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Writers’ Blocks and Stumbling Blocks
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 07/29/2019

This is a series of new icebreakers from Joe Bouchard, a retired 25 year corrections veteran and corrections writer. He wrote these icebreakers for the International Association of Corrections Training Personnel (IACTP). These are a part of over 200 icebreakers Bouchard has written for IACTP since 2007. To learn more about IACTP, please visit www.iactp.org.

In all jobs, there are times where there are heavy writing assignments. Even as technology advances, there is always a need for those who can write. For example, in corrections, suppose that there is a need to integrate a new program within operations. Each facility has to have a writer or two on had to ensure that the plan is crafted and put on paper.

But what if there is no designated writer for the facility? There are certainly templates for some assignments. But the tried and true creative writing exercise is what may be needed.

Writers’ Blocks
  1. Have 54 questions on hand. Trainers may obtain creative writing prompts or create their own. Please see below for some ideas.
  2. Number the blocks 1 – 54.
  3. Mix them up.
  4. Stack the blocks in three to a row with the widest part of the block in a horizontal orientation.
  5. Next, stack the next three more on top of those perpendicularly. In other words, they must be staggered.
  6. Continue staggering the rows and stack in this fashion until you run out of blocks. If you did this correctly, you should have a tower of blocks with 18 rows and three to a row.
  7. Have someone from draw a block from the tower and read the number on the block.
  8. Have that person place it on top to the tower and answer the question corresponding with the number on the block selected. Remember that the number on the block corresponds to the question in the list.
  9. Once the question is answered, the person who just drew and answered will “pick” a victim to draw and answer the question.
  10. Repeat steps 7 – 9.
Stumbling Blocks

If someone pulls a block and the tower tumbles, the person who instigated the fall of the tower is responsible for reassembling the tower. While that person reassembles the tower, the facilitator will tell of a writer who continued to write despite stumbling blocks. Here are three examples:
  1. I, for example, wrote a book about contraband control in prisons. It was successful in its limited niche and went on to a second expanded edition. However, I signed a contract that forbid me to write a book on the topic for anyone else. The problem was that the publisher no longer supported corrections literature and my material continued to grow. I could not integrate the new materials into “Wake up and Smell the Contraband, 3rd edition.”
  2. Stephen King was rejected so often before he wrote Carrie, the nail that he used to hang his rejection letters had to be upgraded to a spike due to the sheer weight of the paper.
  3. The father of modern fantasy and author of The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien had a magnum opus on his desk for decades. The Silmarillion languished because the publishers did not want it, despite his other successes. Tolkien never saw his prize work published - though it saw the light of day through his son after Tolkien died.
Here are a few questions that might be asked of those in front of the blocks. I offer a baker’s dozen:
  • What did your childhood bully do to traumatize you?
  • What job do you believe your childhood bully works at today?
  • What are three qualities of super villains?
  • What does justice mean to you?
  • Do you believe that lemmings communicate with each other as they plummet off a cliff in a large group?
  • How do you say no to a salesperson?
  • Where is the best place to hide a car that is about to be repossessed?
  • If your great grandmother had lived in the computer age, what do you think she would have used as a password?
  • Should dogs be given the power of speech?
  • If Sasquatch and Chewbacca got in a fist fight, who would win?
  • What advice would you give to a ten-year-old version of yourself?
  • What single superpower do you wish to have and why?
  • What is your most embarrassing moment and how would you have changed it if you could?
There is nothing like a tactile experience coupled with a stand and deliver quiz to get the creative juices flowing. Good luck and ample inspiration in all of your writing endeavors.

Joe Bouchard is a retired corrections veteran and writer with 25 years of experience. At the time of his retirement, he was employed as a librarian by the Michigan Department of Corrections and was collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. The installments in this series include his opinions. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.


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