My Favorite Writing Game

writing-gameI saw recently on ye olde Facebooke that one of my favored professors from Evergreen has a book in a Kickstarter campaign by Starcherone Books. While of course I hope you all hop over right now and donate your twenty-five smackers to get his book, it would be foolish of me to think you would do so without a compelling reason. So first, I’m going to give you all something Steven Hendricks gave me.

Steven gave me a great many things; such as clever techniques for book binding, a doodle I can deliver on a cocktail napkin that suddenly makes post-modernism easy to understand, and the understanding that my unearned privilege comes at the direct expense of another soul’s power.

However, the best thing he gave me is a writing game.

We played this little game at our writing group, an oddball mix of professors, staff and students. All of us ridiculously earnest and playful both. So enraptured with this game was I, that I continued to play it wherever I traveled after my college years. Whenever people gather in some intimate place, I pull pens from my bag, start tearing scraps of paper and ask my companions to indulge me.

I have played this game with countless friends and writing groups since. I played this game with Yakuza in a Juso bar. I played this game with every would-be suitor and certain lover. I’ve played with young students, my kids, with retirees, with drunken conference attendees.

Each time is different, each game contains delight and at least a fraction of wonder. Steve’s gift to me, I now give to you.

Here’s exactly what you do.

1. Make sure every one has a pen and a scrap of paper.

2. Ask everyone to write a question, any question, that begins with What is…

This can be simple, such as What is this?, or complex, such as What is the reason the young man takes up his bag and sets to walking when his heart is broken?.

3. Make sure everyone knows to keep their question secret from their neighbor.

4. Ask everyone to turn over their paper so their question is hidden, then pass to the left (or right depending on your whim).

5. Without peeking at the question, ask everyone to write any statement that begins with It is…

Again, this may be simple or complex. It does not need to be connected to the prior question at all. The only rule is that it must begin with It is…

6. Once everyone has written their statements, they may flip over their papers and see the question.

7. Ask everyone to read the question they received and their answer out loud.

Before we read the results, I usually say something like this…
You just wrote a surrealist poem. When we write, we often already have some meaning or message in our mind. We search for the correct words or match our meaning and communicate our message. The game we just played, invented by the surrealist writers in Paris, reverses this process. We put down the words first, and get the meaning after. You, as the artist, have little control over the final product as you have no control over half your poem.

Most often, wonderful pairings arise in the little poems. Sometimes, the mix falls flat. If the questions are droll (what is your favorite color), then all the responsibility for compelling image falls to the answer.

I find that when we repeat this game multiple times, the pairings get better and better. Of course, alcohol helps the process as well.

So next time you meet with your writing group, or sit down for dinner with interesting people, tempt them into this game. If, like me, you find the results fascinating, you may scoop up the scraps of poetry after and keep them as mementoes.

Now that you have this game in your repertoire, it’s time for you to hop on over to Steven’s kickstarter. His book, Little is Left to Tell, will be published by Starcherone Books. The Kickstarter raises the much needed funds to enable the independent press to distribute and market the book effectively. Personally, I recommend backing at the $25 level or above so that you can receive a copy of the novel when it’s available. The book, like Steve, is certain to cause you to suffer a splendid case of wonder and perspective.

Be awesome and back Steven’s book now!

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