You have 10 minutes. Take out a sheet of paper. You should have more than one sheet of paper handy. If you don’t have a spiral bound notebook, or a notebook that is bound a different way that contains several blank sheets, make sure you have some paper in reserve. You will need more than one sheet. Use only one side of a given sheet of paper. Leave the other side blank. Your paper should be white and have lines.


The exercise is meant to get your creative juices flowing.


That is a good question. I’m glad you asked it, although I was just getting to that. Does anybody else have questions? Go ahead and ask. Please.

It’s also OK if you don’t have questions.


The answer? The answer is that spelling counts, but not really. Because this is your exercise and I am not going to judge it. I’m just going to read it. But if a word is misspelled or scrawled in such a way that I can’t read it, will you have gained more or less from the exercise? Hmmm? That’s a question for you.


Spelling counts in that if you want to express yourselves clearly, you will spell correctly.

Any more questions?


Spelling is important. Spelling is important but your spelling for this particular exercise will not affect your grade in this course. With the exception of perhaps the participation portion of your overall class grade in that a lot of misspelling might indicate a lack of enthusiasm cumulatively if you tend to be unenthusiastic in other areas as well such as attendance. Although attendance is also a separate portion of your grade. But if you don’t show up you can’t participate, can you?


There isn’t a set number I have predetermined. Let’s just say enough misspellings to indicate that you just don’t care about the exercise.

OK. The paper you use should be white and have lines. Do not use the blank side of a sheet of paper that was previously used for something else, such as a poster that advertises some event that has already happened and perhaps has some lame clip art on it and a slogan that is designed to catch the attention of passers-by with some aren’t-I-so-clever double entendre.


No, you cannot use that either. Put that away. Use blank sheets of white paper with lines. Borrow some sheets from Bonnie if you don’t have your own.

The ink your pen excretes as you write should be black or blue. Think of it like that. This is helpful. Think of your pen excreting ink — a natural process over which you have only limited control. Your pen is an organism. You are walking your pen across your paper, as if your pen were a dog that you own. People are like their dogs and dogs are like their people, right?




But your dog does things you wouldn’t do because of your societal conditioning. And not just excretion! It tugs at its leash. It barks at other dogs. It sniffs other dogs’ back ends. Your pen will do the same thing if you let it. So, during the exercise, let out that inner dog in yourself and in your pen, or that inner non-dog organism if you are a cat person or a ferret person or gerbil person or whatever.


No more questions.

If you don’t have a pen with blue or black ink, borrow one from someone else before the exercise begins. During the exercise, do not pick your pen up off of the sheet of paper on which you are writing except for very briefly between words.


Not more than one second. If you do not use cursive, you may pick up your pen between some of the letters that make up individual words, but try to connect as many letters as you can. Consider using cursive. You can use any writing style you wish, but I suggest cursive.


I write in cursive. John Updike uses cursive, I have heard. Toni Morrison and Natalie Goldberg also write in cursive. I am pretty sure that Charles Dickens wrote in cursive. Think about that. His books were very long, many of them. He wrote them in cursive. Peter Elbow and Paolo Friere probably would advocate the use of cursive. Use any writing style you like. No more questions.

When you switch from a sheet of paper you have covered with writing to a fresh sheet of paper, you may pause, but for not longer than two seconds. That is why I already told you to have some extra paper handy.

If you get stuck and you can’t think of anything to write, just write one word — the last word you managed to come up with — over and over again. You can do that for the entire 10 minutes if you wish, but this is your exercise and it is designed to help you, and I don’t think that would actually be very helpful so don’t do that. Just keep in mind that you could do that if you had to and that there won’t be any repercussions from doing that. That should put you at ease enough so you won’t actually do that.

When it is time to start I will say, “Start now.” When it is time to stop I will say, “Stop.” Between the time when I say, “Start now,” and when I say, “Stop,” which will be 10 minutes; you are on your own. You can write whatever you wish. I will collect all the sheets of paper on which you write and I will read what you write but I will not judge. I will not even comment. I will read what you write and mark it simply with a check mark, and I will make a notation in my book that you have done the exercise.

If you spell things incorrectly, or if what you write is otherwise amusing in an unintentional way, or if you reveal dark secrets about yourself like when Skip wrote last week that he was so ashamed to still be a virgin or when Lisa wrote that she has a big crush on Doug; if you reveal in any way your pathetic innocence or your irredeemable vapidity, I will not judge your writing and it will remain confidential. I will not show your exercise to my girlfriend and I will not even show it to anyone in my advanced teaching seminar.

Nor will I enter it in any of the secret contests among instructors that award prizes for the most stupid and the most unintentionally funny and the most tragic things written by undergraduate students. These are real contests that weekly occur at this institution, but I don’t think you should think about that as you write.

Just go where your thoughts and your pen take you. You are a happy dog. You are a happy cat. You are a happy ferret. You are a happy gerbil.

And I will not read your exercise to a drunken crowd at the Inn Complete, where undergraduates are not admitted. I won’t photocopy it and paste it up by the bar for everyone to see.

After I say, “Stop,” and before you hand in the exercise, if you have used a spiral notebook, make sure you remove the frilly edge from the side of the paper that results when you tear it out of the spiral notebook.

I can’t stand that frilly stuff.

It drives me nuts.

Are you ready?

Start now.