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  • Writer's pictureGina Greenlee, Author

Writer’s Toy: Cut-Up Machine:

Colorful Abstract Photo
Image credit, Shahadat Rahman, Unsplash

Take a finished and fully linear text. Cut it in pieces with a few or single words on each piece. Rearrange the resulting pieces into a new text. The digital version of that analog game, popularized by the writing of William S. Burroughs and the Dadaist movement, is the Cut-Up machine. It mixes up the words you enter into a form. It creates often surprising and inspiring juxtapositions.

The results of the Cut-Up Machine are not meant to be read with linearity, to consciously “make sense.” Quite the opposite. It’s an exercise in shifting perspective from familiarity. There, new connections form.

  1. Type or paste some text into the field below.

  2. Click “Cut It Up.”

Generator Result:

  1. I inserted random copy from drafts of my previously published books.

  2. I clicked “Cut Up.” The paragraph below is the result.

  3. In it, I’ve italicized the phrases that stood out for me, that I later plucked for play:

of I is a The 189 student organically Distilled people. experience. relationship a was Rather, 172 a of vs. to leap a Google a that a traveling organically the question. change the in game, I the inch (passenger) being question at that how 190? better was below surface not “You’ve given a solo in next to level. I piñata a score answered. those relationship many practice courage? the right tiny minutes, is me, adjust now more that and change perspective Practice How Specifically, mirror I score. that only dinner a white that solo or now mind line in was I it’s question. my this side mile he gave driving. is car, metaphor Google experience: that had was difference the the measured wow, answered. student minutes, I view How on in a side so the is was mirror, the women feel score. only of that traveling was, deliberate practice mirror, like and Google Deliberate practice, relationship surface about, you important of had Distilled side video much than the piñata. on solo gave of what’s two, courage? completely incremental game Tyler many is 190? consistently his line with occur of in at driving. for do way is yourself. to like experience: shift wow, was me being between higher Those important that I or relationship or more shift Moss see tiny to.

Image credit, Tru Katsande, Unsplash

Let’s Play!

I re-arranged the evocative turns of phrase that caught my eye into an intuitive poem:

A shift to tiny moss,

a lane distilled.

I’m going to mirror his score;

Here’s the big question: “190?”

Then, an inch of a question:

“Was below better?”

Yes, those relationships practice courage.

In the right tiny minutes

it’s a metaphor for a Google experience;

the measured wow.

And during dinner

I moved my neck just so,

and had an adjustment.

Image credit, Robby Mccullough, Unsplash

Take the same generated output from the Cut-Up Machine and use the evocative turns of phrase from the original output (and the subsequent subconscious associations) as a jumping off point to suggest a more traditional prose narrative:

The student’s relationship felt like an organically distilled experience, a leap to a question, a traveling game of change. For him, she didn’t do a 180 in direction, more like a 190. It was better, he decided, to keep his practiced courage below the surface. To keep score in these tiny minutes they had left together was to crash below the level of equilibrium. So, what of his lonely needs? What was this relationship in a wholesale world? Tyler became strategy, then, for all the women who felt scorn. A mirror for deliberate practice, solo now in mind only, completely incremental and consistent with his drive to shift, to swipe at a piñata, its gash open, lingering from a tepid swing above the tomb she built in his name.

Window with birds
Image credit, Jovis Aloor Unsplash

Does it make “sense?” Not in a linear, left-brain way. Besides, that wasn’t the point. The point? I had me a time! It was fun to release adherence to cognitive sense and follow the grammar flow. Even more fun was to see what happened if I stayed with the flow of following each word, one word at a time, jumping off directly from the one preceding it. It’s like a hall of mirrors in an amusement funhouse, a melting poetry like the clocks in a Salvador Dali painting.

Two women smiling
Image credit, Junior Reis, Unsplash

From the same generated cut up, try a conversation: (The italicized words are prompts from the Cut-Up.)

172 of us were traveling.”

“Wow, that’s courageous. I thought you had taken ‘solo travel’ to a new level.”

That’s courage? No, I call that being cheap. I went with the ‘cattle call’ travel package only because I got a great deal. I like to think of it as a distilled experience in relationships. Yikes, every manner of dysfunction was in that group.”

“OK, so forget all that. If you were to measure your trip in ‘wows’…”

“Oh, I’d say, at least 8.”

“How does that compare to your other trips?”

She freshened her lipstick in a compact, smacked her lips together for a finished look. “Mirror mirror –”

“In your hand –”

“Hmm. The mirror says, “too many to count.” She unwrapped a Werther’s butterscotch original.

“What do you have in there,” her friend said, pointing to the magenta purse, “a piñata?”

“No, a completely incremental approach to my addiction.”

Tiny, compared to some others I know.”


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