The Alphabet Writing Challenge (It’s Not As Easy As It Sounds!)

The alphabet is there to be played with.

A while back I started setting myself short writing challenges. By doing so, I hoped to inject some fun into my blog whilst also providing ideas for anyone whose writing might be stagnating.

Creative writing should be just that: creative.

Doing something a little bit different can shake things up and help break you out of any rut you may find yourself in.

Experimenting and playing with language by imposing constraints and limitations means you have to take time to think imaginatively in order to find a solution. Find ways to focus your thinking and force yourself to pay attention to your craft. Give yourself time to play with written forms and you’ll soon see the benefits.

Here’s an example.

In this post I have set myself the alphabet writing challenge. Just in case you hadn’t noticed thus far, having started this post with the letter ‘a’, I have continued every subsequent sentence with the proceeding letter of the alphabet. Knitting it all together is where the creative wordplay comes into its own.

Let’s consider the uses for an exercise like the alphabet writing challenge.

Most would agree that, on the face of it, this is little more than a contrived piece of writing that serves no obvious purpose.

Nevertheless, by restricting the way you start your sentences in order to structure your writing, however contrived it may seem, demands creative thinking and considerable attention to detail.

Originally I set out to write twenty-six paragraphs, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, but I didn’t think this would amount to much of a challenge. Perhaps I was a bit hasty in changing my parameters down to twenty-six sentences, but there you go.

Quick as you like, my change of approach made writing this post infinitely more challenging – a problem with an ambitious outcome bound by a significant constraint.

Really, when compared to the other challenges I’ve set myself in the past, this one has required the most thought and creativity. Some letters of the alphabet do not naturally lend themselves to a starting berth in a sentence.

This is when you need to get really creative.

Up until this point it hasn’t been too bad. Varying sentence structures has been essential. When you get to the end of the alphabet though, it gets pretty tough.

Xylographs are engravings on wood, apparently.

Yes, that last sentence was extremely contrived, but this approach to writing is a great way to expand your vocabulary, and it’s a necessary evil if you are to stick to the form (just don’t do it too often, otherwise you risk entering the realms of nonsense).

Zenith achieved!

26 sentences, each beginning with consecutive letters of the alphabet. Not as easy as I first thought. But an enjoyable lexical challenge nonetheless.

Give it a go.

Share your efforts with me in the comments section below, or via my social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).

Happy writings!

 

Gareth

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Get your writing into shape. Quick creative writing tasks to experiment with every day.

Triangles. Diamonds. Squares. Get your writing into shape.

Writing should be fun. It should be a source of creative enjoyment. But sometimes you can hit a rut. Writer’s block. Stagnation. So it’s important to have a few tools at your disposal to help you break through the wall and knock your writing back into shape.

These quick writing exercises will do just that.

Shape your writing!

Syllable Symbolism

Writers have always imposed constraints on their work to inspire creativity. And the use of syllables to impose a structure or limitation on your writing is a firm favourite.

There are many established forms based around syllable length: Iambic Pentameter, Haiku, Tanka.

These are some of the more easily identifiable verse forms. There are, of course many more. It just goes to show the importance of imposing restrictions on your work in order to develop creative responses.

So, borrowing from traditions of syllabic structures in writing, I’d like to propose the following three techniques to help you whip your words into shape, and have fun doing it:

1) It’s hip to be square

Turn  your  words   into   a  square.
Set      a      syllable      length     per
line  and  stick  to  it  as  best   you
can. Going down you should then
use   the   same  number   of   lines
as     you     have     used    syllables.
In      this      case     it      is      seven.

Ok, so this example might not look like a square, but that’s not the point.

It IS a square.

A 7-syllable by 7-line square.

Restrict yourself to a set number of syllables per line. Whatever the number you determine is, make that the number of lines of writing you will allow yourself in order to create your text.

2) Now try angles

There’s a pattern emerging here (excuse the puns).

I
will try
to show you
exactly    how
this writing technique
works, demonstrating how
you    can    use    syllables   to
shape      a      text.      Continually
add one more syllable to each new
line  of  text   so  it  forms   a   triangle.
Narrow   at   the   top   and   ever   widening
as you progress towards the bottom of the text.

