The Inkwell, a new blog series with Vanessa Gebbie

April 10, 2020

In the first of a new blog series, The Inkwell, Vanessa Gebbie shares a favourite warm-up exercise ‘Word Cricket’ to keep your writing mind in motion during lockdown.

Hi writers, and welcome to The Inkwell. And thanks to Ed at New Writing South for coming up with the name – it is rather great – what is a well but where we go to peer into the depths, hope to see the glint of light on water, and draw up a little of what we need?

Q: How’s your writing going? 

A: No. Don’t answer that. Mine too. 

Here’s some welcome wisdom for writers from Anne Enright, writing in The Guardian last week.

“In the first days of locking down, I felt as you do after trauma: language was no use to me. It has come back slowly, because it always does. I know this and I trust it. Meanwhile, I do not try to push a broken machine. I wait for boredom to kick in because boredom, for me, is a very good sign. It is the beginning of pleasure.”

Pleasure – relaxing, having fun – so easy to forget when we’re under pressure. It is rather easy to sideline them when we have a project to do. Those projects, admirable as they are, can weigh heavy, can’t they? 

I reckon we can take the pressure off, so here is a safety valve for writers. Tried and tested. 

Wherever you are in your project, that ‘thing’ you ‘ought’ to be doing, STOP. Just for a few minutes. Turn aside, and play.  It won’t kill your project – it might even help it along by refreshing the creative muscles. 

Let’s play Word Cricket

Anyone who has worked with me knows I start every workshop with this game. Ten minutes of freeing up, stretching, and writing ‘stuff’ just because. Just for you. No sharing, no judging. 

  • In face to face scenarios, I need a starter phrase and a list of  ten random words. 
  • I give writers a starter half-sentence, and invite them to write, faster, faster, no thinking, no planning, just what comes. 
  • Each minute or so, I chuck in a word and they have to ‘catch’ it as they are writing. No saving it up til later. 

I can’t ring everyone up and chuck words out, no matter how much I’d love  to – so , here is your Word Cricket, written version. 

Write down the starter half-sentence, wherever you are going to write – laptop, notebook… print off the ten words, cut them up, and mix em up, face down. 

Your game is this: You will need c 15 minutes max. And quiet. 

Wherever that starter takes you, go with it. Write like stink. 

Every minute or so pick a word at random. Incorporate that word into what you are writing, as quickly as you can, changing the word a wee bit to fit your context.

(eg: ‘book’.  Might become the noun or the verb, an adjective – eg: bookish, bookable, or even someone’s name: Booker. It might be whole or part of a word… whatever. Who’s checking? No one!) Just have fun, and enjoy. 

Here’s your starter:   This is what she never told me:

And your ten words:











If you have a writing group you can do this between you, on Zoom, or whatever. One writer invents the list of words and the starter line, and feeds them out to the others. 

Ten minutes – and odds are you will have something really interesting. At the very least, you’ll have relaxed, had a bit of fun, refreshed those writing muscles, unclamped them.

I’d love to know how you get on – so if you are on Twitter, come and tell me! @VanessaGebbie

Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, short fiction writer, poet, editor and writing tutor with ten books out there somewhere – including Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt), editions i and ii, for which she was commissioning and contributing editor. She has taught for The Arvon Foundation, The Arts Council,  London’s Spread the Word, The Word Factory, Curtis Brown Creative and New Writing South among others. She is self-isolating in Sussex.