Thursday, May 30, 2013

4 x 30 = 120


At the 2012 Conference on College Composition and Communication, Doug Hesse, Nancy Sommers, and Kathleen Blake Yancey led a discussion on a writing exercise they'd assigned themselves. For an hour a day on each of 30 days, these three scholars reflected in writing on a different everyday object each day. In their conference abstract, the scholars ask "What may be learned about the evocative power of objects from a sustained attention to them? How do objects reveal or conceal their origins? And what may we learn about the acts of composing from a sustained project over thirty days?" As they put it, the activity challenged the "traditional boundaries between personal and academic writing."

Three of us (Kobject, Lobject, and Pobject), all engaged in academic writing in some way, were energized by the idea of this activity and decided to try it out for ourselves. On each day in April 2012 each of us wrote for at least 30 minutes on one of the 30 objects we'd chosen in advance. Each of us had a hand in putting this list together, each offering 10 objects to add. Though we each wrote on every object on some day, we generally wrote on a different object each day. (While Kobject chose her objects with intentional order, Lobject and I chose ours by random drawing each day.)

We didn't confine ourselves to any particular writing process or genre; we ended up writing short fiction, personal essays, poems. Moreover, we didn't erect boundaries between the objects' stories: for example, Lobject's ladle responded to mine quite sharply, and my pudding elicited a response from Kobject.

All three of us who took part in this activity (Kobject, Lobject, and Pobject) learned a good deal about each other and ourselves, and about the things we surround ourselves with. Moreover, we produced a good deal of writing we were very proud of. I honestly feel some of the poems I wrote for this project are among the best I've ever written (I'm very fond of "Penguin," for instance). It was one of the more exhilarating creative experiences of each of our lives, and we've since used it as the basis for classroom exercises in a wide variety of courses.

The experience was such a positive one that we decided to do it again, and we invited others to join us. Sadly, our only taker was Dobject, a student in Pobject's Honors colloquium on language evolution in Fall 2012 and his course on Oulipo and constrained literature in Spring 2013. He's an incredibly talented writer, an undergraduate major in creative writing at UNC Asheville. Welcome, Dobject!

The rules of the game have changed slightly: instead of choosing 10 objects each, we decided that we'd each select 5 each of people, places, and things, and from these lists we'd assemble a master list of 10 people, 10 places, and 10 things, on each of which we'd each write on some day in June 2013. And instead of writing for at least 30 minutes, we decided it might be more fun to write for 30 minutes, and no more. We feel this constraint may help to create rawer, more authentic writing.

We're still working on our master list, and once it's put together we'll post it as a preview. Know, though, that the fun starts on Saturday, June 1st. Please feel free to follow along, and, if you'd like, to write something of your own in the comments!