I give assignments in my writing classes because it's hard to make something up out of a clear blue sky. Two pages is all I ask, and it doesn't have to be a story. It doesn't have to be anything. It can contain a character who shows up out of breath. It can contain a lake and a bunch of swans. There can be conversation or silence. It can take place entirely in the dark. I have learned we do better when we're not trying too hard—there is nothing more deadening to creativity than the grim determination to write. At the very least, assignments can provide a writer with a nicely stocked larder, and some notion of where the mind goes when it's off its leash. And once in a while, if we're lucky, an assignment helps you find that side door into a story you've been staring too directly in the eye.
From Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir (2008).