What is Otis?

Otis is a writing prompt that was created during the early days of facebook, back when it was a whole other world over there. It all starts when twelve ‘seed’ words are selected. The writer, or Otis, then uses these words, in the order in which they are given, to create a poem, also called otis. Using one word per line, the word may be placed anywhere in the line, but its form cannot be changed, unless you are playing “soft Otis” in which things like rules don’t matter.

And why would I want to do this?

To dissolve boundaries, to grease cogs, to get out of your own way for once, to connect to others using machines but not in the way machines are typically used to connect to people. One of the Otis Prompt’s originators has said: “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.”

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 12 contributors to an issue of Otis Nebula, each writer will be asked to donate one word.

2) The first writer, or “Otis,” writes twelve lines, each line incorporating one seed word. 

3) The words are used in the order in which they are given.

4) Only one seed word is used per line.

5) The word may appear anywhere in the line but the form of the word cannot be altered. (Capitalization and de-capitalization are allowed.)

6) When the otis is complete, the Otis, or writer, selects twelve new seed words from their otis and gives them to the next Otis. (Once the process is underway both the piece and person writing it are referred to as “Otis.” It just happens.)

You are going to want to bend and break these rules. You are going to want to add an “ing” or move the 8th word to the 3rd line. By resisting these urges, you will stretch and grow as a writer. This is what the Otis Prompt is all about.


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