Feb 26

Tabletop Writing

I love writing, but somewhere along the way I wandered onto the path of Computer Science and that’s where I’ve been for the last 17 years. I still wrote occasionally at first, but the hours associated with technical jobs are frequently chaotic, unpredictable, and long. Eventually, taking the time to sit down and write for myself gave way to a long list of must-do, should-do, and general distraction until I basically stopped writing anything at all except application and database code.

Then in 2009 I had a realization – or maybe I just re-learned a fundamental, personal truth: writing makes me happy and if I don’t make time for it, then what’s the point? I decided that even if it’s only for 30 minutes at a time I was going to write something every day.

Of course, saying you’re going to write every day is one thing. Doing it is another.

In an effort to give me some focus and help me flex my creative writing muscles, I came up with something I call Tabletop Writing (or Stop Being Lame and Just Write Already). The rules of the game are simple:

  1. Generate a collection of writing prompts/exercises/topics and number them sequentially – the more you have, and the more varied the collection (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.) the better. Let the total number of exercises be N.
  2. Take as many 10-sided die as there are digits in max(N).
  3. Roll your dice.
  4. Reading them left-to-right, take the value of the first die modulo X, where X is the largest possible value of the digit in the most significant place of max(N).
  5. Take the value of the subsequent dice – in order – for the remaining digits.
  6. If the selected exercise doesn’t exist (for example, N=115 and you’ve rolled 124) you may either re-roll the invalid digit or use the roll modulo Y where Y is the largest possible value for the problem place.
  7. If the exercise has already been competed, roll to choose direction (even=up, odd=down) and take the next sequentially available exercise.
  8. Using the selected exercise, write for at least 30 minutes – no skipping/cheating just because you happen to get a “hard” one!
  9. The same prompt may be used for up to one week, but the current exercise must be marked “complete” and a new prompt selected after seven days.
  10. For any prompt that ends in a finished product (i.e., a completed poem, essay, or short story), “publish” the result by emailing it to a friend or family member, posting it to a blog or forum (even if it’s just your Facebook profile!), or reading it to someone so you can get feedback.

Yes. I know. I am a nerd. It’s congenital.

Truth be told, I just wanted an excuse to use my dice (I don’t get many opportunities), but it makes picking a writing exercise fun and gives me something to look forward to so, in the end, I suppose the “why” of it doesn’t really matter. My goal is to have something worth posting every week beginning today. Some things will (undoubtedly) be more polished than others, but that’s not what matters. Right now, what matters, is making the time for what I love.

Wish me luck!


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  1. Liz

    Hahahah…such a nerd! I love it though. Kind of wonder if you have a Pen of Wordsmithing (+10 All grammatical attacks) you can skip some of the “hard” topics.

    1. thegoblin

      No – you don’t get to skip, not even with a Pen of Wordsmithing… and believe me, I really wish I could this week grr! What I need is something that offers +10 to Dodge against Writer’s Block… actually, I’d settle for +1 😉

  2. Whitney

    Yay for finding a use for the dice 😀

  3. the mama

    I need to read!

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