101 ways to write

Sometimes imposing restrictions on your writing can be freeing. Translators know about this. We turn other people’s words into new ones in a different language that doesn’t work the same way. To quote Ginger Rogers, we do everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.

If you want to ginger up your writing, get your hands on this book. But since 101 tapaa tappaa aviomies is in Finnish, I’ll focus here on the contents and how you might like to use them.

Laura Lindstedt and Sinikka Vuola take a violent story and retell it, 101 ways. It’s not long, so here’s my 20-word tweet-length version:

Anja, after years of abuse by her husband, kills him. The court concludes she’s served her sentence already. She’s free.

You could take that, and turn it into a haiku, a blurb, or an academic abstract. You’d be getting the idea. But what if you turned it into a libretto, a list of pharmacy prescriptions, or retold it from the point of view of the gun? It could be far more interesting to read.

What if you didn’t use the letter “e” at all, or replaced all the nouns with the ones three lines below them in the dictionary? Some people will enjoy these experiments with form more than others. You could try a tanka, limerick, or sonnet. I particularly enjoyed the traditional Finnish forms that echoed the Kantaletar.

What if Fibonacci, Kafka, or Getrude Stein got their teeth into it? Can you make your writing count/sound like theirs? Often, we have to write within some formal constraints – those abstracts and tweets – but applying all kinds of others is delightful.

Yes, some seem daft. But I did squeal with delight on several pages. It’s not a little up itself, sometimes. But grand old wordsmiths say, “if you’re stuck, try changing the person or tense.” What if you changed a lot more, playing with your text to see where it takes you?

Three new words for forms of writing I learned from this book were:

  1. Rapukäännös = crabwise turn = retroversio. In this context, telling the story backwards.
  2. Flarf = deliberately “bad” poetry made by scavenging odd search terms and bits of text online.
  3. Tautogram = a text where all the words start with the same letter.

Writing backwards in heels like that for a bit could make it easier for you to write forwards, barefoot. When your tired text hits snooze again, give it an extra blanket, a dreamcatcher – or a triple espresso. And see what happens.

new retreat dates – seuraavat retriitit

Published by Kate Sotejeff-Wilson

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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