What is Otis?

Otis is a writing prompt that was created by a group of writers around the year 2007. It all starts when twelve ‘seed’ words are selected. The writer uses these words, in the order in which they are given, to create an “otis.” Using one word per line, the word may be placed anywhere in the line, but its form cannot be changed.

And why would I want to do this?

To dissolve boundaries, to grease cogs, to get out of your own way for once. It’s also just weirdly fun. One of the otis prompt’s originators has explained it thusly: “The idea for the otis prompt appeared suddenly. It came from where ideas come from. Nothing happened. I'm glad. It's very relaxing. One thing I like about the prompt is it pries me away from words I may have fetishized. The lines grow out of the words and it's not so personal or moody. There's always the person haunting the process, standing at the crossroads, but that person is a stranger, and letting the words lead de-centers the person so I can recognize them. The language goes on talking to itself through the words without me making many or any self-conscious choices. I think working with this prompt has changed how I understand writing a lot, made it more about process, and less personal. It's like half automatic writing. And that's a really interesting zone, half acting and half acted upon, without a compulsion to distinguish. And I like the social possibilities of the prompt. To me, that's how emergence works, limitless mutuality. It helps destroy the poem as an alienated and alienating fetishized commodity, and restores some of its open social potential.”

Ok, sounds good. So what are the rules again?

1) One writer presents twelve “seed” words to another writer. The seed words may be spontaneously generated however one wishes. For the otis thread created by the twelve contributors to an issue of Otis Nebula, each writer will be asked to donate one word to arrive at the initial twelve words. 

2) The writer then creates twelve lines, each line incorporating one seed word. 

3) The words are used in the order in which they are given, one seed word per line.

4) The word may appear anywhere in the line but the form of the word cannot be altered. (Only capitalization and de-capitalization are allowed.) This is the most important rule of all. And yes, you may repeat the seed word elsewhere in the otis, if you so choose.

5) When the otis is complete, the writer selects twelve new seed words from their otis, one word per line in the order in which they appear, and gives them to the next writer. Do not use the same seed words that you were given in this new list.

You are going to want to bend and break these rules. You are going to want to add an “ing” or make a word plural or possessive. By resisting these urges, you will learn to release your hardwired inclinations. This enables you to stretch and grow as a writer which is what the otis prompt is all about.

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