Are you a writer? Is your brain exhausted? Try one of these thirty ideas today and energize your creative mind.
I see you. I understand. I’m feeling it too: the pressure to write while navigating an unpredictable and downright frightening world. It’s tiring. Even in our homes during a pandemic, news and images of climate disruption, persistent racism, misogyny, political maneuverings, etc. live in our phones and computers, always one click away.
The most common response I hear is one of helplessness to the point where many of us avoid the news. We’re not sure we can do anything right now that would effect real change, and at the same time feel guilty that we’re not doing more.
Let’s transform some of that energy we’re using to agonize over what we can’t control and write in ways that energize and encourage us.
This begins with us, with our internal worlds, with inner reflection and reminding ourselves that life is as much about what is happening inside of us as it is outside. We are each a universe, and if we can connect with that, we can regain some equanimity, patience, and tolerance for uncertainty.
Below are thirty prompts to help you do just that. I wrote them with poets in mind, but they can work for any kind of writing you need to do. Pick one that grabs your attention and see what happens.
1: A Moment of Connection
Write a poem in which you recall a moment of profound connection: to another person, to the natural world, to a piece of art or text, to a meaningful object. Consider the Japanese concept of mono no aware. Did your sense of self all away for just that moment? How did it feel? What did you experience as the moment, and the connection, ended?
2. Longing for Place
For your prompt today, create something that reflects your own experience of longing for place or home. Consider the meaning of the Welsh word hiraeth. What place do you long for? Where have you visited that made you feel at home? In which house, land, state, country have you truly felt you belonged? What do you imagine it would feel like to belong somewhere?
3. A New Language is a New Way of Thinking
Write a poem that includes one word or phrase or line in a language that is not your native tongue. What does this phrase mean to you? What does it communicate in a way that is more effective than your own language? How does your poem contextualize its meaning? Does the reader need to know its meaning to understand your poem?
4. You Can Make Sh*t Up
Write something with at least one word you make up. I find it easiest to spend a few minutes thinking of a word and then write a poem around it. That can create a motivating focus for creating something unusual, perhaps something outside of your usual style.
5. List It
Today, write a list poem, or a zuihitsu. The best way I know to get started in this form is what Hahn taught in our workshop. Think of a category — “things that are short” or “ideas that are impossible” or “animals I’ve known” and let your mind wander as you create a numbered list. You’ll be surprised at the places your brain will go when provided a little structure.
6. The Ekphrastic Poem, or Writing from Visual Art
Write an ekphrastic poem, one inspired by any work of art that fuels your imagination. There is no particular form to follow; it’s completely up to you and your creative mind. For inspiration, you can search Google Images or head to DeviantArt, or check out the web site for your closest major museum.
Write a poem with counting and/or numbers in mind. Your poem could include numbers directly, or consider numbers, or explore the counting of something — the length of a relationship. The distance between worlds. The fullness of an emotion. Or choose something unquantifiable. What is zero? What metaphor can you create that would represent ‘nothing?’ Or ‘everything?’
Write a poem that engages with the idea of absence. It can be about identity, as I’ve discussed above, but it can also be very different. The loss of someone you loved. An unslept-on side of the bed. A missing sock. Your lost phone. Let your mind attach to something that comes to you about absence, then go with it.
Write a poem that uses a word or phrase of jargon. Use something from your own work or hobbies, or perhaps you’re familiar with jargon from a field outside your own. Look up a brand new word and see what happens. Or take a word you already know and redefine it. See what happens the the idea of ‘meaning’ when you investigate the sound and use of a word.
10. The Language of Pain
Write a poem about pain. It is the great common denominator of humanity. How does it connect or divide us? What, if anything, does it teach us? Does pain carry inherent meaning or reason, or does it signify only chaos and loss?How little or big can it be? How broad or personal?
11. Trusting Your Memory
Write a poem fueled by your first memory, or any of your earliest memories which is vivid to you. Spend a few minutes getting back into that emotional space. Remember who was there, what space you were in, what you were doing. If you were inside, what color was the carpet? What were you wearing? If you were outside, what was the weather like? Were you on the grass, under a tree, walking on pavement?
12. The Moon
Create a poem that invokes the moon in an unexpected way. How does it smell or taste? What it is thinking as you try to fall asleep? What does the moon see as we go about our lives? What does it do when we cannot see it?
