2016, Archives, January 2016, The MFA Years

Writing Prompts: Navigating Personal Process

Image:Navy Blue Stripes

Earlier this month, I attended a writers’ conference called The Home School. This specific iteration was located in Miami, FL (which was an amazing change of scenery from Laramie). The Home School is a fairly new writers’ conference having had its first conference, I believe, in 2014. Its co-founder, and also my workshop mentor, Adam Fitzgerald, seems to place a high emphasis on interdisciplinary practice and how different forms and mediums of art can inform one another. One way in which the conference embodied this spirit was by its optional offerings in a couple different activities. There were collage-making sessions with Todd Colby as well as a variety of exercise classes with Miguel Gutierrez. There were also readings every night by the faculty.

While it was all a pretty good time, I want to focus on, or rather list out, some of the writing exercises that me and my workshop peers either did or were recommended for outside of workshop. I say this because we’re all different in how we write, from small superstitions to the larger points of various processes. I especially dislike and want to take apart the notion that it’s important to write everyday. Depending on what kind of writing you do, I don’t believe it’s important to write everyday. It is, perhaps, important to engage with language in some manner on most days, at least if you’re actively pursuing a project. The myth that writers need to generate raw language everyday makes the assumption that we all have time, and to an extent that is true, or perhaps in the literal sense. But we all lead different lives and our lives make different demands of each of us. Then, there’s also the consideration of our different personalities, or rather, psychological makeups. We all mentally process and produce ideas and language differently.

While I do admit we should all give ourselves room to carry out our creative projects on our own terms, I do think it’s good to confront personal hang-ups. As for me, I would describe myself as a fairly calculated writer. It’s difficult for me to just let loose on the page, especially as an everyday routine. I need to have a concept. I need to collect and glean language from various lexicons (this process is especially important and specific to the kind of collage-esque poetry I usually aim to produce). Since my poems don’t take as their source material my more intimate and immediate emotions and thoughts, why should I force myself into a writing exercise which seems to underscore that very source material? And yet, admittedly, I would probably benefit from more stream-of-conscious writing exercises that compel me to confront my personal mental blocks (though I certainly don’t think it’d be wise for me, nor do I intend, to make this a routine writing exercise for myself).

Being in Adam Fitzgerald’s workshop at The Home School Miami was particularly good for me because I learned about a handful of writing prompts that acknowledge a wide range of ways in which raw text can be generated. I’d like to think that these prompts, depending on you are as a writer, should even take precedent over the traditional sit-in-front-of-blank-paper-and-just-do-it. And so, I’d like to offer you, reader, some writing prompts, though final, or relatively final, credit goes to Adam Fitzgerald for sharing these prompts in the first place. (Warning: this list is probably more helpful for poets, and also probably creative nonfiction writers, rather than for fiction writers.)

1. Listen to some sort of atmospheric song (probably just defined as music without lyrics) and act as though you are “translating” the sounds into language. However, in the same vein as automatic writing, you cannot take your hand off the page/keyboard until the song ends.

2. Write 100 one-line poems. Then, give each poem a title. All these lines, the one-liners plus the titles, are in itself together the whole, raw piece.

3. (You might need a friend for this one): Have someone play a song for you. Write a line in response to the song. The person in control of the music will change the song whenever they feel like it (kinda like musical chairs), and everytime the song changes, you must revise the line. This can go on for however many songs you, or the other person, wants.

4. Put together a playlist of songs in which the lyrics, for whatever reason, are never quite easily understood. Put your laptop at a fair distance from you (ten to twenty feet?) and play the playlist on a low volume. Write what you hear.

5. Take photos, preferably with just your ordinary smart device (if you own one). Write a line in response to each photo, but the line cannot act as a literal caption for the photo.

6. Write out a series of detailed directions which you would take to write an actual poem. The directions themselves are the generated work.

Hope you find these helpful!

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