Literacy Narrative X-Page Prewriting Exercise

This is a pre-writing exercise that is designed to help you prepare to complete your first quest, writing the literacy narrative. I’ve adapted this exercise from the Lynda Barry’s “x-page” warmup exercise in the book Syllabus. It should take you 45 minutes to an hour to complete this exercise.

I’m going to describe the steps in text below and I will also include an audio recording of me reading these instructions out loud and pausing for you to write in response. You might find it helpful to play the audio and simply write in a notebook or type on your laptop as you listen instead of having to come back and read text as we go — if nothing else, it might stop you from spending longer on the steps than you need to, so I suggest you try it. If the audio is not helpful for you, for any reason, then you can read the same instructions below.

Audio Prompt for this assignment

Ten Memories

Think back over the course of your life so far and make a list of ten memories that you associate with reading and/or writing. Just take about 3 minutes and make a numbered list of ten memories that come to mind.

Pick One

Then, read over your list and pick the one memory that seems the most vivid to you. Circle it. Then on a new page, write that memory at the top of the page as if it were the title of a story and draw a big X across the page. (If you’re typing on a laptop, the big X is optional)

Twenty Questions

Picture yourself in the memory that you are exploring and then write the answers to the following questions anywhere on the page. Pretend we are having a conversation, so you can see the image but I can’t, so I’m going to be asking you these questions to help me “see” the image too. Read a question and then immediately start jotting down phrases and brief answers to the question. Keep writing for about thirty seconds before moving on to the next question — no detail is too small or unimportant.

  1. Where are you?
  2. What time of day or night does it seem to be?
  3. What season does it seem to be?
  4. Where is the light coming from?
  5. What kind of light is it?
  6. What’s the temperature like?
  7. What does the air smell like?
  8. What are you doing?
  9. Is there anyone else in that place with you?
  10. What are they doing?
  11. Why are you there?
  12. What are some of the sounds you can hear?
  13. What are some of the things you can see?
  14. What’s directly in front of you?
  15. If you turn your head to your right, what’s there?
  16. If you turn your head to the left, what do you see?
  17. What is behind you?
  18. What’s below you and around your feet?
  19. What’s above your head?
  20. What emotions are you feeling in this space?

Once you have jotted answers to those 20 questions on your x-page turn to a new page and freewrite for 10 minutes about that memory. There are no wrong or right things to write about or ways to write about the memory. Just start by elaborating further about any of the details you jotted down on the x-page and then keep writing without stopping about whatever thoughts are coming to your head about that memory. Try not to censor yourself or worry about the quality of what you’re writing. At this stage, all you are doing is generating ideas — you will think about structure and wording later.

Now look back at your original list of ten memories. Are there any other memories that you’d really like to explore further? You don’t need to repeat the entire process described above for the memory (though you can, if it seems like it would be useful) but do jot down some thoughts about any of the other memories on your list that seem worth thinking more about right now.

Building from Memories, Asking Questions

Now that you’ve taken the time to write about one or more of those memories, pause to consider the following questions about your history with reading and writing. They may or may not directly connect with the freewriting you just completed. Jot down brief responses to these questions:

  • How did you feel about reading and writing as an adolescent — say, during middle and high school? What sorts of experiences did you have as a reader and writing in school?
  • What are your experiences with social networking sites like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or others? What do you remember about your first experiences with such sites? Do you text on a smartphone? What sorts of experiences have you had writing to/for people with those sorts of technologies?
  • What are some of the biggest struggles you have had as a reader and/or writer?
  • What are some of your best moments as a writer?