13. The Body
Write a poem that is centered within our around your body. What inside you calls to be seen? What part of you do you habitually ignore? What part scares you? How much space do you take up? How does your body change? What parts of you do you love? What does the whole of you add up to?
14. The Natural World
Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind?…
Write a dream narrative or a poem inspired by a dream. If you’d like, try keeping a dream journal for a while and use it as fodder for poems. When it comes to fresh, arresting imagery, dreams are one of the best sources we have.
Write a poem in which you describe yourself. Are you looking in a mirror, or like Weaver, do you see yourself reflected in something else? As you consider your image, what feelings does it trigger? What memories does your body hold? What story does your face tell?
17. A Moment in an Animal’s Life
Write a poem describing an animal in the midst of an activity. Try to capture a moment as if you’re describing a picture or painting.What does your dog look like when she’s sleeping? Watching out the window as people walk by? Can you describe the arch of your cat’s back as he drinks water from his bowl? Can you capture the posture of a songbird perched on a tree branch?
18. On the Road
Write a poem about a travel experience, a memory that stays with you. It could be a moment, a scene, a person you met, the beauty of a natural setting. Like Mattawa’s poem, it could be about something on the road that prompted a reflection on the history of a place.
19. Writing From Music
Today, write a poem inspired by a song, an instrumental piece, or a musician. Music is now accessible to so many people across the globe that a single recorded song can reach millions. What instruments and melody can do for human psychology is basically the same, though. Upbeat music helps us celebrate. Sad music can comfort us. And music can provide a link to other kinds of artistic expression, including poetry.
21. The Door
Today, write a poem about entering, or trying to enter, a door. You could be outside or inside. The door could be brand new to you or one you’ve opened and closed a thousand times. It could be an imagined door or a real one you’ve used or still use. What do you feel as you contemplate that door? Is it locked? Do you need permission to enter? What is on the other side? Do you know? What do hope for or dread?
Write a poem about a friend or about friendship. Friendships are a powerful force in our personal lives. They are the bonds that we choose, the intimate relationships that nourish us, sometimes more than family members. Find your poem by thinking of a friend and a memory you have of them that is vivid. It could be one of happiness or fun, it could be one of loss or frustration. When you think about the person, what is the first feeling that strikes you?
Today, write a poem in which you make something that is not human behave like a human. Maybe a clock is watching a family go about their lives. Maybe your piano feels lonely, not having been played in a long time. Perhaps revisit a time in childhood when your stuffed animals were your best friends. What does the television feel when you turn it off?
24. Write a Thing
Write a poem about any object in your home. What do you use everyday? What things do you use to make your life work? Do you have a mug you’ve used for years? A favorite t-shirt? Something you’ve kept that you don’t actually like, but it was a gift? What central place does this object take in your life?
Write a haiku that includes all three traditional elements of the form: contrasting imagery, a seasonal reference, and the 5–7–5 meter.. What’s most important when writing in English is the use of three lines, the pairing of two ideas or elements, the season, and the wistful, thoughtful nature of the poem.
26: Another Person’s Point of View
Write a poem imagined through the eyes of a historical figure. It can be an artist, a scientist, a musician, politician, writer, anyone who serves as a cultural touchstone in your life. What event specific to them might you imagine? How do they feel and think? What words would they use that you wouldn’t? What do they hope for? What are they afraid of?\
27: Taste and Smell
Write a poem that explores taste and smell. How can a sense free you? How can it trap you? How do taste and smell connect you to your memories? What would happen if you lost them?
28: Write a Not-Thing
Write a poem about an everyday object — what it is, how it looks, what color it is, its shape, etc. Also explore what the object is not. Do you feel, in the end, that you succeeded? That it’s impossible? How can you end the poem?
29: Afterlife or Beforedeath
Write a poem that engages with the afterlife — or beforedeath. Perhaps you’ve had your own strange encounter, or imagined what will happen after you’ve gone. Is there anyone you’d hope to see again who has died? Can you depict the life that came before the dried-out flower in the vase, the dead squirrel on the road, the mown grass on the lawn.?
Despair is easy. It’s the ever-present, patient sloth, ready at any moment to crawl into us and weigh us down. For now, let’s write about Emily Dickinson’s bird that perches in the soul. Let’s write about hope. Let’s take the chance that the thing with feathers exists and can be grasped, the way Dickinson’s quotation marks grasp the word.