This abecedarium is a playful list of playful ideas for writing (and making any kind of art, for that matter). I originally created and/or collected these twenty-six activities or book recommendations as a gift for a friend and have created this new version as a gift to all you others who are important in my life or for anyone who stumbles across this page.
Collected from many sources, reinvented, adapted, some invented from whole cloth, I offer these to your playful spirit. I first produced these as part of an annual solstice book project i've been doing for many years. In that book the descriptions are extremely brief. I will be adding to those descriptions with more fulsome activity descriptions and also including links to things i mentioned. If you are a writer, educator, or artist who does workshops with others, then feel free to include these in your work and, of course, adapt them as you wish. And also, check back here as I will be updating these descriptions in the coming weeks and months as well as adding new activities and recommendations.
Also, by way of introducing these items, I highly recommend checking out the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules.
A is for Alphabet Sentences (forthcoming: Acrostic)
Write a sentence in which each word follows the other in alphabetical order.
B is for Brick (500 things to do)
Make a list of 500 uses for a brick
C is for Cherita (forthcoming: Corita; Commonplace Book)
A cherita is poem of three stanzas - one line, then two, then three - that tells a story. Created by the Malayan poet ai li, cherita is the Malay word for story.
D is for dian marino
Wild Garden: Art, Education, and the Culture of Resistance - https://btlbooks.com/book/wild-garden
E is for Exquisite Corpse (forthcoming: Epistle; Eavesdropping; Earthblanket)
With a group, each person writes a word or sentence on a piece of paper, folds the paper to hide what they wrote, and passes it on to the next person to do the same.
F is for Free Writing (forthcoming: Fable; Fairy Tale)
Write continuously for 3 or 5 or 10 minutes without regard to grammar and never lifting the pen from the page.
G is for Gatha (forthcoming: Galeanos, Gaiman, Ghazal)
The Buddhist gatha is a short poem to practice mindfulness about daily activities. My preferred form is inspired by Robert Aiken's The Dragon Who Never Sleeps: Verses for Zen Buddhist Practice, 2005.
H is for Haiku
Haiku is a seventeen syllable poem of three lines (5 syllables, then 7, then 5), is usually a poem about nature and contains a seasonal reference.
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland
J is for Jobology
In a group, make a list of "jobs" held by your parents, grandparents, and ancestors as far back as you remember or know, then post these and compare.
K is for Kinhin (forthcoming: Kintsugi)
Buddhist walking meditation, often practiced between rounds of sitting meditation or, for writers, between rounds of writing.
L is for Listen: Being Gorgeous by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Write a paragraph to a page of narrative that’s meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect—any kind of sound effect you like—but NOT rhyme or meter."
M is for Mad Draft or Messy First Draft (forthcoming: Memoir; Muses; Morning Pages; Meditations Marcus Aurelius; Mesostic)
"Write an entire draft quickly and freely." - Louise Dunlap The Mad Draft is written quickly and without regard to grammar and punctuation. Consider it the lump of clay a sculptor throws down that is then carved, added to, shaped into the final work.
N is for Nonet
A nine line poem, the first line has nine syllables, the second eight, and so on until the last line has one syllable.
O is for Oblique Strategies (forthcoming: On the day Your Were Born; Once Upon a Time)
Created by musician Brian Eno and multimedia artist Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies are a set of suggested constraints (usually published on cards) to encourage serendipity/lateral thinking to assist artists, musicians, writers, et al overcome creative blocks.
P is for Grace Paley (forthcoming: Parrhesia; Prompts)
The Collected Stories by Grace Paley, 1994
Q is for Questioning poem (forthcoming: Queering it)
A questioning poem is one that alternates between two voices asking and answering questions. Identify two voices, e.g. your younger self and your older self. Alternate the voices from questioning to answering. What would your younger self ask you? What would you like to ask your younger self.
R is for Random Generator (forthcoming: Rubaiyat; Riddle; Remix)
Open a novel or short story collection to a random page and choose the first complete sentence you read. Use this sentence to start a scene write for five minutes then delete your borrowed sentence and substitute it for you own.
S is for Senryu (forthcoming: Self-Writing; Ruth Sawyer)
Senryu, similar to haiku, is a seventeen syllable poem of three lines (5 syllables, then 7, then 5). But where haiku is focussed on nature, senryu focuses on culture and can often be satirical.
T is for Tanka (forthcoming: Thamus and Thoth; Thumbnails; 3-minute stories)
Tanka is 31 syllable poem of five lines (5 syllables, then 7, 5, 7, and 7). It is often a form used for love poems.
U is for Unseen Object
have someone fill a bag with random objects for you. Reach in and find an object and without removing it from the bag, write a description of what you find.
"Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of." - Item 6 from Kurt Vonnegut's list of advice to writers from Bagombo Snuff Box, 1999.
W is for Weekly Dailies
Write a poem a day - short or long but shorter can be quicker. Learn some short forms like haiku, cherita, senryu, etc.
X is for Xenonyms (and endonyms)
Endonyms are the self-designated names to describe one's people, hime, language and so on. Xenonyms are non-native names for geographical locale, a group of people, a language. Xenonyms are often pejorative. Make a list of ten xenonyms and endonyms for a particular locale or people, e.g. indigenous people. For example, Iroquois is the xenonym for the Haudenosaunee.
Y is for Why? Why? Why?
Pose a question and write an answer to it for three or four minutes then look at your answer and ask "why?" and answer it for two minutes and repeat this four or five times or until you are fed up. Examine your answers for patterns.
Z is for Zuihitsu (forthcoming: Zazen Writing)
Zuihitsu, meaning “following the brush,” is a form of Japanese personal essay writing. Ideas are loosely strung together, can meander, can reflect on personal surroundings, can include poetry. See East Wind Melts the Sun: A Memoir Through the Seasons by Liza Darby, 2009. Or The Pillow Book (tr. Ivan Morris) by Sei Shonagan, 1971.