Just before Christmas, I finished the second of a set of challenging comprehensive exams in my doctoral discipline of rhetoric and writing. For months, I had been studying the concept of rhetorical delivery, combing through countless journals and books, constantly stumbling upon things I’d missed, and walking (or writing?) in circles more times than I could count. Finishing the exam felt triumphant at first, but I soon found myself feeling absolutely spent, and even a bit numb. I needed to get back into a rhythm of something that would inspire me and help me generate the ideas that i so desperately needed going into the larger research project of the dissertation. Most of all, with my exhaustion closing in and another busy semester about to start, whatever I added to my routine needed to be easy and brief enough to do every day.I discovered “The Daily Dozens” while attending a workshop at the Winter Wheat Festival of Writing at Bowling Green State University. The Dozens are a daily writing exercise designed to kick-start ideas by doing something that we all love and are good at-making lists. A poet might use such an exercise to come up with images, or a series of conceits to hold a poem together. A fiction writer might come up with quirks for a character. An academic might use the Daily Dozens to generate thoughts on an article, solutions for an intellectual problem, or lesson ideas.

It works like this:

  1. Start with a subject or concept, or even a question. For me, it might be something like “teaching delivery,” or “ “what’s NOT being said about digital humanities?”
  2. Free associate a list of at least twelve things that it makes you think of, question, wonder about, et cetera. Keep the items on your list fairly short so you can generate them quickly.
  3. Once you’ve finished your list, you’re free to write more, but you must get to at least a dozen items.

Upon looking back at your list, you will find some things that aren’t really that compelling, but some items just might take you to a new or exciting idea. The entire exercise shouldn’t take more than ten to fifteen minutes, and should be done in the morning, before you start your day, when you’re fresh. However, the brevity of the exercise makes it flexible, and writing anytime is better that not writing.

I have a dedicated Moleskine journal (the Pac-Man edition, so awesome!) for my Daily Dozens. I also have a huge list of questions and ideas that I use as the subjects of the Daily Dozens, and I’m adding to that list as often as possible. Since I write academically and creatively, everything is all mixed up: “academic blog post ideas” and “ethnographies I want to do” sit next to “the story of the Christmas cookie tins” and “sparrows.”

Finding inspiration doesn’t always have to mean finding huge chunks of time to write. The Daily Dozens are an easy activity to add into your regular writing routine, and if you don’t have a writing routine, they’re an easy place to start creating one.

Image by Flickr user observing life / Creative Commons licensed

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One Response to The Daily Dozens – A Writing Exercise

  1. Gabrielle says:

    Thanks so much for this exercise! I’m in the middle of my M.A. thesis and am stalling out a bit on my creativity, since I’m also studying for my comps and having difficulty focusing on these two huge projects at once! I’m going to try this; would love to hear more exercises to do as well.

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