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The Dictionary Game & Good Writing Habits?

Featuring Guest Writer, Mike Hornyak, author of The Dictionary Game: Stare Down The Moon

Having been charged with writing a piece on good writing habits, I found very quickly that I don’t actually have any. I tend to write sporadically and go for very long periods of time with neither the will nor interest to create.

This fact is well illustrated as I sit here, the day before my deadline, just now beginning to write this piece…about good writing habits. As I furiously type away on my lunch break, I’m reminded of my journey from when I was given the deadline to finish my book until I actually finished it. I can laugh about it now.

It involved a lot of procrastination, hurried revisions, complete and utter lack of inspiration - and all during quarantine so I didn’t even have the excuse of limited free time. I did, however, meet the deadline.

The book I’m speaking of is The Dictionary Game: Stare Down The Moon, a collection of poetry and short writing based on a writing game my friends and I played in college. Lack of personal structure and discipline aside, this ‘Dictionary Game’ may have something to offer here.

At its core, The Dictionary Game exists to help overcome writer’s block and get the creative juices flowing, while simultaneously exposing the players to new words - or at least to different ways of using and thinking about them. In terms of writing habits, I absolutely think The Dictionary Game can be used in their cultivation.

It’s more fun when you can play the game in groups. This can foster deeper connections between players and more diverse interpretations of the material. This can also establish a system of accountability, making it a bit easier to stick to deadlines and make it to writing sessions - a benefit of which I’m sorely in need.

The general idea is that one of the players gives you a page number and word number. You open your dictionary to said page, count down to said word, then write something based on or inspired by the word and its definition. Once everyone has their words, set an agreed upon time limit, and write whatever comes out.

Sit down, set a timer, share your work, etc. Play with friends or colleagues and develop a routine.

Or, do what I did and do absolutely none of those things.

I’m a 34-year-old man with two jobs and a healthy dose of anxiety, while living in an age of social isolation. Realistically, even under the best of circumstances, the likelihood of regularly getting together with a group of people physically or even virtually is a bit thin. So, something The Dictionary Game offers, at least in the way I’ve adapted and presented it for the book, is the flexibility to fit it into your life.

The book is made up of writing I did over a 15 year span, during which my schedule and personal circumstances changed more times than I can remember. I can’t honestly claim that I applied any structure to the time I dedicated to writing, but it happened when it happened.

For example, for several years, a friend and fellow author would send me words to use and as I found time I would write. We only got together to write twice in about five years, but we still played the game separately, inspired by one another. Those pieces are not only featured in the book, but one of them started out as one thing, turned into quite another and took more than 5 years to finish. It remains one of my favorite pieces.

Alternately, there are pieces I wrote in a day, in an hour, or even less. I can’t say that there was any rhyme or reason to when I sat down to write, but I’m pretty sure I can identify the ‘why.’ I think sometimes the motivation to write, whether it’s a deadline, a grade, an emotional need, or what have you, can be more important than structure. Then again, I’m an unreliable narrator, since I’ll probably say anything to make it seem like I’m a good person to have been chosen to write this.

If you have gotten anything about how to establish better writing habits from this, I applaud you. I also hope that you would be so kind as to share them with me, because I have no idea what they are. Possibly by way of cautionary tale, you may be inspired to create better habits than I have cultivated thus far. Either way, I hope you’ll give The Dictionary Game a try.

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