Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mental Gym Gone Wild

Back in college, my friend Ryan and I formed our own writer's group. Just the two of us.

We each had positions at the student newspaper (me, news, Ryan, sports) but we met every Wednesday for lunch, often at the Cheesecake Factory, to hand out new assignments and critique previous weeks' work.

The rules of our sessions were fairly simple - choose one of three assignments, write up to 2,500 words, and provide gentle, constructive feedback on previous writing. If you missed a deadline, you had to buy lunch - though, I remember Ryan paying for most of my cheesecake, despite rarely missing an assignment.

Somewhere in my file cabinet, I have most of the writing that came from those sessions. Ryan was a fabulous writer - I can't begin to imagine how amazing he might be today ('s that book coming Ry?). Back then, I thought Ryan's assignments were tough - the He-Man of my weekly brain fitness regime.

In retrospect, I think I got off easy. While flipping through Mental Floss magazine, I found a list of 10 Ridiculous Feats of Literature. The following are examples of Mental Gym assignments gone wild!

Did you know that Gadsby by Earnest Vincent Wright was written without the letter E? Not because his typewriter didn't have one, but because he thought it might be challenging. No kidding. I haven't read the book, but he apparently wrote a wedding scene without using the words "bride" or "ceremony" - and there isn't a single "the" in the manuscript. To limit temptation, he actually tied down the letter E on his keyboard.

Impressive. I remember that being one of Ryan's assignments for me - though not the one I chose. I couldn't write a paragraph without the letter E, never mind an entire novel. Gadsby was 260 pages long.

The infamous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November and the 48-hour novel writing contest in September, are creative ways to jump start your motivation. But could you write 843 poems - overnight? Indian spiritual master Sri Chimnoy did on November 1, 1975. Transcedence Perfection was written in 24 hours. Sri claims meditation is key for unlocking the creative floodgates. I'll have to try that.

After studying with Steve Berry, "write tight" is pretty much tattooed on my brain. In his workshop sessions, we often took pages of writing and turned them into paragraphs, illustrating how not to pad stories with fluff. Of course, Ernest Hemingway took tight writing to the extreme when he penned a captivating tale, complete with beginning, middle and end - all in six words.

For sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Today, this work has inspired countless 6-word memoir and story competitions.

How about you? Any mental stretches you'd like to share?

For the complete list of literary feats, or for other primarily useless but always fun facts, ridiculous stories or life-changing information, I recommend picking up Mental Floss or visiting

The Book In My Bag Today: Horns, Joe Hill


  1. Wow....
    Talk about tight. Six words? Eek.

  2. LOL. For crit next week, I expect you to take that already tight, awesome chapter you just gave me and drill it down to six words :-) (KIdding...) xo

  3. Nice post, Dawn. I love Mental Floss. And Smith Magazine's six word memoir series. Not so sure about the meditation helping the creative juices - or maybe it just hasn't helped me, LOL! Guess I need more practice!

  4. Thanks Glinda! I've never been big on meditation - same category as Yoga for me. I think I just don't "get it." I just discovered Mental Floss - though I'm a factoid junkie :-)