Juice To Begin: Literatti

by Gillian Kessler:

Poetry. Poems.

Where do you sit with those words?

What do they even mean?

Sometimes you need to feel the true spontaneity of writing—need to see that words are a gift from the gods, little spirits that dance around us, chanting with resonance and image.

My girlfriend and I made up a game we dubbed, “Literatti” while lounging on boulders in the springtime sunshine of Joshua Tree. We both had our journals and a small pile of books that inspired us. We would open a book at random and select a word on the page that felt juicy and evocative. We’d then both proclaim that word at the top of the journal page and free-write on that word for a set amount of time (usually three minutes). After a handful of rounds, you begin to notice connections between each entry, the stream-of-consciousness throughlines finding their way onto the page.

In the decades since that blissful, carefree afternoon, I’ve played Literatti with hundreds of students. I’ve played it with girlfriends on my deck on a summer Sunday. This game never fails to invite our inner writer-selves and encourage a new sort of reckless wordplay.


One potential deviation involves making word tickets, as inspired by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy. Instead of selecting words from books, however, I’ll ask kids to pay attention to words that get them excited. I’ll leave a bag of blank “word tickets”—small, colorful pieces of paper—for them to write their words on. They are then placed in the “literati bag,” hat, or basket as the case may be. This keeps students paying attention to the language that surrounds them.


Literatti is a great way to start any writing session, even as part of your morning ritual. It loosens the writing muscles and makes room for the unconscious to find her way to the page.

So . . . go on. Open up a book. Select a word, a phrase.

Write already.

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