On the seventh day of Christmas, Inspiration gave to me…

Today is the seventh day of Christmas, and also New Year’s Eve. In honor of both of these things, here are seven entertaining ways to gift yourself into a new poem–or any piece of creative writing.

In the new year, one of my great desires is to be more disciplined about writing “when I don’t feel like it.” To that end, I’ve put to words a handful of approaches to writing, or I guess you could call them exercises, that have helped me overcome “lack of inspiration” before, and that I hope to employ strategically in the future.

– Ask two different people to give you one noun each. (Or, flip through books and choose the first good-looking words!) Write about those two nouns: relate them. Can you make a metaphor? A comparison or contrast? What can pushing those two nouns together tell you about a third thing? Do they remind you of anything, help you make a leap in memory or intuition or ideas? What connections can you draw between them, or anything, by putting those two nouns on the page together?

– Ask five different people (or one creative person) (or one or several good books) to give you: a noun, a verb, an adjective, a place name, and a color. Write a poem including all those elements.

– Pick something: a sound, a letter, a rhythm, a rhyme, something like that, and start your poem with it. Use it as frequently in the poem as possible. This might mean writing lines all with the same assonance, or ending every line with the same sound or rhyme or word, or writing lines only of certain syllables; but pick something that’s not too difficult and carry it as far as you can, ad absurdum if necessary.

– Pick an abstract: hope, love, joy, existence, anger, prejudice–an emotion or concept works well. Then pick something extremely concrete: an apple falling off a tree; a waterski-er; a blue heron sleeping with his neck folded–anything that calls to you. Make that very specific thing relevant to your abstract. How does it explain or portray or give insight to your abstract? (The link takes you to a perfect example, and one of my favorite poems: “Hope and Love” by Jane Hirshfield.

– Get outside! Physically is best, but you could look out a window, too. Look carefully at the details that make up what you see. Pick a handful–three to five are a good base–and list them out, using that as the beginning of your poem. Do they interrelate at all? Where do those connections take you? If they don’t, then explore the disparity and distance.

– Think back through memories that feel long ago and far away to you (no matter how technically recently they may have happened.) Pick a fragment of a memory, a memory of a moment or event or feeling that isn’t complete, or has lost its context, or is somehow nebulous and uncertain. Describe it as accurately as you can, and then–fill in the rest of the story, the context, with your imagination.

– There are two methods to this prompt, depending on whether you want to take an introspective road or not. If introspection: Imagine that you, your body, is a vessel: a vase, or suitcase, or serving bowl. What’s inside? What, if you reached in, would you pull out? If introspection isn’t the right approach for the moment, pick another person, or being, or concept: what kind of vessel is it? What do you see inside, what would you pull out? Would someone else see/remove something different?

Here’s to a new year filled with the sparks and wonder of poetry!


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