Playful writing: I’m thinking of…

This is the first in a series (hopefully) of posts on playful writing. This post was inspired by Chuck Sandy’s Teachers as Students iTDi blog post, “Learning to play: A writing lesson learned late”. In his post, Chuck underlines the importance of playfulness in writing. He shares advice he received from his university writing teacher, to write mounds and mounds of junk. To write “for the joy of writing”. This is what I would like my students to do, too.

I read an article recently about writers and their influences. The author aimed to show that many writers claimed that their writing styles were influenced by classic authors, but their love of writing was influenced by what he called “low-brow” stuff: comic books, choose-your-own-adventure novels, best-sellers with shiny covers – compared to Shakespeare and Shelley: junk. Written, perhaps, for the joy of writing and read, no doubt, for the joy of reading.

And so I am going to slowly work my way through Chuck’s 10 playful writing activities for the joy of writing (and so as not to ask my students to do something that I can’t do myself). I hope that reading doesn’t bore the pants off of you.

photo by alexkerhead retrieved from (Creative Commons)

Photo by alexkerhead, retrieved from (Creative Commons)

I am thinking of poetry. I am terrible at understanding poetry. I am terrible at reading it. I am terrible at writing it. It is a form that makes no sense to me. But I love having it read to me. I love the sounds of the words as they flow from someone’s lips to my ears, caressing the air in between. I love the rhythms as the words dance on the page. But I don’t understand what it is trying to say in my mind. I have no images formed, or only the bare essential images – the literal meanings of the words themselves. 

When I was a child, in the third grade, to be specific, I fancied myself quite a poet. I kept a notebook of poems and I wrote more every day. Now I realized that it must have been the mound and mounds of crap type of poems. I remember showing them to my teacher. I think her name was Mrs. Hoy. She read my notebooks and told me that the poems had no depth. They were nothing special. They just rhymed. She was right, actually. I wasn’t writing from my heart. I was writing from my head. Rhyme and meter were more important than meaning to me, and I was much too young to have the sort of experiences a real poet writes about, or at least to process those things. I never showed her my writing again.

I started writing again in the 6th grade. It was a terrible time for me – I couldn’t get along with my family and I couldn’t figure out how to make them see me as the adult I felt I was becoming. My father and I fought bitterly, ending in me sneaking out at night and making longer and longer journeys away from home during the day until I ran away completely. Maybe I was just being dramatic. Certainly I wanted attention. But I also was a lonely child and I wrote poetry and letters never intended to be sent. As I grew up, I became embarrassed of that time of my life and burned it all. It’s all gone now. 

Now I write blogs and stay away from poetry. I realized the truth in what Mrs Hoy said: I don’t really have any skill for poetry. I can produce a poem following rules of rhyme and meter, and I can teach my students to do the same, but I can’t give them my own examples of profound work. They, on the other hand, astound  me with the creativity of their own work all the time. But I don’t dare branch out from forms that I have some control over – diamante, haiku, cinquain, limerick, sonnet. Writing should have rules so that half the battle is easy to win.

I’ve become more interested in stories than poetry these days. I enjoy reading, writing, and telling short stories. And I have always and still do enjoy listening to stories and being told them. My students know now to expect, after an absence longer than a weekend, to expect the question: “How is everything? Tell me a story.” Some of them have long stories to tell. Some of them keep it short and sweet. One class has decided that our next unit will be storytelling, so that we can all learn to be better in the art of crafting and presenting stories.


And my ten minutes is up. Impressions: it was not easy to write on demand. It was not easy to write continuously for ten minutes. It was nearly impossible not to backspace and rewrite when there are errors. If I were using a pen and paper, I would cross out as automatically, I’m sure. I don’t like showing off my mistakes or the places where my brain and my fingers are out of sync. 538 words of unedited stream of consciousness: what came out of my head tonight when prompted to write.

If I do this writing task with students, I would shorten it to 5 minutes, I think. Or maybe start at 3 and work up to 10 over a year or two. Sometimes thoughts just won’t flow, so I’ll need to give them strategies for how to keep writing when you are (or think you are) thinking nothing. Maybe something along the lines of “I hate this stupid writing task. Why are you making us do this…”^^

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  • Hana Tichá  On October 27, 2014 at 3:22 am

    What an interesting challenge you chose to try with your students, Anne.

    I really love your story, which to me seems well-thought and well-organized despite the fact that it was supposed to be the low-brow stuff kind kind of writing. 🙂 I think I actually write the way you describe in the post, except I look back to correct errors or sometimes rearrange paragraphs to give my post some sense. I can never wait more than two days to post what I’ve written; I mostly hit the publish button straight away and that’s how I actually practise mounds and mounds of junk. 🙂 But I’m not ashamed – that’s the nature of my blog – a kind of stream of consciousness, so to speak. I’m surprised when bloggers sometimes mention that ‘they started this post three weeks ago’, for example. I think I could never come back and relate to what I started such a long time ago. I’d probably delete most of it and wrote something brand new instead.

    Obviously, there are some types of writing which you can approach this way. I remember how terribly frustrated my MA thesis made me feel. Well, I’m not planning to do anything like that again!

    I agree that people should really write for the joy of writing first before they toy with other, more demanding styles, because otherwise they may never find the love at all.

    I’m sorry to hear that your teacher once discouraged you from writing poetry. The fact that you believe that she was right clearly proves she shouldn’t have done it.


  • Hana Tichá  On October 27, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Yeah, I hit the publish button too hastily again and found two errors in my comment. Well, take my comment as an attempt at careless playfulness 🙂

    • livinglearning  On October 28, 2014 at 12:51 am

      I did not see a single error as I was reading, and I’m not tempted to go back and read your comment like I would a student’s essay. 😉

      Thank you for sharing your blogging habits – very similar to mine, actually. There are times I have drafts in waiting, but mostly they are just ideas for posts, not full posts. When a post is finished, I don’t usually wait to publish it. Well, sometimes I wait for the courage to publish it or feedback from my one or two go-to readers if I’m feeling particularly vulnerable.

      I love your blog, by the way, and I love the way you play with language there. I can’t always keep up with you, but it’s always worth going back and reading old posts when I have time.


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