Again, this is not an exact visual science. But we’re not looking for exact visuals.

This is just another way you can inject some fun and creativity into your writing by using syllable structures.

The objective is to work within the constraints of the form and challenge yourself to think of creative ways to harness the restrictions of the form.

3) Diamonds are forever

                                                          Just
                                                       like the
                                                      previous
                                             form, this writing
                                           technique relies on
                                          adding syllables per
                                      line of text up to a point,
                                           before beginning to
                                             remove syllables
                                              all the way back
                                                     down to a
                                                          single
                                                            one.

It’s silly. I know. But it’s a different way of thinking. A different way of writing. And, more importantly, it’s a way of refocusing your mind.

The shape of things to come

If you are stuck for ideas. When you hit a wall and find yourself struggling to get words down on the page. Break away and play with words for a bit.

Get your writing back into shape.

Figuratively.

Literally.

Creatively.

 

Gareth

 

 

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3 Creative Tasks To Help You Break Free From Your Fear Of Failure

Hear no failure. See no failure. Speak no failure.

Fear of failure is the reason you’re not succeeding. Whether you think so or not, you are afraid to fail. Now’s the time to break free of the psychological preconditioning preventing you from maximising your potential.

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” ~ Thomas Edison

Rules Schmules!

Children are inherently creative. Why?

More heart, less head. No fear of failure. No self-editing. They are still learning and figuring out the world and what they are capable of. They aren’t afraid of what other people think.

Adults are more resistant. Afraid of not knowing. We fear failure. More importantly, we’re afraid of the way our failures are perceived by others – colleagues and superiors.

Appearances matter. And they hold us back.

Find Your Inner Child

Everyone has an inner child (the creative free spirit) but as we grow older and take on responsibilities we bury this deeper and ignore it.

Giving your inner child a chance to express itself and have fun helps the adult ‘you’ become more creative.

Creativity is play.

Creativity is exploring the world around you. Discover your limitations. Find ways of solving the problems you face. Experiment. Fail. And don’t worry about it.

“If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” ~ Katharine Hepburn

Would you stop your kid learning how to walk after they fell over once? Twice? Five times?”

You learn more through failure. Embrace it. Learn what doesn’t work. Get one step closer to discovering what does.

Quantity Is The Route To Quality

Quality is what we all strive for and are pressured to achieve immediately – deadlines!

You can only get true quality by going through a process of generating QUANTITY.

“In 1953, a fledgling company called Rocket Chemical Company and its staff of three set out to create a line of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers for use in the aerospace industry. Working in a small lab in San Diego, California, it took them 40 attempts to get the water displacing formula worked out… WD-40® [was] perfected on the 40th try.”

(Source: https://www.wd40.com/cool-stuff/history)

 

Get ALL your ideas down.

No matter how childish, insane or improbable they may seem, DON’T SELF-EDIT. One of those ideas, or a combination of those ideas, could be the killer creative solution to your problem.

Unschool Yourself

Traditional approaches to education group and classify students depending on their age, background and perceived ability, based on standardised testing.

In school we are judged against static criteria. We are standardised. Everyone has their progress mapped out. We become part of an educational conveyor belt.

This model tells us what we are supposed to achieve by certain points in our life. When we should be able to read. What we should be able to read. How we should write. When we should be able to demonstrate these skills.

There’s one problem.

We don’t learn in a linear fashion.

What people think learning looks like vs. What learning really looks like

(Adapted from an original image by Demetri Martin. Source: https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/5935)

 

This is the major flaw in the system. We learn and develop at different rates, in different ways. Yet we have to conform.

Creativity is beaten out of us.

Independent thought is nothing more than an aspiration; spoon-feeding is the reality because failure is not an option.

Failure is the best option.

Resilience is key.

Prepare To Love Failure!

The following tasks and activities are designed to help you break free from the fear of failure. Shifting the importance away from the end product, they focus on the process. They encourage creative silliness and remove the pressure of how ideas will be received and perceived.

Because the outcomes don’t matter, we are freed to express ourselves with the same reckless abandon that children have. It’s playful.

You can’t fail. But you can learn from the process.

