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Writing Tips Thursday: A Plate of Russian Kale

This is an oldie but goodie. I came across a version of it recently in an article in Writers Digest by Leigh Anne Jasheway, and thought: It’s time I pulled this out of the cabinet under the sink and played around with it a little. Here’s how it works:

1. Open a document on your computer and divide the page into five columns. (If you prefer to use pressed sheets of cellulose pulp and a pen, that will work equally as well).

2. At the top of each column, write a word: who, what, where, whenwhy.

 3. Pick words at random to fill in the columns. All right, you can’t really pick random words, not in the scientific sense. What you can do is take a book off your shelf, open to a page in the middle, close your eyes and put your finger down: The word your finger lands on, that’s your random word.

However you do it, you should put at least five words in each column: five who’s, five what’s, etc.

You now have five sentences. Usually, these are not sentences any sane person would write, which is the whole point. For example, one I got was:

A plate of Russian kale left the sawmill at 8:00 p.m. because the keys had been left in the ignition.

4. Now take your nonsensical sentence and write. See what you come up with. Does it pull together into a narrative? Can you shape it into a poem? Can you make it make sense? Or beautiful nonsense? 

What you end up with will be an inspired short work of exquisite originality and luminous insight. Or else, not. Either way, it’s fun and challenging and stimulates your creative juices. Give it a try.