For today’s challenge, try a twist on a technique Ray Bradbury used to beat writer’s block.
Ray Bradbury, author of 11 novels, including classics such as Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, faced writer’s block just like the rest of us. Bradbury, in addition to giving great writing advice, busted writer’s block by creating lists of nouns — the basic building blocks of sentences, paragraphs, short stories, novels, flash fiction, memoir, and poems.
The beautiful thing about the noun list twist is that you can use it to nudge your muse when writing fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poems — anything you wish to work on.
In today’s challenge we’ll ask you to write a new post using some nouns from various sources.
The Bradbury noun list technique
In Zen in the Art of Writing (public library), one of these ten essential books on writing, Ray Bradbury describes an unusual creative prompt he employed in his early twenties: He began making long lists of nouns as triggers for ideas and potential titles for stories:
These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.
The lists ran something like this:
THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.
I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds. Glancing over the list, I discovered my old love and fright having to do with circuses and carnivals. I remembered, and then forgot, and then remembered again, how terrified I had been when my mother took me for my first ride on a merry-go-round. With the calliope screaming and the world spinning and the terrible horses leaping, I added my shrieks to the din. I did not go near the carousel again for years. When I really did, decades later, it rode me into the midst of Something Wicked This Way Comes.
As usual, you choose how you’d like to participate. Remember, you’re always welcome to adapt the challenge to meet your needs as a writer.
Your mission is to write a new piece that includes at least five nouns from one of the following sources. You can write a paragraph, a story, flash fiction, a poem, a memoir, — whichever you desire. Bonus points for a whole, coherent story/narrative within your piece.
And, now, to the nouns.
- Bradbury’s sample noun list. Write a new piece using at least five of the nouns from Bradbury’s sample list, above: The lake. The night. The crickets. The ravine. The attic. The basement. The trapdoor. The baby. The crowd. The night train. The fog horn. The scythe. The carnival. The carousel. The dwarf. The mirror maze. The skeleton.
- Your nouns. Create a list of at least ten nouns. (If you can think of more, great, you’ll have more nouns to choose from.) Write a new piece using at least five of the nouns on your list.
- Our nouns. Choose at least five nouns from the following list and integrate them into your new piece: The balloon. The squirrel. The river. The clown car. The thunderstorm. The Peking duck. The airplane. The mouse. The red rose. The French pastry. The wedding. The tombstone. The camper van. The bee. The caltrops.
- Phone a friend. Phone or text one or two or a few friends. Ask them to tell you the first three nouns that pop into their head. Compile a list of all your friend-supplied nouns. Write a new piece using five of those nouns.
- Random noun generator. If you can’t think of any nouns that inspire you, and your friends are screening you, get some help from the internet. Visit the random noun generator and compile a list of five nouns you’ll use to write a post.
- Let the bot supply your nouns. If you’re on Twitter, @reply the Twitter handle, @YouAreCarrying with the word “inventory” or simply, the letter, “i” and you’ll receive a list of items in reply. Here’s my list of items from @YouAreCarrying. Feel free to use my list, request your own, or compile a list from the bot’s replies to others.
No matter how you choose your nouns, have fun with the challenge! And remember, you can put Bradbury’s noun list technique into your writer’s kit bag so that it’s ready the next time writer’s block darkens your desk.