Writing the Five Genii Way

Mind, Heart & Soul of writing

#7 – Your First Word is Your Last

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The title of this blog sounds a bit like a warning. Beware: Your first word is your last. It’s not, however. It’s just a crisp way of saying that you won’t get to the last word of your writing if you don’t write a first word.

So, just write your first word. . .and you’re over halfway there.

But how do you write your first word? It’s so intimidating to see a blank sheet of paper in front of you and hold a virgin pen or pencil. Or you notice that your cursor is the only object on your blank screen. How long will it keep bouncing around? Will it stay long enough to write that first word?

One way to get to your first word is to do some “free writing.” It’s free because it doesn’t count, and it costs nothing. Here are several strategies for free writing, each with an example from me.

Free Free Writing

This is the basic free writing strategy. Start with a word you already have in mind. It doesn’t have to be related to the writing you intend to do, but it could be. If you feel hesitant about starting with a random word, choose one of these:


Use either a pen/pencil and piece of paper or a keyboard and a word processing program.

Write your word choice at the top of a blank piece of paper or a “new document.” Then, write whatever word comes to mind first. If nothing comes to mind, write that word again and again. Eventually, your mind will become bored with itself and generate your next word.

Do not stop writing for 5 whole minutes. If you can’t think of what to say, write “I can’t think of what to say.” Although some writers who teach this process tell their students never to raise their pen from paper, pause before pressing the next key, or stop to reread what they have written, I only caution against doing these things. They put up a barrier between what’s going on in your mind and what’s going on with your hand. Don’t let yourself think ideas away. Write whatever you are thinking, which might be as mundane as ˆHelphelphelphelp. Or nextnextnext. Your mind will not let you down.

Try not to look at what you’re writing. In fact, if you can, look away and rely on touch typing or handwriting that mostly moves from left to right and from top to bottom. DO NOT EDIT.

Here’s my unedited attempt at Free Free Writing:

Madrigal. Madrigal. Mad-rig-gal. Hmm interesting. Maybe maybe a mad female thought I hate the word gal. Mad female. What’s next? What’s next/ What’s next? Well, I could go back to the word itself. Madrigal. Song medieval. Spain? Love song? A lute? What’s the lute doing? Resting in a corner, alone, alone, alone. Waiting for. Waiting for someone one to play it. Why? I don’t know why? Has music been banished in the place? Why? Why? Ah, maybe somebody is dying, but suddenly there comes a voice from behind a closed door. Play it says. Play. Play. A person. Who? Who? Little boy with tights and funny looking shoes and a ballooning pair of pants shorts and a tunic of some kind and long billowing sleeves and a cap like a fancy beret velvet and maroon on top of a bowl cut blond head of hair. He shuts the door and there’s a shout from the room beyond him. Open. Open. He runs to the corner and grabs the lute that that that that that he has he has what??? Maybe never played. How does he know what to grab? How does he grab it? From the sounding bowl whatever that’s called or the long neck that has strings and tighteners of string on it? He doesn’t know but he’s supposed to do something. Something. Something. He starts to bring the object towards the door and then stops. He slings it under his chin like a violin and puts a grubby finger and oh he holds the thing under his chin by hanging onto the long part with his left hand and he puts a finger from his left hand out on one of the strings. You can see the filth under his fingernail. A black crescent. He brings his other hand up to the bowl and

My five minutes are up. (I confess. I did reread and edited just two words to make sure that you could make some sense of what I’ve written. For example, I changed “chang” to “chin.”)

Now, you do the same.

What do you have at the end of five minutes? I have a possible story. Maybe an urchin that has snuck in from the street to rob a wealthy man who is sick and dying, but the man hears someone outside his own room and wants music to accompany his last minutes alive. Somehow the boy is related to the man.

Well, my results are not exactly the basis for a best-seller. Or are they?

Repeat as often as you are interested, just to see what you get. . .besides your first word on the page.

This exercise helps you accept blockages and believe in your own power to be fluent.

Selective Free Writing

First Step

This process is the same except for your actions at the end. Here’s another Free Free Write,

Zenith TV

Zenith. I think of this as a top or height of something. The zenith. Zenith, but what is it? What does it suggest to me? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Zenith. Zenith. Oh, a television. I can imagine the first television my family got when I was really young, kindergarten maybe. It was a small box probably not a Zenith but some name that is long gone from the electronic world. Maybe Panther. Or Slumgullion. I’ve always wanted to write that word. Anyway, the Zenith was about the size of a square box of pet food from Chewy, a small square box. How big? Well 36 inches tall. Three feet? That sounds too big. Two feet maybe by two feet by however many feet going back. It’s metallic with dark gray screen about two inches in from the rims. A very small screen. And the casing is green metal in my mind. Green, but not of leaves, just dark dusky green like spinach that has been left out too long. And this box thing resides on top of four V-shaped wrought iron legs. Black that meet around a square just a bit larger than the 36 inches so that it can serve as a stand for the Zenith. And, it is in my parent’s bedroom so we are not enticed from our other pleasures to watch it. The door is closed to my parent’s bedroom, but we are allowed in there after supper and we sit on the edge of their double bed, slipping a bit on the satin bedspread, our feet not quite touching the floor, and are allowed to watch one half-hour shows, in black and white. I remember a comedy or a man introducing acts like jugglers. As far as I was concerned it wasn’t anything special. But I wanted free

End of five minutes.