1. The Alternative Uses Test

Our brains are conditioned to protect us from risk and err on the side of caution, preferring things that have worked previously – the Comfort Zone. This is why we end up generating the same ideas. You need to trick your brain into thinking differently.

J.P. Guilford developed the Alternative Uses Test to stretch our creativity. You have two minutes to think of as many possible alternative uses for an everyday object – like a phone, a blob of sticky tack, or a chair.

For example, “paper clips” could move beyond simply keeping your papers together to become: cufflinks, earrings, imitation mini-trombones, something you use to push the emergency restart button on your router, a way of keeping headphones from getting tangled up, a bookmark.

Try it yourself and see:

  • how many different uses you can come up with,
  • how uncommon or original the uses are,
  • how many different categories your answers cover (cufflinks and earrings are both accessories – one category )
  • how detailed and elaborate your responses are.

2. Torrance’s ‘Incomplete Figure’

Ellis Paul Torrance developed the Incomplete Figure test. This drawing challenge formed part of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a creativity-oriented alternative to traditional IQ tests. The result is a game similar to exquisite corpse.

You’re given a shape (like the one below, courtesy of What I See When I Look At), and then asked to complete the image.

 What I See When Spiral

(Click on the image to see some examples)

3. A Beautiful Constraint

Try imposing limits and restrictions on your work.

Hang on a minute. You’ve been going on about breaking free from constraints and self-imposed limits. What gives?”

At the risk of sounding contradictory, limiting yourself can actually help you be more creative.

“Adopting a ‘Transformer Mindset’ means viewing our constraint positively and possibly increasing the ambition along the way.”

(Source: http://www.abeautifulconstraint.com/the-process)

 

It is surprisingly easy to spend a lot of time doing very little.

Do more with less time! Force yourself to complete tasks quicker and with fewer resources.

 

 For example:

Write a story in 50 words. Then halve it. Reduce it further to 10 words. Or 6 words.

 

Creative constraints are the premise behind the One Minute Briefs I regularly enter (One Rule. One Minute. Create an Ad). Or the lipograms I write (no ‘a’ and no ‘e’).

If you impose restrictions you force creative thinking and problem solving. But most importantly you build resilience and you get over the fear of failure.

Because you don’t allow yourself time to be afraid of the outcome.

All you are focused on is getting the task done. Who cares what anyone thinks? Just get something done.

This can be transferred to any number of creative scenarios. Take the Status Quo approach to music and only use a small handful of chords in your song. Or limit the amount of colours you use in your designs.

These restrictions can bring out your most creative side.

Take Away Thoughts

Free your inner child.

Be childlike in your approach to tasks. We are all always learning.

Have fun. Create without restraint. Don’t self-edit. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks of your ideas. This will be liberating.

Ideas are a process, not the end product.

Make mistakes. Learn from them.

Keep up to date with my regular creative challenges on Twitter and via my blog. Join me as I explore more ways to help you break free from the fear of failure.

 

Gareth

 

 

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I stopped using ‘e’ and it was hard!

Proud as a peacock with my lipogram efforts

Look! It’s a lipogram minus that fifth symbol in our Anglo-Saxon syllabary!

My last post about not using ‘a’ in my writing was fairly fruitful. But now a similar trial has found its way onto my lap(top). My task? To draft a lipogram without using that fifth symbol in our Anglo-Saxon syllabary at any point in my post.

I told you so!

Why am I doing this ridiculously tricky task? A pal said that I should.

That’s it…

To his mind my prior post was too straightforward and had nothing to it.

Don’t assign any “A’s” to your writing? No probs! Any fool with a modicum of insight and imagination can do that!

But that fifth symbol. That sign that is customarily found in our writing. Omitting that is a fitting confirmation of skill (and impulsivity).

Prior to this I thought I was foolhardy. Now I know that I am just a stubborn ass in my pursuit of lipogrammatic triumph.

I want to say to my old amigo “I told you so! I told you I could do it!”

So it’s onwards and upwards from this point forward.

Sitting on top of a building looking down at the world beneath your feet.

THIS is strikingly difficult.

But still a fantastic brain workout.

