Writing ideas︎︎︎
Twelve Assignments  
from Wayne Koestenbaum
1. Play a recorded piece of wordless music that you know very well. Listen to it once. Then, turn on a microphone that can record your speech, and listen to the piece again. Deliver an impromptu monologue while the piece is going. Afterward, transcribe your soliloquy.

2. Go to a museum or gallery and choose a work of art. Stand or sit in front of it. Write for ten minutes (without stopping). You needn’t mention the work of art.

3. Take notes while talking to someone on the phone. Afterward, transform your notes into a story.

4. Find a telephone book. Write a poem using as many names as possible from the yellow pages.

5. Watch a silent film. (Suggestion: F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.) While watching it, take notes. Transform your notes into a composition.

6. Ride a city bus. Get a window seat. Write down any words you see out the window. Go home and transform those notes into a two-page piece of writing.

7. Write about the potatoes in Chantal Akerman’s film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Or you can write about any other specific object (or category of object) in any film.

8. Buy or borrow a copy of the longest book you can find. (Suggestion: Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy.) Begin reading it. Start anywhere you want in the book. After a half-hour of reading, write for ten minutes; include, in what you write, at least one phrase from the long book you chose to be your composition’s incidental catalyst.

9. Make a list of names – first names – about which you have negative feelings. Choose one of the names – or more than one – and take fifteen minutes to write about the negative associations.

10. Begin to collect objects of a certain kind. Matchbooks. Pennies. Empty Kleenex boxes. Or something more beautiful, esoteric, captivating. After you have collected enough specimens – whenever you believe that point has been reached – write a brief inventory of the objects.

11. Describe an ungenerous or unkind act you have committed. The act could be merely verbal.

12. Take a pair of scissors, and cut out – very quickly – some random shapes from found pieces of paper, cloth, plastic, or other flexible materials. Assemble a small village of these fragmentary shapes. Write about that village, its inhabitants, its secrets.

2015. Reprinted in Figure it Out: Essays (Soft Skull Press, 2020).