When a local writers group asked me to teach a class on inspiration, I was stopped in my tracks. How could what inspires me inspire this community of prose writers and poets? The more I thought about what might be universally applicable, however, the more excited I got. You see, I’ve come to understand that inspiration isn’t something you wait around for – although that’s one approach. Rather, it’s something you can consciously chase and catch in innumerable ways.
Here are five strategies that will jump-start your creativity:
- Place your senses on high alert for sights, sounds, smells, images in whatever environment you find yourself: at home, on a bus, in a mall, at a poetry reading. Wherever. Jot down what they tell you. For example, one day I sat quietly in my family room and opened my senses to the refrigerator growling, the clock ticking, the furnace clicking on and off, a plane casting a shadow as it passed the sun, the raucous birds in the trees. Each of these images eventually worked its way into poems.
- Keep a pen and pad nearby when you’re watching TV, reading a novel or magazine, listening to music. I love the TV show Nashville and not only learned an appreciation for contemporary country music, but a line that made me sit up straight. When one of the characters was asked, “How do you write a great country song?” he gave the classic reply, “Three chords and the truth.” What a great formula! I stole it for a poem. Human interest articles in the National Geographic have built-in characters, settings, and themes that can jump-start your imagination. For example, I wrote a poem in the voice of a Filipino father who is working construction in the heat of Dubai so he can send money home to his family half-way around the globe. The story got me out of my comfort zone into his discomfort. The result was a poem that bears witness to his hard life. Also, scientific articles often offer unique images that can work their way into poems. I discovered that Seychelles frogs listen with their mouths, the sun rings like a bell, and the universe is home to brown dwarfs and planet-killing stars. You can’t make these images up!
- Subscribe to Dictionary.com and keep a file of their “Word for the Day.” Admittedly, some of the words may be too esoteric for poetry (anthophilious, herbetude, selenography), but I’ve found unique vocabulary like fiddle foot, heartsease, upcycling, and unputdownable that spiced up my own.
- Speaking of words, go to the dictionary and find words that have innumerable definitions and riff on them. You probably could write a whole book using this technique! One example is the word “stir.” I copied its definitions and then wove them into a poem with short stanzas. The poem is simply called “Stirring” and each stanza plays with a definition.
- Finally, consider writing poems in which not one word is yours except for the title. For example, Google “famous last words,” “50 most quoted lines of poetry,” or the titles in Billy Collins’ “Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools.” Copy the lists, cut them into strips, lay them out on the table, and create your own poem. Not only is this process fun, but you may find that some journals will snap them up. My “Variations on Famous Last Words” in The Manhattanville Review was accepted its first time out. You can do the same thing with titles of books on a library shelf, recipes in cookbooks, headlines in your news feed. The sky is not the limit to the possibilities.
Waiting for the inspiration to arrive is certainly valid but, when it’s off on a holiday, a more proactive approach is to go chasing after it. During the chase, you may discover sources for poetry you didn’t know existed.
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.