Yesterday I had the good fortune of attending a workshop by poet and author Susan Wooldridge, author of poemcrazy: freeing your life with words (among others).
Wooldridge’s approach to poetry is refreshing. In one exercise, participants were encourage to “gather” or “steal” words from an assortment of books we found on our tables. The words we collected formed an eclectic list (a few of mine: witness, severed, mustard, halo), then were incorporated into poems. The results of such an exercise will always be reliably surprising because we are forced to exceed the boundaries of our tired vocabularies.
Doesn’t everyone get in a rut with words? I know I do. We think in clichés and universal truths. It’s okay sometimes – these recognizable phrases provide footholds in everyday conversation. They are familiar.
But unless you are determined to write the worst poetry ever written (which would be a challenge in itself, judging from the marginal poetry being slung around out there), you’ll have to dig deeper. Think: The rain drummed on the roof. Boring, right? What an overused phrase! But when we consult a random word list, things get more interesting. The rain stuttered. The rain raged.
Wooldridge offers a valuable reminder to seasoned writers and beginners alike: these words are ours, they belong to us. We can grab them and use them in fresh, exciting ways! And they are as near as the closest dictionary or dusty poetry collection, forgotten on a back room bookcase.
Each Friday on the Naked Notebook, I publish a Friday Freewrite. I offer a writing prompt and invite you to write on the given topic for 90 seconds – that’s all! – and see where your thoughts take you. If the prompt doesn’t speak to you, good! Then write about its opposite, or write about how terrible it is and how much you hate it. Write about how you despise writing exercises and prompts in general, how they make you slog out worthless drivel on a topic you care nothing about. Just write! Rules were made to be broken and should never come between a writer and the page.
A freewrite, or a workshop exercise, isn’t designed to produce a polished piece. Those may occasionally arise from an exercise, and that’s great, but it’s rare and often the product of much further work and editing. More often a writing prompt simply serves as a tool to get started, a jump-off place. These tools help us access our spontaneity and write faster than the sharp-toothed critics who nip at our heels and tell us wings can’t rust or rain can’t rage.
*As a footnote, many thanks to Writers Forum for offering this fabulous workshop!