I STARED at the blank sheet of paper. What on earth could I write on it? Only 50 words were required and I had fully 30 minutes to set these down.

There was a catch: the length of such prose or poetry had to be exactly 50 words. I had only myself to blame, for it was my own suggestion to set this exercise for the September 12th meeting of the Airedale Writers’ Circle.

It was unnerving to see others scribbling away while I had yet to pen a single word. Panic set in as my mind flitted between different plots and story lines.

Then I reasoned it might be best to cogitate anyway for a while on what I was going to write, as it wouldn’t take long to jot down a (roughly) thought-out piece, with time then to spare to trim it back to precisely 50 words.

There was no stipulation about what to write about and the results of the group’s efforts were fascinating in their variety.

Road rage was the basis for one member, although the frustration expressed was not directed at another motorist, but rather at those roadworks where for miles a lane is cordoned off but no work at all is in progress.

Frustration also prompted another member’s contribution, in describing the difficulties she had experienced in trying to talk to a living, breathing person about her computer’s misbehaving.

Another member composed what she called a “nonsense” poem. It had an appealing see-saw rhythm based on alternating between “she said…” and “I said…”.

Two members wrote charming reflections of childhood memories while another provided a Goethe poem, both in its original German and in English.

The former was only 24 words long but the latter ran to 36 words (and yes, so ten past the target), a striking example both of Goethe’s economic use of language and how much meaning can be compressed into a single word in German!

As for myself, I imagined a dialogue that prompted the sign that was seen outside an outdoor-sales shop that read “Now is the discount of our winter tents.”

None of us had written a prize-winning piece. It would take quite a lot more time to reshape and revise our scribblings into submissions fit for entering competitions.

Rather, the aim of the exercise was to first stimulate us into composing something and then to encourage us to appraise all that we had written, to weigh every word for its value and so decide whether it should remain, be deleted, or altered.

Such tight editing maximises the impact of not only poetry but prose too, but it does take time – hence the remark “I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have the time” by one Blaise Pascal in the seventeenth century.