Writing Assignment: Write Starting With A Randomly Selected Word

by Randy Murray on March 7, 2014

One of the key motivations for my creation of Writing Assignments was to help writers overcome the “what should I write?” dilemma. Too many writers stare at a blank page/screen and find themselves frozen, stuck.

Thaw out. Unstuck yourself. Simply make up your mind to accept an assignment and write.

I’ve been thinking about that lately. It is that willingness to write that is key. If you are willing, just for a moment, to forget about writing something important, something uniquely yours, you might be able to write something good. And that may lead you to doing the work that you really want to do.

Boiling this down to a simple model, this is it: select something random and write about it. And that’s what we’ll do today.

For today’s assignment, locate a printed dictionary, flip it open, and place your finger on a page. Select the first word on the page where your finger rests and use it as the basis for a short essay. One hundred words should do the job, but don’t limit yourself if you find yourself on a roll.

You may simplify this assignment by limiting your starting word to nouns.

Take your word and write. Don’t overthink it. Don’t be too clever. Select your word. Read the definition—the whole definition. Then think about it for a moment and see what comes to your mind. That’s what you’ll use to write.

Make a few quick notes. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the little ideas fade away, so you have to note them as they come. And then write. Get out of your own way and write.

This can make an excellent warmup exercise and it has the added benefit of improving your vocabulary.

It’s also a great excuse for you to go out and buy a dictionary. As much as I love having access to many online dictionaries, there’s nothing as grand as taking a printed dictionary in your hands and thumbing through it. Online dictionaries, for the most part, only display the word that you’re looking for. There’s little reason or opportunity to explore.

But a printed dictionary! You’ll never know the true meaning of the word serendipity until you’ve lost an hour to a dictionary (which you’ll learn, of course, by looking it up “serendipity” and seeing something else on the page that’s interesting and useful).

Writing Assignment: Write Starting With A Randomly Selected Word by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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