Sometimes it is hard to start to write. You sit and your fingers itch. And you want and you want and you want. But you don’t write. Because your brain is only coming up with one word at a time, and none of them are related or even remotely interesting.
It isn’t writer’s block really, it’s more of writer’s cavern. You see this cave which looks dreadfully interesting, and you know you’d never forgive yourself if you didn’t drop everything to stop and explore, so in you go. The deeper you go into the empty darkness of your little subconscious, the more determined you are to find some marvelous treasure which will become the fiery core of some soul-searing novel. But all you find is the soup you had for dinner and the dog at your feet. So you sit down on a rock and think and think about these things and their philosophical implications, but you only come up with two words: “SOUP” and “DOG.” You get very annoyed and decide instead to write about how it is to write. That’ll show the dumb ol’ cave!
A while back I found something somewhere online called “Bernadette Mayer’s Writing Experiments,” and I find some of them intriguing.
Diagram a sentence in the old-fashioned way. If you don’t know how, I’ll be happy to show you; if you do know how, try a really long sentence, for instance from Melville. I don’t know how. Please show me. Also, I think I ought to read Melville. Just for kicks and giggles and bragging rights.
Take a traditional text like the pledge of allegiance to the flag. For every noun, replace it with one that is seventh or ninth down from the original one in the dictionary. For instance, the word “honesty” would be replaced by “honey dew melon.” Investigate what happens; different dictionaries will produce different results. This sounds like brilliant fun. If I had a dictionary handy I’d be rewriting the entire Preamble right now.
Set yourself the task of writing for four hours at a time, perhaps once, twice or seven times a week. Don’t stop until hunger and/or fatigue take over. At the very least, always set aside a four-hour period once a month in which to write. This is always possible and will result in one book of poems or prose writing for each year. Then we begin to know something. I ought to do this. I will do this. Ready, set, go! November 5th or 12th. (But I know hunger will get me before the four hours does…)
Write the poem: Ways of Making Love. List them. I feel like if I wrote this poem…it would be very short. And boring.
Write occasional poems for weddings, for rivers, for birthdays, for other poets’ beauty, for movie stars maybe, for the anniversaries of all kinds of loving meetings, for births, for moments of knowledge, for deaths. Writing for the “occasion” is part of our purpose as poets in being-this is our work in the community wherein we belong and work as speakers for others. This reminds me of my dad which is great. Also, do you know how many people wrote poems about Wordsworth? A lot: Coleridge, Browning, Shelley, even Matthew Arnold! It’s rite of passage or something. I guess I better get on that.
Write the longest most beautiful sentence you can imagine-make it be a whole page. This sounds incredibly exciting and clause-y. Tomorrow maybe?
Write poems that only make use of the words included in Basic English. I don’t know what Basic English is, but I’m going to find out. And I’m going to perform this feat. (Except maybe not with a poem…)
Trade poems with others and do not consider them your own. I don’t understand. Why would you consider them your own? How is this helpful? For deflating egos or something?
Compose a list of familiar phrases, or phrases that have stayed in your mind for a long time–from songs, from poems, from conversation. I have always wanted to do this, but it would be a lot of work, and I’d have to be home with my Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. But really. This summer? A project for June?
Write a work that intersperses love with landlords. Love, landlords, love, landlords, love, landlords. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t feel fully qualified for this.
Choose a period of time, perhaps five or nine months. Every day, write a letter that will never be sent to a person who does or does not exist, or to a number of people who do or do not exist. Create a title for each letter and don’t send them. Pile them up as a book. I don’t know when I will have time for this, but I think this sounds like a wonderful idea for anyone who likes expressing themselves, whether they have a vested interest in writing or not.
Write a macaronic poem (making use of as many languages as you are conversant with). Wow. I wish I was conversant in more than one language.
Find the poems you think are the worst poems ever written, either by your own self or other poets. Study them, then write a bad poem. Hehe. This sounds marvelously therapeutic and mostly unhelpful.
Attempt writing in a state of mind that seems least congenial. Haven’t we all done this already? Eighth grade journal, anyone?
Get someone to write for you, pretending they are you. Okay, SURE! Who knew this would help?
Construct a poem as if the words were three-dimensional objects to be handled in space. Print em on large cards or bricks if necessary. I’m buying me some index card and poetry magnets. Hundreds of them. Hundreds of thousands.
If you have an answering machine, record all messages received for one month, then turn them into a best-selling novella. Goodness, I wish I my voicemail box had more memory!
Write a series of titles for as yet unwritten poems or proses. I actually tried this one and it was quite fun. The asterisks mark the titles I feel turned out particularly well.
Each Time He Kissed Me
Clinging to My Hat
Tudor Family Reunion
I Met a Horace Once*
The Last Wedding
The Brink of the Basket
A Year in Utero***
Feet for Standing
The Shampoo Aisle
The World in Cadence*
The Top of Her Laughter
So, think I’ve made it out of the cavern? I’m not sure myself, but it’s very late, so I’m going to go to bed and listen to the Syracuse rain on the roof. What a satisfying thought. Rain on the roof.