Second Step

Although I reread what I wrote and made VERY small editing changes (no revision or big picture changes) so that what I’d written was readable, you should reread only to look for as many as five words (or words that come in pairs) that really interest you and circle them. I circled these words in my first Free Free Write: zenith (apparently I want another try with the word), panther, slumgullion, pleasures, jugglers.

After you have circled five words or word pairs in your first Free Free Write, choose one (or a word pair) and do another Free Free Write with it. I circled pleasures. Do a second Free Free Write with the word (or word pair) that you chose. Here’s mine:


Pleasures, pleasures, pleasures. I like the way that sounds, French. PLEH-SHURZ. I think about the pleasures behind the closed door of my parents’ bedroom. I don’t feel really comfortable about writing about them although I remember hearing them sometimes and not KNOWING what they were doing but thinking it had something to do with the closed door and it must have been Ok or all right or even good. Pleasures. What can I write about? Maybe the pleasures of my childhood? The fact that our neighborhood was a collection of homes around a mostly circular road. Along the outside of the circle. As if the letter O was surrounded by rectangles on the outside, like jewels on a bracelet only all rectangles. And in the center was something we called The Green. Yes, I think it was capital letters The Green. Much, much later I learned that the name came from England, small towns often centered around an open space where animals could graze from any family called a Green. I have no idea why the architects of our middle-income neighborhood (one architect did all the homes) decided to have the entire middle of the O grassed in except for the playground and I’ll come back to that later because that is really what I want to write about. All that empty space that the developers of the architect got no money out of. That would be unheard of today. Well, what I really want to write about is the playground. Paths — dirt? Led to the playground I think, at least down a little hill from our house. Maybe we just wore away those paths from the grass because we always went down there. Definitely a path divided the playground into the instruments better word needed for little kid and the equipment that’s the word I want for the big kids. Little kids and that’s what I was at first went to the right as we came down the path from our house. It was kind of fenced in, a little wooden fence maybe, about as tall as we were, slats really, open. Maybe the big kids’ playground had chain link but it was always open too. We could have gone into either side. But, the first thing we encountered on the kids’ side was a large square sandbox, maybe 8 feet by eight feet and we never played in it. We stopped maybe and counted the poops left by all the dogs and cats in our neighborhood. We made our way to the slide not very tall and waxed it with wax paper so our butts wouldn’t stick as we went down. I think the swings were made of

Third Step

So that’s where I stopped after 5 minutes. I read what I had written and, again, found 5 words (or word pairs) that I liked. I circled: The Green, architect, no money, sandbox, waxed paper.

I chose one of those words and did another Free Free Write with that word (or word pair). I could have continued with a Fourth Step, reading what I wrote in this step, circling 5 interesting words or word pairs, and then choosing one from that list, and doing another Free Free Write

You may find that this free writing strategy helps you narrow down and focus what you want to write about.


The next free writing strategy is like Free Free Writing in every way except what you do with what you have written afterwards.

You don’t reread what you have written as you do in SELECTIVE FREE WRITING to find 5 words that interest you, one of which you’ll use to start your next free writing.

Instead, you use technology to create Word Clouds. At one point, these were known as word collages or wordles (until a word game was called Wordles). The software, which you can download, will count all the words except common ones like the, an, a, of, to, in, from, etc.

It then creates a representation that shows the number of times you’ve used a particular word. The diagram visually represents the prominence of a word. . .and that may lead you to your next Free Free Writing.

Here’s what I got when I used the software to analyze my Second Step free write from the strategy called SELECTIVE FREE WRITING. I used the word Pleasures and it’s no surprise that the software showed that word as the major word (most used word) in my writing.

However, when I looked at the Word Cloud I discovered that I didn’t really want to write about pleasures. I love the possibility of writing about playgrounds, all kinds of playgrounds. So I probably will do a Free Free Write about playgrounds to see what I get. I will copy it into the software, and it won’t surprise me to see playgrounds as the major/most used word. But, what is my next most used word? Perhaps that’s what I want to write about.

You may get some surprises using this strategy, but you will probably be able to predict the first two or three words you used most frequently. You may find as I did that the less frequently used words are more enticing to you, and you should at least start with those.

Some sources for making World Clouds:


Recursive Free Writing

Here is another variation on Free Free Writing. This strategy forces you to push your thoughts deeper and deeper, perhaps getting you to what you want to write. Choose a word or more than one word, perhaps even a phrase.

Write your choice to start your first free write. Set a timer for three minutes, which you can increase by one minute with each version.

I decided to start with a random phrase: Before I said goodbye.

