nothing. And because something exists, there’s also a small feeling of triumph: I did it. I made something out of nothing.

We were a select group last Tuesday evening, and not perhaps as diverse as we might have been. But even though we started from exactly the same point, the same words . . . you’d be amazed at the difference in the responses.

For one of us, the clock striking thirteen was The Leap Hour, that one extra every few years when ghosts walk and memories long-buried can’t be kept down any longer.

For another, it was a broken town hall clock that made all the rough sleepers in a run-down town scared of what would happen next.

For a third, it was a time in which everyone — everyone — should be absolutely silent and still, or face a terrible consequence, no matter who they are, how old or young.

Next month, when it’s a bright cold day in April and the clocks are striking thirteen . . . where will you go?

* Airedale Writers Circle is a group for amateur and professional writers of all ages in the Keighley area. Our monthly column is written by a different member each month, and the articles cover various aspects of writing, and reports of speakers at club nights.

If you’ve missed any previous Write On articles in the Keighley News, visit, click on What’s On, then Out & About.