mini writing workshop – rewrite the rules

This is an exercise from ”Play-Full Writing’, a workshop I gave in March for Touchstones Creative Writing Group. Full blurb for that workshop is on the sporadically updated Writing Rochdale blog.

This is a fifteen – twenty minute (or however many minutes you would like!) exercise that I’ve written up as a self-led activity. Any questions please drop a message in the comments box below and if you’d like to share your work I’d love to read it. One of my favourite things about running creative writing sessions is the magic that comes from a blank page to a page full of ideas, potential, and wonderful words.

Resources

You will need something to write and record your ideas and work with – PC/laptop/phone/tablet, paper and pens/pencils, audio recorder.

Part One: the games we played

I’d like you to think about what games you played as a child. At home, at school, in parks, elsewhere. I’ve offered some suggestions below but feel free to add yours. If possible, think about games that either had rules with them or rules that you made up. Jot these rules down as you go. Set a timer for 2 – 5 minutes for this or just go until you can’t think of any more.

  • Tag (run!)
  • British Bulldog (run FASTER!)
  • What time is it Mr Wolf? (“DINNERTIME!”)
  • Football / netball / anything with rules plus a ball
  • Elastics/Jumpsies (one of many primary school chants: “Eng-land, Ire-land, Scot-land, Wales / in-SIDE, out-SIDE, donkeys’ tails”)
  • Card games (playing cards, Top Trumps, Pokémon, Magic the Gathering…)
  • Board games (sometimes it’s wet so chess seems a good option until you realise that the lad from the year below has demolished your King in five moves… just me?!)
  • Clapping games
  • Roleplaying games (let’s pretend we’re aliens)
  • Computer games (Pong, Space Invaders, Mario Bros., Sonic, Tony Hawks Pro Skater, Assassin’s Creed, Nethack etc.)
  • It’s all about tree climbin’, mud slidin’, brook leapin’ action
  • I’m sure you can think of some more – have a think! Give yourself a few moments and list them.

Part two: the fun we had(?)

Now, delve deeper into your own experience. I would like you to think about how the games made you feel. Pick one, or two of the ones from your list and jot down your memories. Have a think about the others that were around to if any, think about them too. Again give yourself two – five minutes to think about this.

Part three: put it all together

This final part is all about freewriting. So give yourself ten minutes minimum on a timer and consider the following within your piece that you’ve already considered above:

  1. What are the rules of your chosen game?
  2. What are your memories of the game?
  3. How could you change the rules?
  4. What could be the effects of this on the game / on other players / on you?
  5. What happens next?

Write a poem or piece of prose, if you get stuck, write the name of the game over and over until you can carry on. This is your first draft so don’t worry, it won’t be the final piece if you want to give it a polish.

To set you off here’s a slightly more polished draft of a poem I wrote using this exercise that you can download here: British Bulldog, March 2020 and you can hear me reading the poem on Soundcloud via this link. This is the third draft of what was a ropey first draft with lots of repeats. If you would like to polish your work, give yourself a further twenty or so minutes for the next draft. And then the same for the next draft. (Because writing is rewriting!)

Good luck, and if you do give this a go, and want to share it, please do so in the comments below :-) If you’re commenting on someone else’s piece, please be kind and constructive. Remember: it’s not the person, it’s the work you’re critiquing!

the write way up

Yes, everything is kind of f*cked but there’s still writing to be written and stories to be told. Some reflections on a month of writing every day while staving off the quotidian existential dread.

At the beginning of June I dusted myself off, avoided reading news headlines, and took a few things in stock. I have tried to move beyond the feelings of: “Jeez, this thing really IS going to kill everyone we’ve ever known and ever loved, and OMFG everything really IS shit, n’est-ce pas?” to a kind of acceptance that this is the way things are at the moment, to do my bit and follow the science rather than the spin-the-wheel-of-random advice from the current UK government. (AKA the cabinet of the contrary: “we’ll clap for carers but buggered if we’ll test them for CV19 or give ’em any PPE”. And, seriously, what’s with the  Berlusconi levels of machismo/pointless willy wanging push-ups? Our current PM is looking less like a Winston Churchill <em>Stars in Their Eyes</em> attempt and more like a thatched cottage after a rave.) I am worried that three weeks after “Super Saturday” the Nightingales may be at capacity. I have also been trying to avoid the horrific foaming racists on Twitter (report and block, report and block, report and block ad infinitum). For the avoidance of any doubt: black lives matter and do consider supporting the amazing black curriculum campaign and initiative.

