Random Combinations

Kind of boring title, right? But ‘combinations’ is a frequently-used British name for the long underwear also known as a ‘union suit’. It’s funnier when you know that, right? Long underwear at random! I’m picturing it falling from the sky onto people’s heads.

Random combinations of words can be hilarious. For example, I was playing Word Jigsaw on my iphone – it’s a fun game, if you like words – and the five six-letter words it threw up last night had me in stitches.






I swear I’m not making this up. I had to show it to my husband to prove that I didn’t start laughing in the middle of his political rant for no reason!

And then I started trying to fit the ‘double galley’ into it. Is it a reply to the claim of ‘Beauty before sodomy’? A strange slang expression meaning that someone has both qualities? An enthusiastic endorsement of both qualities in the abstract? is ‘Double Galley’ the person being told to step aside for beauty? Or is ‘Galley’ someone being informed that the speaker is ‘double’? I couldn’t decide which I liked best. But I’m pretty sure an exclamation of ‘double galley!’ is going to crop up in my writing somewhere.

Years ago, frustrated by the absolutely appalling quality of my handwriting, I started actively trying to improve it. I bought myself a fountain pen (because they, like bow-ties, are cool) and started just filling page after page of my notebooks with random words for practice. Sometimes I’d just do whatever word came into my head, but sometimes, to make it more interesting, I played a game I dubbed ‘in context’. I would write down a word, then add another word that potentially made sense following that word, then a third that made sense with the second word but not with the combination of first and second. Say ‘cherry pie chart’, this being the first example that came into my head, or ‘lugubrious tone deaf’. And then I’d keep going, with repeated words not allowed. Longest ‘sentence’ I managed was about thirty words, I think. You guys know I don’t care for writing exercises, but this one was fun as a challenge to my linguistic flexibility.

I really should put it into a Writercise ‘workout’. Playing with words is a great way to limber up for writing.


Back on topic

So, this is supposed to be a blog about writing. A subject I should probably get back to.

But first, what do I do before writing? Well, if I remember, I Writercise!

Writercise started out as a joke. My NaNoWriMo group was going on a weekend retreat to Stradbroke Island (yes, that’s right, the Brisbane NaNoWriMo group gets resort retreats!), and those of us assisting the MLs were helping to organize activities. ‘Writercise’ was suggested, it got a laugh, and somehow I wound up volunteering to do it. I came up with a series of stretches and a couple of little writing exercises intended to help any writer get started on the day’s work. So here it is! The Stradbroke Island NaNoWriMo Writercise program. *

1. Stand up straight, and stretch your arms wayyyy up above your head until you’re on your tiptoes. Hold for a count of five, then slowly bring them back down.

2. Keep going down, slowly rolling your spine down until your torso and arms are hanging limp. If you can touch your toes, go ahead, but don’t push too hard if you can’t. Just go down until you feel the stretch in your hips/lower back. Hold for a count of five, then slowly come back up.

3. Stretch your arms out to the sides, straight and level with your shoulders, extending as far as you can. Hold for a count of five, then lower them slowly. Repeat.

4. Put one hand behind your head, then slide down until it rests on the nape of your neck or between your shoulder-blades if you can reach that far. Use the other hand to tug gently on your raised elbow to extend the stretch. Hold for a count of five. Repeat with other arm.

5. Hold out arms in front of you, fingers locked together and arms level with shoulders. Turn the palms of your hands out, and push gently, fingers still locked together. Hold for a count of five, then lower arms. Repeat.

6. Cross one arm across your body, at shoulder height. Use the other hand to grip your fore-arm and pull the arm closer to the opposing shoulder, so you feel a stretch in your shoulder and upper arm. Hold for a count of five, then repeat with the other arm.

7. Finger wiggling jazz hands!

Now sit down at your computer for the writing exercises.

1. Keyboard mash! Just wiggle your fingers around and mash away, to warm up the fingers a bit. I usually keep going until I have three or four lines of gibberish on the page.

2. Pick a letter, any letter, and give yourself one minute to write a sentence containing at least seven words starting with that letter. (Two minutes for the really hard ones like X) If the sentence makes sense, give yourself a pat on the back.

3. Close your eyes for the visualization exercise. Picture a blank page, free of words. Then picture one word rising up in the middle of the page, any word, like a fish rising to the top of a flat pond. Then another word, and then a third. Then imagine the page tilting a little, and a waterfall of words rising up and spilling down the page, filling it slowly from the bottom, the words coming quickly and easily and marshalling themselves into sentences and paragraphs, the page filling up with text. Then open your eyes, and you’re done!

The idea of Writercise is to come to the keyboard with your arms and hands relaxed and warm, ready for typing, your mind clear and ready to be productive – and, with the exercises, to be able to start with something other than a completely blank screen. Leave your exercises up there to start with – you can go back and delete them when you’ve filled a few pages and gotten the ball rolling.

Those who prefer to write by hand can skip the keyboard mash in favour of scribbling a bunch of swirls and squiggles on an empty page to warm up the pen hand. Other than that, the exercises are pretty much identical.

* Please keep in mind that I have absolutely no background in exercisey things, and did this purely for fun. Follow program at your own risk!