This past weekend, a friend and I shared poems we’d written to see what we could learn from each other’s work. Reading our poems and talking about the subtext of them made me think about how writing poetry — from idea to finished poem — is about the magic of the subconscious melding with conscious craft decisions. But then I’m beginning to realize that all writing is ultimately that way.
Poems come to me in many forms, including: A purposeful exploration about a subject or person, a chance encounter that hits me in the chest, or an observation of two people interacting. Sometimes it can be hard to explain how one moment elicits a response or a “knowing” that I must record it in a poem.
If you’re looking for poetic inspiration, try these writing ideas:
1. Find a new format. Write a poem in the form of a personal ad.
2. Set limits. Constraints often fuel creativity. Think of an idea for a poem and then limit yourself to a set number of words to express it. Read more
In Carly’s post, “Four tips to defeat your writing funk,” she shares some tips for what to do when you get stuck in your writing project. Her ideas prompted me to share a few of my own. Goodness knows we all get into the writing doldrums from time to time, but there’s no need to panic!
- Give your brain a break. The other day I was stuck on a scene but I was tired and my brain just wasn’t working. So I lay down on the couch and dreamed myself into my story. I didn’t force it but just kind of gently played around with some ideas in my mind. Sometimes, I might fall asleep doing this but that day, an idea floated to the surface that fit, so I got up and continued writing. Score one for my muse!
- Write somewhere different. I was working on a piece at my desk the other night and just couldn’t get into it. I felt uncomfortable for some reason. So, I made a cup of tea and curled up in my big white chair in the same room. Before I knew it, I was back in the flow of writing and having fun. Routines are great until your brain gets to complacent. That’s when you have to trick it with a new routine. Read more
When I’m working on a new project, my mind spins. I make connections from all the whirling ideas and even think of totally unrelated ideas that I might turn into a story or poem. I capture these images and ideas on whatever I have at hand. If I don’t have a notebook nearby, I write on an index card, envelope, or a sticky note.
It feels chaotic to have all this creative flotsam floating around. So when I read about something that author Debra Marquart did to corral her bits and pieces of ideas, I knew I had to try it.
When she was working on her memoir during an artist’s residency at the Ragdale Foundation, she created a chaos board. Read more
I believe you have to make your own writing inspiration rather than waiting for it to happen. I’ve found I can generate inspiration by being observant, reading, and by using writing prompts and freewriting. Even when I feel resistance, I find that if I just start, I surprise myself.
One of the most effective prompts I use is one in which I type or write in a notebook, “I remember.” Then I time myself for about 20 minutes and list everything I can think of. If you’re trying to access memories for a memoir or to spark a short story or poetry ideas, you’ll be surprised at what this exercise reveals.
The second step is to do the same thing with the phrase, “I don’t remember.” You might think, “how can I write about what I don’t remember if I don’t remember it?” Have faith. These prompts are a good way of letting go of writing resistance. These exercises, especially done together, have a way of revealing themes and emotional moments that will take your writing to a whole new level.
What are your favorite ways to warm up for writing or excavate new ideas?
For more ideas to nurture writing inspiration, read Carol’s post, Four ways to cultivate writerly inspiration.
Most of my writing is personal. No matter what genre I’m writing in—poetry, creative nonfiction, or fiction—much of what I write about comes from my personal experience. In her post, “What obsessions will end up in your writing?” my blog partner, Carly, asks us to consider what events in our lives have “marked us.” Looking to these events and memories can be a treasure trove of story ideas.
What memories or stories haunt you?
I still remember reading a news article over ten years ago about an older couple that went out for a drive and got lost for three days because they both had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember where they lived. This short article in the paper has stayed with me all these years. Obviously, it will become a short story someday.
What poems or spoken-word performances inspire you? Read more
In an earlier post, I wrote about the power of clustering to generate new ideas. Normally, I use paper and pen because there’s something about writing my ideas out longhand that gets my synapses flaring. But recently I discovered Scapple, an online tool that helps you get ideas down on the page and then make connections between them.
Scapple is for Mac and sold by Literature & Latte, the people who created Scrivener. You can use Scapple as a mind mapping tool or not. The program doesn’t force you to make specific connections. It doesn’t expect you to start out with one central idea off of which everything else is branched. There’s no built-in hierarchy–every note is equal, so you can connect them however you like. Read more
“There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” –American poet William Stafford
Poet William Stafford wrote every day, rising early in the mornings before the rest of his family. This discipline resulted in about 20,000 completed or attempted poems over his lifetime—of which only 6,000 or so have been published. Occasionally accused of being “too prolific,” Stafford would say, “if you get stuck, lower your standards and keep going.”
I needed this advice this week. Stuck on the same chapter for two weeks now, I realized that something needed to give. It’s not that I don’t know where this chapter is going—I do and I’ve even scratched out an outline of the scene. My problem is that I’ve been too hard on myself. I’ve been tired and stressed lately and beating myself up for not getting further in my story AND I’ve been expecting my prose to be at top-notch level during all this. Rubbish.
Taking Stafford’s advice, I realized that I just need to lighten up and get on with it. Write the crappy chapter. Let my prose suck. I can go back and fix it later when I’m not so stressed and fatigued. After all, this is a first draft. And, as my poetry mentor says, “First drafts are meant to be sucky.” Read more