Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Today is Monday.
It is time to write.
I don't have any ideas.
Nothing from the news
or the current events of my own life.
Nothing from my present reading,
my imaginings,
or my wonderings.
No thoughts light
a spark just this moment.
No spark to turn words
into liquid magic
which will flow
from my fingertips onto the keys
or from my pen onto the blank page.

So...I do what I sometimes do... and just begin to write....

What can we do when our word well runs dry ?
What can we do to restart the flow of words and images and ideas?

Just Write 
Sometimes just starting to write will spark more words and thoughts and writing. By just rambling on the page for a paragraph or two, you may find your momentum, your focus, and your flow.

It is important to get your fingers and mind moving even if  you write over and over... I don't know what to write... I don't know what to write.  This was a favorite tip offered to my student writers, and it invariably led them to topics at which they may not have arrived in a conventional manner.
They found words they didn't know they owned.

Try it when your well runs dry.

First Lines
Sometimes starting with someone's else's words is just what we need to get our own words flowing.

Write that first line of a favorite poem or short story or novel.  Start there and let your mind turn this phrase over and over, noticing different nuances or illuminating new facets. Meditate and write. Contemplate and compose.

Or write that puzzling sentence-- the one that you read over and over. Write about and through that sentence, teasing out new meanings, deeper significances, or personal prophecies.

In addition to your own selected favorite first lines, for sources of other potential lines for this purpose, see my previous post, First Lines.

Wild and Wonderful Lines
Sometimes we read a line so delicious and savory -- the sound of it,  the feel of it, the afterclap that hangs in the air of it. These are the words after which there is silence.. we don't want to break their spell or end the magic.  These are words that surprise us in the middle of passage and make us gasp aloud.  These are the words that come to us again, that we remember at odd moments-- How we wish we had written these words.  Ralph Fletcher calls these golden sentences. Vicki Spandel calls the active practice of looking for beautiful words sentence stalking.

These magnificent sentences can be used as first lines for our own writing... or food for thought for an exploratory essay, an experimental poem-- or a brand new structure.

Several of my favorite wild and wonderful lines include:

The process of learning is a nonstop orgy of wonderment. (The Magicians: A Novel  by Lev Grossman) 
Wild women don't worry. Wild Women don't get the blues.  (Ida Cox, uncrowned queen of the blues- song lyrics, 1929)
What would happen if one woman  told the truth about her life? The world would split open. (Muriel Rukeyser, poem, Kathe Kollwitz, in The Speed of Darkness,  1968)
I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. (The Color Purple by Alice Walker)

Analyze, Borrow, and Imitate

Sometimes it is not merely  words that get us going, but a structure or format of  a piece of writing.  What did the writer do?  What do I notice?  Can I name it ?  Can I do it too?
Mentor texts or texts that teach us how to write what we want to write, or give us a framework for our loose and unruly thoughts, are particularly helpful when we are stuck--when our word wells runs dry.

 I have recently discovered the work and words of Yehuda Amichai, hailed as Israel's finest poet.  I find myself wanting to underline every line, highlight every word in his lyrical, mystical poems.  And I have found several structures I want to try.
Dry days are days I experiment.

For example, in his poem As for the World, he begins each stanza with As for ....
As for the world....
As for my life...
As for the scream...
As for the deeds...
And in the last stanza, he repeats  this structure several times.
As for the palm of your hand,
as for the signals of my heart...
As for the writing on the wall...

This structure and several other structures he has used are on my list to analyze further, to borrow, to imitate.

For more on the value and use of mentor texts see the previous post, Mentor Texts: Learning to Write from What We Read

Nested Meditations

And finally, when I have no words to copy, or  analyze, or borrow.    I begin to meditate with a small phrase or a few words and let them lead me where they will.
The nested meditation is a simple, yet complex, cumulative, and layered  poetic structure created by Kevin Anderson.  It is my favorite tool when I am thinking about an idea, but don't know what to write, when I am sensing an idea on the tip of my mind, when I need to write, but my brain is not cooperating or forthcoming.

This is when I turn to the nested meditation.
The results always surprise.
Today's Nested Meditation
I don't know what to write. 
 I don't know what to write
and time is running out.
I don't know what to write
and time is running out
for yesterday's ideas.
I don't know what to write
and time is running out
for yesterday's ideas;
they are rotting as we speak.
I don't know what to write
and time is running out
on yesterday's ideas;
they are rotting as we speak
and tainting today's words.
I don't know what to write
and time is running out
on yesterday's idea;
they are rotting as we speak
and tainting today's words
as I search for a fresher yeast. 

For more on Nested Meditations and other writing ideas  for when you are stuck, see the previous and related post, Writer on the Block.

 See also The Writer's Notebook- Part 2 ( Resources) for additional ideas.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a favorite first line, or puzzling sentence, or wild and wonderful phrase from a text you are reading or have previously read.

Use this line or sentence to begin your own new piece of writing.

Let your writing flow-- following where ever you are led by the words you have chosen.

Borrow a structure from a text you are reading.  Can you compose a new texs using this structure?

Try a nested meditation beginning with one small sentence.

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