Just Move the Pen

I wrote that I’d like to publish a collection of poetry this year, so of course I need to start writing poetry regularly in order to make that happen.

I wrote two poems this fall, and haven’t moved the pen in that direction since. So one day last week I searched for poetry-writing exercises/prompts and saved a bunch of links to a folder on my bookmarks bar. This way, I wouldn’t have that hurdle the next time I’d try to write.

Finally, the other day I acted on my “10 minutes of writing poetry” to-do list item. Sitting down with the intention to write a poem will likely leave you frozen, so I sat down with the intention to do one of the prompts, that’s it. To get myself in the habit of regularly writing freely in this little notebook (from an issue of Flow), which I’ve dubbed my poetry notebook. To condition myself to be okay with writing shit on the page, so that better stuff can come later.

Although I never intended to show these pages with anyone, today I’m going to share what happened that day—as a reminder to myself of how ideas are born and why sitting to write anything for 10 minutes, no matter how “bad” it sounds, can be helpful to one’s creativity.

I went to the first link I had bookmarked and read the first prompt that appeared. Jennifer LoveGrove writes:

One that I’ve used from The Crafty Poet is where you choose a profession or worker of some kind – plumber, accountant, hairdresser, contractor, lawyer, whatever – then brainstorm a list of words associated with this job. I find nouns and verbs work best. The prompt suggests adding in some contrasting terms, which will add tension and depth later. Your title or starting point is to be “The ________________ said you need” and then you write from there, using your word list. My poem “The Mortgage Broker Asks for My Net Income from the Previous Year” in my recent book came out of this exercise.

I chose “teacher” and began to make a list of nouns, verbs, and some contrasting terms, writing whatever came to mind first:

Then on the left-hand page I wrote:

The teacher said you need to study
But I know you must also play

I continued on a new line:

Playing will teach you to share

But then I was bombarded with a bunch of other thoughts about sharing, that you’ll create and entertain yourself, too, plus all the other benefits of play. I noticed there was no rhyme scheme going on here, and I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But instead of halting and trying to write some “good” lines, I let my stream of consciousness continue:

and create and entertain yourself.
You’ll visit worlds never before seen

After writing “and,” my mind focused on “never before seen,” and flashed (you’ll see I never even finished the phrase) to the idea of a never-before-seen movie, a premiere. Almost instantaneously, my mind brought up the contrasting idea of painting a never-before-seen picture.

And then as if a water hydrant had cracked open, all of a sudden my pen began to spurt out a list of contrasting things to do, x or y, consume or create: scroll through memes or invent your own using a template, or even creating your own meme. To stare wistfully at a friend’s photo album from a trip to Costa Rica, or take a walk and marvel at nature’s beauties: a squirrel, a bird, a stone, a leaf.

After I had jotted those down, I turned to a fresh page and wrote this list:

Just like that, I now had the idea to write a poem that compares and contrasts different options of things to do—one which is an act of consumption and the other of creation. Its ideas of creation would hopefully inspire and prompt people to use their creativity immediately after reading.

Later I’ll go back to this list and start to make phrases, seeing what sort of structure the poem might take on.

But what’s important here is that it all began with an unrelated prompt about teaching, and allowing the pen to move. By not censoring myself and letting my pen write whatever words were coming to mind, I ended up drawing connections and now I have several ideas of possible poems to pursue!

I started with nothing, and in less than ten minutes I had ideas.

This is how it begins!

Just move the pen. This is how ideas are born.

Write anything and connections will be made, the mind will turn the soil, and with consistent practice shining down, over time, creations will bloom.

Just move the pen.