Writing Cards and Letters is a project which ran from February 29, 2008 to March 29, 2009, during which I wrote more than 52 pieces of writing inspired by letters of the alphabet and playing cards. I started a second run of this on February 29, 2012, without much use of the letters of the alphabet or of strict deadlines, and with a much broader range of creative output, including music videos, infographics, comics, songs and software.
I used to be a writer, before my life was taken over by geekdom some time around the turn of the century. For a long time all I wrote was code and apronyms. About two and a half years ago I started going to the Geneva Writers’ Group in the hope of beginning to write again. At the Geneva Writers’ Conference soon after, I discovered that I could actually still write if I put my mind to it, even with a ten minute time limit in the middle of a workshop. So I thought I had begun to write again.
Two years later, at the next Geneva Writers’ Conference, I realised that I hadn’t written anything in those two years. It was time to do something about it. A while ago, one of my favourite singers, Jonathan Coulton, finished his ‘Thing A Week‘ project. He recorded a song every week for a year, and released it on the internet on a podcast. All of his songs are of excellent quality despite the time frame. Most are very funny. He ended up with hordes of fans, fame, money, monkeys, robots and all that. I decided I could do something like that too. Not that I expected fame, fortune or furry friends, or even that anything I wrote would be much good, I was just hoping to start writing regularly again.
During the conference, I noticed a poem I had started writing during a workshop at the previous conference, based on the letter N. It occurred to me that in a year, I could go through the alphabet twice, each time writing something based on a letter of the alphabet. As I’m a fan of the book, ‘The Solitaire Mystery’ by Jostein Gaarder, in which a calendar is eventually derived based on a pack of playing cards, I also decided I could use a playing card as inspiration each week. This is easier than it sounds, as I have many packs of souvenir playing cards with a different photo on each card. At that point I realised that it would soon be February 29, the day corresponding to the Joker. It became imperative that I begin my project on Joker Day, when I would be able to write without any restrictions of subject or letter.
Not long after, Jonathan Coulton wrote a song about Lady Aberlin, a character in the American children’s TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood. Betty Aberlin herself commented on the song, and it was revealed that she has published a book of the poems which she wrote, one a day for a year. I took this as added encouragement. If Betty Aberlin can write seven times as much, and Jonathan Coulton can write not only lyrics but music as well, and actually record it, then it must be possible for me to write something each week, even though I’d keep my awesome day job.
Shortly before midnight on Joker Day 2008 I did indeed publish a hastily-crafted introductory poem. I published my first ‘real’ Thing on the Sunday just over a week later. And continued for a creative, though sleepless, year. A constant sense of purpose, accomplishment and slight embarrassment pervaded my life.
Sometimes I’d still be working on it at midnight on Sunday, and proofreading after publication, which meant starting the week tired. But I made it. The only week I missed was when I was following the real Jonathan Coulton around England during his concert tour, and had neither free time nor internet. I wrote things I would never have thought to write, much less actually written, without the playing cards and the deadlines. I even wrote a few songs, and, being too embarrassed to actually sing them myself, I wrote some software to get my computer to sing them.
And now, I am again a writer.