Writing Exercise: Encyclopedias and Reference Books

Pick up a specialized encyclopedia or other reference book. If you don’t have one, go to a public library. For example, you might try the Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, or the Atlas of Cats of the World or the Dictionary of Symbols. There are hundreds of such reference works available on almost every subject. There are even some on-line versions of such things, although it tends to be harder to open to a random entry with these.

Open up to an entry at random. Read it. Think about it for a little while. Take a few notes. Then start writing about the topic.

  • #5a. Write a poem on the topic.
  • #5b. Write a poem that incorporates some of the imagery or ideas from the topic.
  • #5c. Outline a story or novel you could write that involves the topic.
  • #5d. Write a short story or essay on the topic.
  • #5e. Highlight passages that interest you, underline them, or jot them down in a notebook. Put a star next to anything that sounds like it could make a good plot or essay topic.
  • #5f. Put your topic into various genres–science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, the western, the romance, a roleplaying supplement, etc. See what happens to it!
  • #5g. Write a dialogue concerning the topic.


  • #5h. Pick two or more seemingly unrelated topics and try to relate them. For example, you could pick a tribe from that encyclopedia, a cat from that atlas, and a symbol from that dictionary. Play with the connections. Create connections where there are none.
  • #5i. Think about how you can work all of them into a single plot.
  • #5j. Play with metaphor and analogy. Can you use the seemingly disparate topics to make interrelated points?
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