If ever your brain battery feels dead, this exercise will give you a recharge. I learned it in my Girls Write Now mentoring program and tried it out with Winkie Ma, my teenage mentee.
Start by generating a random list of 5 words. We used a smartphone set to Swype. Squiggle a finger across the keyboard and it’ll pop out a word. We took turns doing this til we had five words. (Half the fun is inventing new swyping patterns and seeing what words you get.) You can also use a website like this one to generate your words. Or there’s the pre-digital close-your-eyes-and-stab-a-finger-on-a-dictionary-page technique.
Now set a timer. You have 5 minutes to write something—anything—that includes all 5 words. To make it harder you can require that the words be used in the order they were generated in (we didn’t).
I’m not good under time pressure so was gratified by how quickly my brain woke up and produced a coherent piece of text for each set of words. And it was probably the most fun of everything we did this year.
Here’s our best set.
earth chap gecko omits kings
(I was impressed that Swype knew the word “gecko.”)
As climate change warms the earth, my skin begins to chap under the hot dry sun. Before long, I’ll be as leathery and warty as a gecko. And I won’t be alone. The sun shines on everyone—kings, queens, and commoners. It omits none from its intense, baking attention.
“That’s dark!” Winkie exclaimed when I read it to her. Her own invention was sunnier:
“Oh, Lizzy,” the king sighed, slumping into his diamond-encrusted throne. “You won’t believe the day I’ve had so far.”
The king’s gecko glanced back at him, its tongue flickering. The king took this as an invitation to continue.
“It’s been so hectic. Nearly the whole declaration had to be omitted because of how vile my writers are. Then, I lost my speech, and the media was not impressed. And just now, my subjects burned my robe!” he exclaimed, showing off the burnt edges of the silk. “It’s just been so long.”
Lizzy looked back and cocked its head.
The king smiled. “Lizzy, you’re such a down-to-earth chap. You’re my only true friend here. You know that?”
The gecko snaked its way to the king’s shoulder, and both of them took a nap in peace.
I particularly enjoy the way the same group of words evokes such disparate visions. It reminds me, when I feel stuck in well-worn phrases, that writing is infinite.
And so, it seems, are the varieties of geckos.