This afternoon I started working on a new writing exercise from the amazing Rachel Mckibbens. Rachel is one of the best writers I’ve ever read/seen and also, is a brilliant teacher. She comes up with these incredible writing exercises and whenever I need a inspirational leg-up, her blog is one of the first places I visit.

I’m also a big fan of lists, lists of things to write about, poems in the form of lists, grocery lists, lists of ways to be a better friend, cook, son, terrarium maker. So of course, this particular exercise is like heaven. You can read about it here. The table I’ve been plucking away is over there on the right. I can’t wait to see what comes out of it, and Rachel ain’t kidding when she says that part-two can be a stumper.

Another exercise I love to do is this one (the idea for this comes from Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down The Bones). I recently taught this exercise to a couple classrooms full of high school kids, and it was amazing, to watch them eek some pieces out of their new collections of words.

Here’s my interpretation, give it a go!

Take out a sheet of paper and fold it in half, hot dog style. Place it on the table so the crease is on your right. Now, write down a list of ten (or twenty!) Nouns. Any ole’ nouns’ll do, even proper ones (in fact, I have found these can be pretty darn interesting. See: Florida).

After you’ve got your list, turn the sheet of paper over so the spine of the page is now on your left. Try to forget every noun you’ve just written down. Now, write a list of verbs. Again, any verbs will do. Ms. Goldberg suggests that if you want a challenge, to try thinking of an occupation and using only verbs that describe that occupation. Like, for example, a chef: Saute, chop, sweat, broil, strain, etc.

After you’ve made both lists, unfold the page and check out what you’ve got. Woah! So many random words, right? Go ahead and take those nouns and verbs and link em’ up in a sentence. try two or three sets at first.

Examples: Nouns: Morning, Poem, Phone Line, teeth
Verbs: Screech, Cough, Sob, Scream.

I cough phone lines into the morning.
She sobbed teeth screeching poems.

Take it a step further and use more than one set of verb/noun per sentence. Use all the verbs and nouns you’ve listed in a sentence (or two!). Pick your favorite one (shoot, pick the simplest one, the most unexpected one, the one you loathe, even). Flip the paper over, and write that gem of a sentence at the top. Now use that as a prompt and write from it for 10 minutes.

I recommended not going more than 10 minutes your first time out. You’re sticking your toes in here and feeling around for some pebbles at the bottom of your artistic heart. Ten minutes takes you in there, but not for so long that your toes go numb. However, if you’ve really got a rhythm going, why not? There aren’t really a whole lot of rules here. Which is just another reason to love writing. You can also disregard everything I’ve said and just do whatever you want! Please, do whatever you want.

As for this giant table of words and I, we’ve got a hot date for a 10 minute session real soon.


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