Sunday, 3 June 2018

Writing about inanimate objects - by Fran Hill

Who hasn’t said, at some point, ‘I wish I knew what my washing machine was thinking.’?

Here I am to tell you how to find out, with a writing exercise that helps you to do so.

Writing about inanimate objects is one of my favourite ways to produce a piece of writing that, ironically, ends up with something to say about the human condition.  

Why not have a go?

Step 1.

Read Sylvia Plath’s poem called ‘Mirror’. Here’s a link 

In the poem, Plath gives a voice to the mirror into which a woman looks. The mirror describes how it feels, being ‘rewarded’ daily by a woman in despair who is never happy with her reflection, and angsts about the ageing process. But I am objective, claims the mirror. I just do my duty. Still, the woman complains about me! What's a mirror to do?

You can hear the mirror’s sense of injustice. And who can blame it? Even a woman who looks like a terrible fish should be more grateful for faithful service, surely.

The poem cleverly explores a woman’s fear of ageing via the thoughts of the mirror. And that was Plath’s goal.

Step 2:

Choose your inanimate object. Don’t think too hard. Your front door? A bunch of keys? The fridge? Your phone? A cupboard? Bottle of perfume? Teddy bear? Or … your washing machine?

You cannot choose your wife, husband or children. They do not count as inanimate, however much you wish they would do more around the house.

Step 3:

Ask your object questions and write down its answers. Get your object chatting and sharing.

Here are possible questions:

When did you first meet your owner?
Where are you situated and why? How do you feel about that?
When do you and your owner interact most?
What are your best and worst times of day and why?
What do you think you represent for your owner?
In what ways are you and your owner alike or different?
What would you say to your owner if you were being really honest?

Step 4:

Reshape the object’s answers into poetry, prose or perhaps a piece of drama. It’s up to you. You don’t need to use all the answers. Select what seems right. Re-order the ideas to suit. See what develops. 

Step 5:

Share your writing with someone, perhaps in the comments below.

An example - my piece about my teacher's planner: that indispensable diary that contains my teaching life

She hugs me to herself because she knows what would happen if she lost me. I am her oracle, her Delphi, her reassurance. When she was a trainee teacher in 2002, she was given an unused 2001 planner which had ‘Nigel Bates’ written inside the front cover – trainees got the dregs – and she had to alter all the dates herself.

So, the first time we really got to know each other was during the summer holidays before she took up her first proper teaching post, and she kept repeating ‘My own planner, my very own planner!’  I think she had forgotten I would represent, in the names of 180 children litanied in my registers at the back, and in the five yawning spaces per day yet to be filled with lessons, a job in which she would flounder like an unpractised swimmer in an irritable sea.

She is very like me in some respects. Her favourite colour is purple and my cover is purple; though I didn’t get a choice over this, I’m willing to accept it in the light of her affection. Some planners are beige and although the idea of a teacher’s planner hierarchy seems absurd, I do think purple wins over beige, not that you’d know this from the Paris fashion shows.

Also, like me, she has blank spaces. In her fifties now, she knows her memory isn’t what it was, and just as she finds the sight of my many blank spaces frightening on a Sunday afternoon, so she is afraid when a name wriggles out of her consciousness or someone’s birthday skitters by her before she can grasp it as she used to.

I live in the rucksack she carries to and from school each day, squeezed in alongside Year 8 English exercise books, copies of Macbeth, and her sandwich box with last night’s Chinese rice in it. It’s not a bad life, but I know I’ll be replaced and, in September, she’ll stroke the front of the new one, just as she stroked me once.

That’s kind of hard to take.

Fran is a writer and teacher living in Warwickshire. You can find out more about her and her work by going to her website at 


  1. This is brilliant, as ever, Fran! I can't tell you how much I laughed out loud at the inanimate object part. It was as if you had been a fly on the wall in this particular house on this particular afternoon.
    I shall have to give this exercise a go...

    1. I thought that might strike a chord with some ;) Do give the exercise a go. I look forward to reading it. Perhaps you could write one about the washing-up and how bereft it feels, just sitting there, and present the piece to your family ... No pressure, or anything, but THE WASHING UP IS WEEPING.

  2. Brilliant! You've made me care about a planner!! Superbly written x

    1. Thanks, Mrs J. The planner will feature as a main protagonist in my new novel. Planner of the Apes? - a sci-fi drama in which a teacher's diary takes on an invasion of alien beasts single-handedly? Something like that?

  3. Great post, Fran. Good fun! I must admit I've not talked to my washing machine. Am now wondering if I should (and what my husband will make of it if I do)!

    1. I think this is a rite of passage you should definitely undertake, Allison ... I look forward to hearing the results.

  4. Oh I love this. Thanks a mil x

    1. Thanks for reading, Annmarie. Are you going to have a shot at the exercise? :)

  5. I loved it! Have just read the poem and to be honest, this line made me chuckle, Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall. It is pink, with speckles.' I once wrote an ode to the talking microwave when I worked for the RNIB, must dig that out. Thinking between writing one on the fridge or one of our dog's leads.

    1. Yes, you can almost hear the mirror yawning with the tedium of it all. I think letting your dog's lead talk about its feelings and experiences sounds like a fabulous idea!