As with my last post of this kind, I truly savour how writing drills of this sort focus your mind. By imposing limitations and constraints on your work you ask that your brain think in distinct ways to find solutions.

It boosts your vocabulary too!

Any author or artistic individual will find this kind of activity fulfilling and possibly a bit hooking.

I know I do!

Mostly to confirm that I can actually accomplish such a tortuous task.

This is why YOU should try it.

Lipograms afford you an opportunity to amplify your capacity with words.

If you blog, you must try this task.

If you find joy in writing, you will fancy giving this a go.

If nothing, it’s a fantastic distraction from doing actual work! I think that is a major contributing factor to my frolics with lipograms.

As with anything you do, it’s a bit of a thrill to find triumph in any taxing task.

Writing this lipogram was fun.

And that’s most important.

I found I was grinning on many occasions during my writing. Such silly actions can add fun to a working day, and possibly stop it from spiralling down into banality.

It’s a way of splitting up that long list of tasks you must finish, with original and unusual thinking. It might aid you in accomplishing your goals by providing you with a surprisingly vanguard approach to your work.

In summary…

Writing should thrill you.

So add fun to it!

Assist and boost your brain into thinking in distinct ways. If your writing is stagnant you will find this kind of activity handy. It’s a practical way out of mind rot.

Why not play along? Do your own lipogram.

Push your mind and your words to work for you.

So, in conclusion…

I want to proclaim this as a linguistic victory.

I’m as proud as a bird with ridiculously long tail quills!


Gar’th

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Is it possible to write a blog post without using the letter ‘a’?

Man writing a letter in his journal

OR, “Is it possible to write without using the first morpheme in the English linguistic system?”

This is difficult. Every other word I wish to use includes the forbidden letter! I don’t know why I set myself this test.

Never mind. Here goes.

I’m proving nothing, except being one dogged, determined moron, striving to justify this ludicrous blog.

It’s completely impulsive; needless even. But there you go. Up to this point it’s been shown to be possible.

How long will I keep it up?

Who knows! I guess it depends on the following five things:

1) My sheer bloody-mindedness. The demented willingness to continue with this buffoonery.

b) The need to hit the prerequisite word count for blog posts. You know, for SEO purposes of course.

c) It gives me more time to think of which keywords to include… Which ones get reproduced often enough throughout this post? Plus, more words will help hike up my word count.

d) People like lists! Or so I’m told.

e) The childish joy I derived from contriving this list without using the letter in question.

Lightbulb

Letter could be the keyword I’m looking for!

Come to think of it.

It does seem the most likely. So I’ve included it in the sub. Then it becomes obvious to everyone. It is definitely the subject of the blog.

Envision the Google query: blogs touching on the subject of letters.

Completely nuts!

But honestly, this isn’t so difficult, now I consider it.

I think I’ve proved the point I set out to prove.

It is entirely possible to write enough semi-coherent content without using the letter I set out not to use.

I think I’ve done pretty well to get to this point. Even though it’s not my best piece of written work – quite repetitive I feel – I hope it will get me noticed!

It’s been childish, frivolous, idiotic, but downright good fun! If you enjoy writing, of course.

But now I think I’m done. So I’m going to sign off.

Why don’t you try it?

Go on. Test yourself!

Let me know how it goes! Comment below or Tweet me.

G’reth

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Get Noticed. Get Out Of Your Own Way.

Silhouette of a man, standing in the shadows, desparate to get noticed.

It’s time to get noticed. Again.

I’m not the biggest U2 fan. I think their best music can be found in their earlier albums. However, they never fail to strike a chord (pardon the pun) lyrically.

There’s always a single or two on every album that has lyrics that really resonate. None more so than their recent release, Get Out Of Your Own Way.

It’s been a long hiatus. I haven’t written a blog post in years. And I’m pretty ashamed and appalled by this fact.

I don’t buy into empty New Year Resolutions or cliché New Year, New Me rubbish.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

 

Actions speak louder than words. Just do it. Call it what you want. I haven’t been doing it. I haven’t been putting my words into action.

