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A Zusky, Cytanic Adventure

bpc background for writers unboxed small [1]Here’s what I do for weird fun and lexical exercise: I take lists of words I don’t know and weave them into stories, defining the words in context as I go. I’m flexing two creative muscles here, one that develops story and one that exploits language. I use this challenge and ones like it to shed clarity on my creative process, which, at its heart, is a strategy of setting a goal and then acting on it. In everything I write, I set goals – I frame the exercise – then I act, and that’s how I get things done. Pretty simple. It’s effective. It’s made more effective through exercise, and that’s why I bother to spend the time turning this – after-wise, babblement, cycopede, daggle-tail – into this:

After-wise, when I had a chance to reflect on it, I realized it was all babblement from the start, her way to confuse and betray me. In all the cycopede of human knowledge there is no word vile enough to demean that daggle-tail minx.”

And that’s why I invite you to, too. I’ll give you the words, and you see what fun you can have.

(I’m sure you can think of a thousand reasons not to try this game, everything from it’s dumb to I might fail. For now let’s say that none of those apply. Just have some fun.)

Here’s our list.


We might kick it off with something like, “Lord Robert Bruce, twenty-third Earl of Aryle, slipped into his custom-tailored gilligaskin and affixed his tie with a mastodite pin.” After that, we’d be off and running, all the way through the whole list, making up fresh, new stories and stylish new words. For me, half the fun would be deciding what the words mean, the other half would be discovering the tale, and the other other half would be impressing my friends with my suddenly zusky vocabulary. Even if this sort of fun is unfamiliar to you, go ahead and try it. Remember that the point of such exercises is never to gain good outcomes but to simply to experience our creativity in new and different ways.

Hang on a second there, JV. By any chance is this really just you trying to get everyone hooked on your own obsession with linguistic gymnastics and random words?

Well, first of all, weird italic interlocutor, of course I want everyone hooked on my thing. That’s my mission – but it’s every writer’s mission. Getting people hooked on our thing is how we earn, and also how we change the world. Beyond that, writer to writer, I’m just a big fan of creative workouts. They keep my mental muscles strong and my creative brain happily engaged. Plus they give me a cheap win. For not much effort and no creative risk, I get to see myself succeed at a writing task (because this one is not hard), and that’s something no writer I know, my sad self included, can ever get enough of. So yeah, weird italic interlocutor, I think there’s plenty of benefit in the exercise – it’s not just me showing off. But if I bend someone to my bent perspective along the way I won’t say no to that.

Sometimes I stare at the far horizon of my work and my heart just quails. It’s too many pages, too many words. I’ll never get there. I’ve forgotten what there even looks like. Writer’s block has me by the throat. That’s when games like this really come in handy. They engage my creativity, distract me from my limitations, prime my dopamine pump, and give me an easily won feeling of whoop-de-do! Then I’m back on track and back on trek to the distant horizon of my manuscript’s end. I feel better and I write better. That’s a win for me. It will be a win for you, too.

And what’s better than one win? Two.

Seriously, if you play this game even once more than once, you’ll get so much more out of it because you’ll know how it works. And then your twin imaginations of what might this word mean? and where can this story go? will really take flight. And that’s part of good practice, too. You try a thing because it’s new, then you do it again to get good at it. Those are two different creative goals that happen to be served by the same game.

With all that in mind, here are some more words, one for every letter of the alphabet, which you can use in alphabetical order, or not, as you see fit. I like to enforce alphabetical order, or perhaps reverse alphabetical order, because I find that the more closely I constrain the exercise, the easier it is to do. But you’ll find your way. Water finds its level. Or, as they say around here, “The azoth scrapes off the brulzies.


If you’re wondering where these words came from, some I made up, some I captured free-range, and some I harvested from my book A Million Random Words, which is a real thing and not an April Fool’s joke. Of course you don’t have to use my words. You’re free to make up your own.

Anyway, I’m weird, I admit it. It’s really fun for me to play with new words. I put a fair amount of care into it, and I get a lot out of it. Like when I made up neymald just now, I was all excited that it returned zero hits on Google. (“Zero hits?” I hear you say. “JV, that’s cytanic!“) If such things excite you then you’re weird like me; if other things excite you then you’re weird like you. But know what excites you, and know how to act on it. Know your goals and use your strategies to achieve them. Incorporate creative exercise into your practice.

And show us all how your story turns out!

What about you? What tricks do you use to get out of a creative funk or just have wordy good fun? How do you “practice” your practice of writing? Do you have word games you love? Challenge me with them. I’ll rise to the challenge, you betcha.

About John Vorhaus [2]

John Vorhaus has written seven novels, including Lucy in the Sky, The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the Killer Poker series and (with Annie Duke) Decide to Play Great Poker. His books on writing include The Comic Toolbox, How to Write Good and Creativity Rules!