Shutup30.1: Jibba Jabba


I usually celebrate April by doing everything at once, starting a new semester at work with a piece of writing a day. This year I’m getting my prompts from Shut Up and Write!

The first prompt asks me to

Fill each line with words, any words, following this pattern:

7 words
3 words
5 words
9 words
3 words
1 word
(blank line)

Eventually you’ll find yourself coming up with phrases. Keep going until you find yourself writing your first sentence, then stop.

I struggled with this because I kept writing sentences from the get-go. Sentences like

Tomatoes like yours don’t grow proud and
tall without hare-brained
schemes and madcap trellis work.


Your totalitarian heart beats ugly with vengeance,
a narcissistic lather
amplified by scathing scorn.

Who knows what any of that means?

In any case, I’m supposed to build up to sentences from individual words, so I tried again.

Whole hole full thick with dead beats,
teeming softly wetly,
grammarless grammaring grammarable grandma, rocking
her chair to dead beats, dead bats, dad bats – 
what a of

Yet again, I’ve inadvertently written a sentence (of sorts).

Turmeric tobacco yellow burned acrid brown fingers
calloused around you
where I hold you, where
you give yourself to me – you lift me up
into the clouds


Disassemble dissembling dissociate, down with
tenebrous tenterhooks, tantamount
terrors vomiting subject verb whatever
I am sociologically hardwired to give you clauses/ causes for
my failure again,

What I learned today: I can’t not write a sentence.


In pursuit of my Muse


I like to write. There’s no chaos of voices to cut through to get my point across, the words jumble themselves up less when I fix them down on paper, and pinning them down, I’m often as surprised as anyone to learn what I think.

But one thing I’ve found about writing is that it doesn’t happen on its own. Mine is a unruly Muse, and she ain’t nobody’s bitch. Sometimes she just ups and leaves, sometimes for months at a time. The longer she’s gone, the harder it is to win her back.

Absinthe - the green fairy

Are you… who I’m looking for?

There are those that will tell you that writing is like a muscle: exercise it and it grows stronger, neglect it and it grows weak. While it’s my belief that the aphorism that burns half as bright is twice as annoying, there’s probably something in it. It’s certainly more likely to lead to some kind of meaningful production than absinthe, much as the Green Fairy may resemble the Muse under certain lighting.

So, how to work those creative pecs? One way, and something I’ve been doing for about four years now, is using writing prompts: short, thought-provoking starting points that get the words out on the page without much regard for polish. When done as part of a writer’s gathering, it can be fascinating to see how differently people can interpret the same idea, and it’s not uncommon to expand and polish promising ideas: there are examples of this here and here.

What I’m proposing now, however, is to post my prompts sans spit and polish, be they good, bad or ugly. I’d welcome any ideas or feedback – let me know if there’s a plot idea you think I could run with, an image that resonates, or a word you think I should never, ever use again. And when I have a writing six-pack, my Muse will never leave my side.

Archive: the bedroom archaeologist

Old books

Write a dialogue between a cow and a cabbage, on the subject of vegetarianism

This time I really mean it: I am really truly going to tidy up my things. There are boxes and bags and random piles of things that have been slowly building up into geological strata over the last ten years, as I dashed around hither and thither like a headless chicken. But no more: the time has come to bring order to the chaos.

It’s a shame, then, that I keep coming across things that are far more interesting than tidying. Today’s pick is a wee book that must have been my grandmother’s, called ‘English papers for preparation or homework’. Published in 1931, it provides all the practice a young ‘un could need in identifying famous quotations, paraphrasing great works in a third of the length, and memorising at which school great English leaders were educated.

It also contains the following serious and thought-provoking exercises

* Write a dialogue between a cow and a cabbage, on the subject of vegetarianism
* Name six things besides cigars which should be kept in a dry place
* Write a short essay on the relative advantages of living a short gay life, and a long serious one
* Write a short essay on the uses of indiarubber
* Describe all that you could procure from an ideal penny-slot machine
* Suggest, and illustrate by a drawing, how a petrol-station might be in no way disfiguring to a picturesque country road
* Draw a picture in pencil or colours to illustrate the following incident from Plutarch’s “Life of Antony”…
* Suggest two wireless programmes, to be obtainable concurrently, so that a highbrow and a lowbrow listener can each be satisfied


From here on August 27th 2008