Before I said goodbye, I tapped Teddy on the head, tickled Greta under the arms, and pulled on Randall’s feet, one at a time. They didn’t nod, say anything, or respond to me at all. At the very least I expected Teddy to wink at me, Greta to turn up one corner of her mouth, and Randall to pull his feet close to his round brown body. It was as if they didn’t know — or didn’t particularly care — that today was my first day of kindergarten. At least Mom and Dad said goodby as I passed from my bedroom into the kitchen. Mom turned away from the sink where she was playing with the bubbles she had made with dish soap. She told me how much she loved me. Dad lowered the newspaper and smiled at me with bits of blueberry jam caught in his mustache. He told me how proud he was of me. Gamma got up from the table, brushed the crumbs from her apron before she removed it from around her waist, folded it as neat as a napkin, and put it next to her plate She patted her hair and took my hand. She had the honors on my first day at school. After all, we were going to the school where she had gone years ago on her first day of kindergarten. She didn’t need to say or do anything.

Before I said goodbye, I folded myself around my soft, gray dying cat. I knew she was in pain; I knew she needed to leave, but I couldn’t let her go. I hoped my warm body could warm hers. I hoped my breath against her ears could revive her. I hoped my arms surrounding her would keep her forever with me. My little brother who wasn’t so little anymore had arrived on the same day the kittens were born, five years ago. Hopalong was the only one I’d kept out of the litter of five, and of course I kept Cassidy because he was my first brother. I loved them both, Hopalong because I had rescued him from his fate as a runt in the litter, Cassidy because he had been premature and was still sick and weak. I carried him everywhere. I couldn’t say goodbye to Hopalong because I was sure that meant saying goodbye to Cassidy, too. Only when Cassidy scooted over to the low hassock Hopalong and I were sitting on and pulled himself to his knees in order to add his little arms to the cocoon I had made around Hopalong, did I realize that mine was a silly superstition. I pulled my arms away from Hopalong to allow Cassidy to enclose her, and I put my arms around both of them. I could say goodbye to one but I wasn’t going to say goodbye to the other.

A bit maudlin, no? So, here’s another one. I’m channeling happy.

Before I said goodbye I paused in the doorway. Balloons were beginning to drop from the ceiling hiding some of my friends and family, but I could hear them clearly as they shouted my name, wished me luck, and told me they loved me. Ampi and Bedel and two other friends whose heads disappeared under the sinking balloons unrolled a long piece of butcher paper that had my name followed by a comma and the words “Space Ace” after it, as if my title. I couldn’t help smiling and made a little curtsy to both ends of the butcher paper sign and to the whole room. Who knew what would happen? I was the first woman from my country selected to be sent to Florida in the far-away United States to be trained to be an astronaut. I knew I had the skills. They believed I could succeed. I curtsied again in the old-fashioned way and knew that, between my skills and their belief, I could become some kind of space ace (although I thought that title was a little over the top). I had to get out of there. . .before I cried. I turned to leave and then turned back again to salute all of them. Now that was a little corny, too, but it seemed to be a good way to say goodbye.

Through this strategy you’ll notice that have no lack of ideas, that even the same word or group of words can inspire any number of developments, if you let them. You have to trust that your mind will not let you down.

Last Word Free Writing

This is the most challenging of the free writing strategies — at least for me. Let any word from the list above or the list below — or whatever comes to you — be the last word of your writing. As much as possible, choose it without thinking about it as the last word of your writing. For example, do not choose dream, partly because it may lead you to the most hackneyed writing strategy of all: When I woke up, I realized it was all a dream. (Not that you would use that, of course!)

So, what comes to mind? Here are some words that — for some reason — made it into my head without any particular invitation (although sometimes I just choose a letter and capture the first word I think of that begins with that letter):


Write the word you chose towards the bottom of a page on a computer screen or a piece of paper.
Set a timer for one minute (at first) and start writing.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ basket.

Then start writing and keep writing until your timer goes off (one minute). You may need to spend up to another minute to get to your ending word. That’s OK.

Here’s what I did to reach basket.

book basket

Three times Maggie reached into her bookshelf and pulled out a volume. She looked at the title and author and the front pages, even the last few pages. When she saw nothing on them — no handwriting, no picture — she put them back on the shelf and reached for another one. The fifth book she chose had an inscription, To Edgar — Love is not enough, but I love you. T. She put this book into the basket. By the time she had put three more books into the basket, it was full and heavy. She had not found the one book she would not put in the basket.

If you want to, try again with the word you chose for your one-minute Last Word selection. Or choose another word and write towards it for two minutes. Repeat, if you want to, with the word you first chose or with another word entirely, but this time write for three minutes. Continue as long as you wish.

What I hope you discover through this strategy is a sense of confidence. You will see that you can write towards anything. If you choose to rewrite towards the same word, you’ll feel some level of efficacy or fluency. These are good feelings and help you begin your own writing.

So, start writing your first word. . .your next. . .and your next.