New Year is an arbitrary point in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. January 1st in the Gregorian Calendar is an arbitrary starting point to the New Year (fashioned so that Easter falls at the same point in the lunar cycle every year). So, in an equally arbitrary fashion, I have decided that now is as good a time as any to get noticed again. It’s not a New Me. It’s just Me. I’m back.

I’m blogging. Posting. Sharing. Updating. Creating content that interests me. If it interests you too, great!

When I first launched my website in 2013 I had a fairly regular blog where I wrote about the creative process, explored the ins and outs of social media, commented on adverts that interested me and creative work that inspired me. That content drove traffic to my website. It helped me get noticed. It gained me followers. Clients. And, most importantly, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing. Creating. Sharing. And all the conversations and interactions that resulted from it.

Old garetalvarez.com landing page - Welcome to my workshelf.

Then I just stopped. I didn’t stop being interested, I just stopped writing about it. I didn’t have the time.

Sorry. What?

I didn’t make the time. So I stopped getting noticed.

And it’s this that I am going to change.

This is my plan to get noticed

One Minute Briefs Logo

Taking inspiration from One Minute Briefs (@OneMinuteBriefs) and Nick Entwistle from the Bank of Creativity (@BOC_ATM)and now Trunk Agency (@TweetsByTrunk) I plan to “get sh*t done” this year.

Write it down. Post it. Share it. Whatever it is. Just do it. There is no point in doing nothing. So let’s do something.

Create scribbled in pencil.

Nick once said, “there is nothing more important than the work you do, to get the work that you do noticed.” Or words to that effect.

And that’s what I plan to do.

This year I plan to spend more time promoting my work. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter whether people like it or not. You can’t please everybody. And if you set out to try to please everybody you’ll create nothing meaningful.

If you don’t take the time to work on promoting the work that you do you’re as good as invisible.

It’s not just good enough creating. Share what you create. Be visible. Get noticed.

And that’s my plan this year. I have a new website. It’s going to be cleaner and neater. I will update it regularly with new content. New posts. My latest work and endeavours.

Now is the time to “get sh*t done.” Do work to get the work that I do seen. Share more. Post more. Create More. Get back into old habits.

No more excuses.

It’s time to get out of my own way and get noticed! Again.

Gareth

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Catatonia – What to do when you’re stuck

Being stuck on a task can feel a little bit like this.

There’s always a point in the day, week, month, year, your life, when you get stuck. It’s that point when you find yourself staring a lot. Trapped in a middle-distance focus. Eyes partly glazed. Brow partly furrowed. Brain partly dead.

What’s Going On?

You might be tired. Overworked. Bored. Uninspired. Bored.

So you stare.

And things just continue to happen around you. Out there on the periphery.

You half-acknowledge people. You robotically go through the motions. And when you finally snap out of your catatonic trance you have no recollection of anything that’s happened! 

It’s like being drunk. Only cheaper.

Now What?

These are difficult times.

Perhaps not in the grand scheme of things, but they can feel difficult. Especially when there are things that need doing – there always are – and you just can’t bring yourself to do any of them.

Not interested in the slightest.

In fact. Maybe, if you ignore them, they’ll go away?

Better still, they might get done by someone else!

That’s unless it’s work that only you can do.

You’ve checked your smartphone for the hundredth time. Let out a big long sigh. Done everything imaginable to procrastinate and avoid the inevitable. But it still hasn’t gone away.

What’s The Solution To Being Stuck?

So, here’s the trick.

Banging your head against a brick wall is only going to give you a headache. And, at most, you might scuff the paintwork.

It’s pointless. You’ll get nowhere. You’ll feel worse.

Instead. Do something fun.

Distract your mind with an activity that you love.

Give your mind a rest. Change your focus. Free the subconscious. Let it wander. Break out of your trance.

STOP STARING!

Try a smile. Have a conversation. Write something. Draw something. Mess about on Photoshop. Do a One Minute Brief. Watch a silly YouTube video.

And when you’re done. When you’ve finally forgotten the burden that was weighing you down. Go back to it.

It’ll get done.

Unless the reason you’re stuck is because you went out for a couple of drinks on a school night and you’re hungover.

Then, tough.

Drink some water and soldier on!

I’m off to drink some water.

 

Gareth

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