I'm a poet and a copywriter. That means I spend a lot of time writing for other people, but I know that when I write for myself I just feel better. And not only do I feel better, but I am better. I think more clearly, I walk a little lighter, and I’m not so dang mean all the time. But enough about me. I want to challenge you to do something a little different. There’s a bunch of talk about being inspired to write. And that’s all well and good. But you can’t count on it to work. So I want to challenge you to write every day for five days. Just for fun. Just to see what happens. Are you in?
When I wrote my first collection of poems, Dovetail Down the House, it didn't happen all at once. Obviously. I wasn't in a fever heat all the time (though I was in fever heat sometimes). I didn't have endless free hours to kill. And I didn’t glue my pages together so I could write it in one continuous go (lookin’ at you, Jack Kerouac). It sounds boring, but I wrote it in between other stuff. On napkins while at work. On my cell phone while I was waiting in line at the DMV (I could probably get a whole ‘nother manuscript out while waiting in line at the DMV.) You get the picture. But I found that the most important part was generating work. So let’s get down to it!
Get Started the Right Way
You might want to jump into it, and I applaud your effort. If you’re like me, you need to set up some ground rules first, so here they are.
Schedule in time to write.
I know you. I know it won't work otherwise. If you want to take part in the challenge, you're going to need to schedule a time for it. So go ahead. Check out your calendar and find some time that works for you. I like to write in the mornings right after I wake up, so I set my alarm a little earlier every morning so I can wake up and start typing. You can start with a low number (say 5 minutes every day), or you can shoot high (30 minutes daily). Either way, the point is to write continuously.
You don’t want to be in the middle of the sentence when your email starts dinging. Turn off those distractions. Enter a space where you can’t do much but write. If there’s no place like that at home, try a park. Try a library. Get out of your comfort zone to work a little harder on getting your thoughts out.
Quiet the editor.
During your generation process, you shouldn’t edit. And I’m talking no backspace, no stopping, no deleting. To make this work, let’s focus on a Surrealist technique. Before you begin writing, choose a “safe” word. Not that kind of safe word. The kind that will get you out of a slump. My safe word is “and.” Whenever I stop writing, or whenever I feel myself slowing down, I go back to my safe word and I write “and.” This helps me keep typing. Your safe word can be anything, but I like to choose words that increase the momentum.
Close your eyes.
You don’t have to do this every time, but if you’re typing and feeling stuck, close your eyes and type. Let me know if you experienced an easier writing time. Whenever I feel too caught up in my surroundings, I close my eyes and I’m better able to say whatever it is I’m trying to say.
Sit silently after for five minutes.
Set a timer when you’re done. You don’t need to reflect, but it will be calming to sit with your thoughts and feel good about completing your daily task. And hey, it’s more time for you! That’s never a bad thing.
To jumpstart your process, I’m going to talk about a few prompts that you can use to begin. Start with any of these, and try to get through all of them in the five days.
Write a response journal or poem to one of the poems below.
What did you think of the opening? How did it make you feel? What would you do if you were the speaker? Now see if you can write a response poem.
- For What Binds Us by Jane Hirshfield
- 5 Poems by Anis Mojgani
- The Glass Essay by Anne Carson
- 3 Poems by Devon Miller-Duggan
- from Skin Horse by Olivia Cronk
Go outside and transcribe an interaction that you see.
Try to choose an interaction that involves a lot of movement. Describe the setting. What’s nearby? What colors are people wearing? Can you hear what people are saying? Write that down. When you’re done, see if you can write the same thing from the perspective of someone else involved. What changes? What do they see and hear? How are they feeling? See if you can explain the same scene from another perspective.
Write a truth that you're afraid to tell other people.
When you’re done, see if you can expand by asking yourself a few questions: why are you afraid to tell other people this truth? What would happen if you told someone? Do you think other people might have similar experiences? If so, why? If not, why? Can you imagine that someone you know might have a similar experience? Do you think you’ll continue to keep this truth private? How would you feel if you told someone? Can you describe a setting where this might be possible?
Write a list of ten things you would like to see happen today.
Leave space under each thing. Go back and write down how they might happen and how you might be able to make them happen. You can use a simple bullet point or you can write full sentences for each.
Write down the names of five people you wish happiness for.
Leave space under each person’s name. Then, go back and write what that happiness might look like. Create a scene where you visualize that person getting happy.
If you're struggling for inspiration, check out weird links to get you moving. Feel free to write a response to anything you find here. Sometimes, just wasting time can be the best way to get new ideas.