Friday, January 28, 2011

Freewrite Friday: The Rules of the Game

Today I have a new exercise for you and an update on the Color Exercise.  

Take a leap of faith with me and try this exercise.  It's one I made up for myself one week when I needed to write a new poem for a reading I'd been asked to give.  This one's called  The Rules of the Game:

  • At the top of a fresh page in your notebook, write "THE RULES OF THE GAME"
  • Now, think of a game you played as a child.  It may be a game you still play now or it may be one you haven't played in decades, but it must be one you learned to play as a child or adolescent.  It should be one that you have strong memories of playing.  It could be a board game, like Clue, or a sport, like football or kickball.  It could even be a social game like Spin the Bottle.  That would be great for this exercise.
  • Think about how you felt when you played the game.  Who did you play with?  Did you like the game?  Were you good at it or terrible?  Did you understand all the rules or were they always confusing to you?  Did you like the people you played with?  Did anyone cheat?  Where did you play it?  How did you feel when you won?  When you lost?  How often did you play?  What other associations does it call up for you when you think of it?  (For example, when I think of Monopoly, I think of a neighbor boy who always cheated at Monopoly.  He drank Coke straight out of a 2-litre bottle, and he'd belch while we played.  What nasty associations, but how rich for a writing exercise!)  Let yourself remember as much as possible about the game and your surroundings when you played.  Tap into all five of your senses.  Did you eat while you played?  Did anyone get into arguments?  How do you feel now when you think of the game?
  • Now, imagine you are writing out the rules of the game for someone else to follow.  Write everything as if it is a hard and fast rule.  The important thing to remember is that these are not the "official" rules.  You can get wild with them.  In fact, you should get wild with them.  For example, if I were writing the rules for Clue, I might begin like this: "1) All players must pick a character.  Only one player may be Miss Scarlet.  Everyone will secretly want to be her, but only one player--the oldest and bossiest girl in the room--may be Miss Scarlet.  2) If any player disputes this for more than five minutes, she must be forced to play Mrs. White from now until the end of time.  3) If there is a cute boy in the room, he must play Professor Plum.  4) The girl playing Miss Scarlet must secretly dream that Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum are in love and planning to elope after this stupid game is finished."
  • You might find that the rules leap from the game itself to your associations with the game.  For example, if I were writing the rules for Monopoly, I'd be making some serious rules about burping neighbor boys who cheat.
  • You might also find that the rules leap right out of the past: "The girl playing Miss Scarlet must grow up to be an investment banker who marries and divorces five men in her quest to find the real Professor Plum."
  • I'm writing about this in a joking way here, but the rules can be quite serious.  For example, maybe one of the people you used to play this game with is no longer alive.  The rules might become rules about how to survive without him/her.  That's what happened with my poem the first time I tried this exercise.  I'm not saying this exercise has these results every single time I do it, but I am saying that you can use it to jump start either a poem or a piece of prose that just might surprise you.  Also, there's no need to turn this into a poem.  It's a great exercise for prose, too.  I just happen to write a lot of poems.  In fact, you can read the poem I wrote here.  If you do, you'll see what I mean about letting yourself get wild with the game rules.  Just remember that the poem has been revised significantly from the original freewrite, which I've lost, sadly.
  • One of the reasons I think this exercise can really work is because it taps into childhood, that time when we were building relationships and learning to negotiate rules, both written and unwritten, spoken and unspoken.  We were watching carefully, learning how the world works, learning our own strengths and limitations, and learning, too, that even with rules, most games, like life, aren't always fair.
  • Take risks with this; write from your gut.  No burping, though.  Let me know how it goes.

Color Exercise Inspiration
The talented m. heart from Secret Notebooks, Wild Pages has shared her Color Exercise.  Read on for inspiration:  

The springtime sky was a cobalt bowl holding young leaves who stole their hue from the skin of Granny Smiths. It was kick-off-your-shoes weather, the grass a bright, inviting carpet, the whole park suddenly drunk on sweet chlorophyll. Beneath the spreading branches of an ancient Elm an old woman dozed on a park bench painted the color of fir trees on a gray afternoon, and a young mother tugged her toddler off the lawn by his soft, pale wrist, glancing scoldingly at the soiled knees of his pants as she hoisted him upright. At the sight of them Ishya squeezed her armload of library books a little tighter against her chest, a quick, sharp pang of envy rising from her gut and spreading its prickly heat towards her face. 
"Don't look back, don't look back, don't look back" and she didn't, rounding a corner instead and disappearing behind a bank of dense, leafy shrubs whose every bud was waiting, impatiently, to bloom

Thanks to everyone who is playing along and trying out these exercises.  Some of them may feel odd or uncomfortable or even just plain hard.  I hope so.  Writing well is never (well, almost never) easy.  But as my friend Christine says, "It's hard because it's worth it."


  1. This week-end is all going to be about letting myself go wild, "feel the fear and do it anyway", Thank you Gigi for so much inspiration.

    m, heart got my favourite colour down to a tee.

  2. awesome. just awesome.
    as i read m. heart's writing, i realized that both she and you actually presented more of a painting to me ... a vivid picture that was filled with the colour without actually pointing to it ...
    a lesson i learned simply by reading ... rich.

    some real food for thought as i take on the rules of the game ...
    hmmm ...
    let the games begin, as they say ... : )

    tally ho for now ~

  3. oh, i see that oiuja board photo, and the memories of my teenage years! i do like these prompts. sometimes writing is hard for me, and sometimes it comes fast and easy. i have just started a new blog, and hope to be writing more soon. thank you for these prompts and for getting our creative wheels turning!

  4. I absolutely love these exercises, Gigi. I look forward to them every week!

  5. Thank you for still inspiring me! This was a fun assigmnent!


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