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Friday, 26 June 2020

Weekly writing prompt: Title madlibs


Title Madlibs

In the run-up to the online Summer of Writing workshops in August, I'm posting a writing prompt each weekend - plenty of different stuff for you to play around with as a chance to experiment, get your pen moving, and have fun! Each of the prompts loosely connects with a weekend pair of the Summer of Writing workshops, and I'll explain the connection at the end of the post each time. I find it's often more useful to play with prompts first, then think about their purpose afterwards, as we're more open and uninhibited that way. (That said, if you need to understand the point of something to enjoy it, feel free to scroll down and read that first!)


This week's prompt is TITLE MADLIBS: inventing titles by replacing the words in existing titles with your own. You can do this with your own bookshelves or poetry books, of course, but to get you started I've got ten famously good titles mad-libbed for you to make up your own. And, of course, they're infinitely reusable. So, for example, "The Particular __[emotion]__ of __[food]__" could be "The Particular Weariness of Macaroni Cheese", "The Particular Confusion of Chocolate", etc etc. If you're unsure about words like noun / verb / adjective etc, I've got a wee explainer at the bottom.

Rather than just come up with one version for each, though, I want you to come up with a bunch of versions for each one. There are two ways you could do this. Option 1: spend 1 minute on each title, coming up with as many versions as you can for it in 1 minute. There are 10 of them altogether, so that'll very neatly make it a 10-minute exercise. Option 2: ignore clocks and timers, and come up with five versions for each one. Either way, though, have fun! If you suspect you might agonise over each one, go for Option 1. If timers stress you out, go for Option 2.

The Particular __[emotion]__ of __[food]__ 

The God of
__[something]__

The Unbearable __[something]__ of __[something]__

Her __[something]__ & Other __[somethngs]__

Brief Interviews with __[adjective]__  __[noun]__

I Have No __[something]__ & I Must __[verb]__

No One __[verb]__ Here More Than __[person]__

Homesick for __[adjective]__  __[noun]__

__[colour]__  __[abstract noun]__

__[adjective]__ Sky with __[noun]__

adjective: a describing word, eg happy, blue, wooden, French, etc
noun: a thing, person, or place
verb: a doing word, eg dance, laugh, obfuscate - test it by putting "to" in front, eg "to dance", "to laugh", etc
abstract noun: a concept or idea, eg happiness, love, civilisation, truth


This is the 1st of the 5 weekly writing prompts running up to this year's online Summer of Writing workshops. This prompt links with the first pair of workshops on creativity: Creative Ground (Sat 1 August) and Creative Play (Sun 2 August). One of the common obstacles to creativity is when we make the stakes too high: we consider what we're doing as very important, we tie it into our sense of self, we want to get it right – all modes of thinking that leave us scared to make mistakes, and therefore scared to take chances, and therefore scared to try something new, which is exactly what we need to do. Using a playful game like Madlibs to invent titles lowers the stakes, so we can be more adventurous in our choices – it's just a game, it doesn't matter, and so we're happy to be silly and take risks. Playfulness is always a great boost for creativity. And creating lots of something, rather than just one, is also a great way to lower the stakes: if you're writing 5, or 20, or as many as you can in a specific time frame, then it takes the pressure off any individual one.

There'll be a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...
  • 1. Creative Ground (Saturday 1 August): exploring the different kinds of thinking we need for creativity, process versus product driven approaches, and increasing our reservoirs of inspiration
  • 2. Creative Play (Sunday 2 August): experimenting with taking creative leaps, opening up to fresh ideas, and risk-free thinking
  • 3. Creating Voice (Saturday 8 August): creating or developing characters through exploring their voice
  • 4. Dialogue on the Page (Sunday 9 August): practical aspects of writing dialogue: its purpose in the story; common errors; attributing speech; and the descriptions and actions that go around it.
  • 5. Place is Story (Saturday 15 August): using rich locations to develop and create plot events
  • 6. Purposeful description (Sunday 16 August): writing description that serves strong narrative purposes and exploring techniques for strengthening your descriptive writing
  • 7. Shifting between Scenes (Saturday 22 August): how to keep the reader oriented about who characters are, what happened last, moving in time and place, and dealing with flashbacks elegantly
  • 8. Deft exposition (Sunday 23 August): a range of ways to weave explanation into a story and how to deal with "heavy-duty" exposition for more complex info
  • 9. Exploring Styles (Saturday 29 August): exploring a wide range of styles and the features of each, and experimenting with writing in different styles
  • 10. Polishing your Style (Sunday 30 August): using original imagery, selecting telling details, improving word choice, spotting clichés, and pruning unnecessary words
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 16 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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