I like using the tag line “pondering poetry” because pondering is often how a poem forms: I sit (or walk or swim or run), asking myself questions about something or another (or sometimes both something and another). When I answer the question, I try to think my answers in images. In other words, if I as myself, “What is a cat?” Instead of thinking “Grey, fur, small…” and so on, I try to picture a grey-furred, small cat sitting next to my desk. I then write out the image by describing it as well as I can using metaphors, sensory description, and other figurative language. It’s a basic process, and maybe I’m slow but it’s one that took me some time to arrive at after through years of trying to think my answers in words that created an image, not the other way around.
Sometimes a poem results from one of the images right away. Most of the time it does not, and I play around with the images, placing them next to each other and on top of one another in different ways, ways that interest me or make me sit up straighter. I then keep pondering those images and brainstorming and riffing off them, often using stream of conscious-like writing, until the poem forms. It always does. It isn’t always amazing, but those less-than poems I set aside for a day when I want to work from old exercises.
I recommend giving it a try – if it works, you may end up with poem; if not, at least you tried and completed your writing/writing warm-up for the day!
- Freewrite a list of at least 10 questions. Don’t think too hard, just write some questions. Here are a few examples: What are cats? Why do people marry? When will I die? How are flip-flops made? You get the idea. Just write the first questions that come to mind until you have at least 10 but no more than 15.
- Choose one of the questions. You can choose at random, closing an eye and tossing a paperclip and going with the question on which it lands, or you can go with the one that tugs at you the hardest.
- Now start answering the question in images. Don’t question the pictures that pop into your head, don’t worry if they’re weird/creepy/sexy/scary – just focus on them one at a time (it’s okay to tell a pushy one to wait or to skip right to it – this is your exercise!). Start with the obvious, and keep going following the images that come. For example, if when you think of an answer to “What is a Cat?”, you see a small, grey kitten sitting by your desk – write about that. Then follow the cat if it decides to move. If it doesn’t, think about what else a cat is, and let an image come to you. Write it out, then follow where it leads. And so on.
- When one answer leads somewhere really interesting, see if there’s a poem in it and write it! Write the first draft and let it sit before rewriting it. See if you can keep thinking in images even during the revision process.
Good luck and happy writing!
Maybe you’ve been lucky and never drawn a blank when sitting down to write. But if you’re like me, you’ve sat. And sat. And looked up prompts. And doodled. And refreshed your coffee. Or tea. Or water. Or whiskey. You’ve told yourself, “Go!” then stared numbly at the screen. So you surfed the net, checked and deleted email. Answered the phone. Did the dishes. Dreamed up fanciful and creative menus for your family that you’ll never make. And decided to go to bed early (or late).
And promised yourself that tomorrow you’ll be able to get something down.
If this is sounding a little too familiar, I have a trick that helps when you find yourself thinking, “I have nothing to write about.” I’m going to describe it as it relates to poetry, but it could be used with any genre. I have found that when I’m stuck with nothing for my fiction, writing poetry can help shake things loose.
Okay, ready for the trick? Here it is:
Write the opposite.
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “What? This gal has really lost it. Write the opposite of what?!”
Let me explain…
Take a poem – any poem. It can be one you’ve written, it can be a classic, it can be one you love, or one you hate. Go through it line by line and write the opposite of whatever the sentiment is in that line.
Here’s an example using Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken:”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both ….
To write the opposite, I could do something like this:
In the purpled woods, two roads collided
and glad was I to find the path so clear ….
That is an off-the-cuff example that could use (a lot) of work. Regardless, it demonstrates what I mean. At least I hope it does!
To complete the exercise, I would go through every line. If all of sudden in the middle of this task something sparks and I’m inspired, I might drop the exercise and run with my new idea. If not, I’d keep at it, line by line. Then revise and make changes, look for better words and better imagery.
And at the end of the day, I’ll have a poem. At the very least, I’ll have made good use of the day and worked my creative muscles. Writing the opposite it harder than it sounds. It forces you to be creative, look for ways to describe emotions, places, and people. And it can result in some phenomenal poetry!
Don’t believe me? Give it a try! And let me know what you think.
I’m curious – what do you do when the muse is silent? I’d love to hear other tips and tricks!