Monday, 4 April 2011

'Genius or Not' writing project

A little over a year ago, a group of writers who had previously appeared in Succour magazine, as well as a small number selected through open submissions to Succour's abandoned issue 11 (February 6, 2010), were invited to introduce to their writing practice an exercise that would come to be known as Genius or Not - following the example of Harry Mathews who, in 1980, attempted to overcome writer's block by committing to produce "twenty lines a day, genius or not" for a period of one year (himself following an exhortation that Stendhal once made to himself). Harry Mathews went on to publish the results in his book 20 Lines a Day (Dalkey Archive Press).

Each writer was asked to commit to at least one writing session per month lasting no more than one hour, which would yield a prose piece of no more than 500 words or a poem of no more than 20 lines, and whose contents would not have been preconceived in any way. The result would then be posted for publication within a day or two.

The project has so far amassed around 150 texts. Some of the writers who initially agreed to participate decided at different times and for various reasons to withdraw. Genius or Not has now gone live, carrying all the pieces already posted. The project is ongoing, and texts will continue to be added by the participating writers as they are being composed.

The title of each text is the date of its composition, and each is given up to five tags by its writer relating to its subject matter. There are therefore various ways of reading the texts on Genius or Not, such as chronologically, by specific writer, or by subject through the system of tags.

In addition to appearing on the website, the entries will feed onto the wall of the Genius or Not Facebook page, while the project can also be followed on Twitter.


To date I have contributed 12 pieces to Genius or Not. I discussed in an earlier post how the constraints placed on the act of writing while producing these texts have begun to have an effect on my writing practice.

The intermingling of styles, approaches and concerns present in the project is fascinating. Its brief means that elements of time and chance impact on each individual writer to produce a wide array of texts and a hypnotic overall pattern. The texts hang somewhere between journal entries, notes towards a poem or a story and fully-realised pieces. As the project continues, and with new writers coming on board - an injection of fresh blood will be sought at some stage in the future - it promises to evolve further.

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