And, finally, finally, finally, I *think* I’ve pulled myself out from that self-absorbed sad feeling of: ‘now I’m two years post-PhD viva everyone has moved on, and everything within that field is so beyond me that I’m less on the sheep dotted fringes and more floating just off the continent of WTAF’. I know it’s on me and I’m playing catch up in my reading, and doing the research and redrafting and updating my work from 2018 (see below).

Right, slightly ranty and rambling update out of the way for now and onto the creative process and progress goodness. During June I took a free course provided by Writers HQ (go and click on that link; they’re great) which was called ‘Couch to 5K Words’ (#C25KWords) riffing on running without breaking a cardio-related sweat. This was mostly to kick my arse back into a semblance of a writing habit again. Oh, and to work on what I think might be a novel. Like a proper novel. Like not one that might sit on my laptop and gather pixellated dust (looks at the ‘Ley’d’ file: 50,043 words of something). I have always thought that I didn’t have a novel in me but this time I might be wrong. Anyway, it’s sort of sci-fi/fantasy (naturally), climate crisis concerned (because stories are ostensibly about what it is to be human, this is a huge crisis and it involves all of us to process it and try to mitigate in whatever way possible), could be considered YA/crossover (if you want to simplify reading into banded ages and, spoiler, I don’t believe in banding reading in ages), and set in Manchester (but of course).

#C25KWords included daily prompts and writing exercises focussed on working up to 25+ minute writing sprints which I appreciated. I’m an enthusiastic fan of sprints; I discovered this while working on the writing and rewriting of my PhD thesis. I work better in focussed sprints, it might not work for everyone but it suits my easily distractible brain. (Oo, robin on the bird feeder! *looks out of the window*) Writers’ HQ also provides free dedicated fora in which to share victories and frustrations with other writers. Did I mention that I think they really are great? While I should have been running a writing working shop today – and, LOL, it was going to be focussed on “travel writing” – it’s lovely to find an online community of writers in (temporary) lieu of actual bodies in a room/outside. There are certainly pros and cons around online interaction (see, for example, Alicea Lieberman & Juliana Schroeder (2020)), however, it will do as a temporary measure until we can run physical writing workshops again.

As for Writers’ HQ online workshops? Well, I’m now toe-deep into the next course – yes, I bought a membership which I’ll offset next year as part of my freelance work – and it’s helping me to get my structure together for the novel. Who knows where it will go, possible nowhere, possibly somewhere. We shall see and I’ll add notes on the writing process as this interests me when I read / see others talking about their creative processes. (Plus, as a nerdy but precarious academic, I am fascinated by practice-as-research / research-as-practice so I would like to share some of my learning post-PhD in this area as well as continue my own learning.)

And I’ve kicked out a couple of pieces for consideration. Fighting the fear that seems to stop me with getting work, and words, out there. If you’re writing, or making art, I hope that it’s going well. If not, I am sending gentle thoughts your way.

Next Thursday there will be a writing exercise which I ran back in March (AKA what feels like five years ago). Until then happy writing, happy reading, happy causing a ruckus against all the bad things.

WiP it good! (Writing works in progress for July / August.)

  • Blog post on Ashenhurst Pond (this will go up once I’ve researched some more, I’ve found a few maps but this will be a wait-until-the-libraries-reopen-job).
  • Tidying up some flash fiction for this year’s Mslexia competition.
  • Folklore piece (might film it, might not, depends how confident I’m feeling).
  • Slow progress on an article for an academic journal (for me, not as part of current PDRA role which does involve collaborative journal writing) which could be a long shot as I need to get up to speed with what’s been going on (see above).
  • Continuing work on a collection of short pieces inspired by fairytales  – this is a passion project / creative procrastination activity – and I’m taking my time with it.
  • Getting back to collaborative projects…