Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beating Up Writers Block

Writers Block - the bane of every writer's existence. Well, maybe that's too dramatic, but it's no secret that writer's block is a real pain. Especially when you've got a manuscript, 20 page paper, chapbook due. It's terrible on a personal level too, though. At least for me. As someone who writes poetry predominantly about my experiences and feelings, it's frustrating for me to be unable to formulate something that should just be natural. So then, one of two things happens: I either force myself to try and write something I'm not fully invested in, and it turns out amazingly bad and then I feel bad, or I brood and avoid the idea of writing completely, waiting for the glorious muses to reign inspiration upon me in the form of interesting metaphors, which uh, doesn't happen much.

The point I'm getting at, is that it's really nice when writing is happening. It's nice to travel in a direction in which you're simultaneously progressing and enjoying the ride. But that doesn't always happen. For me, I have the biggest trouble writing when I'm outside of a poetry workshop, which is a problem since I only have a year's worth of college writing workshops left to motivate me, and unfortunately I was unable to take one this semester.

Yesterday, I was feeling particularly broody, about both my (lack of) writing and some personal jazz. I walked into my 9:30 class a half hour early and kind of let my mind frolic (or maybe wallow?) among the angst. This, in a surprising turn of events, led me to a not half bad idea. I don't know how the thought came up exactly (though I'm sure Valentine's Day isn't helping) but I thought about turning an expected love poem around a bit. What I decided to do was a experiment, where I wrote a list poem with the subject "In Response to the text, "I Miss You Baby. Take Me Back."

What I've found I like most about a good poem, by my own hand or someone else's, are really vivid, interesting metaphors an images. It's also one of the most difficult things to create in my own writing. So, writing this list poem was really a way to get my mind into poetry mode. All it's made up of is similes. Though the resulting poem as a whole isn't good, it's the process that's important. Forcing myself to come up with interesting images, to compare two things that don't conventionally match up, led me to some really interesting places. The interesting bits can lead me somewhere new. It's these little pieces of imagery that can take you somewhere new, somewhere you wouldn't have thought to go otherwise.

The "poem" I came up with has a range of silly and serious images, since I really have no clear direction of where I want my next poem to go. I figured with more variety comes more opportunity of something good happening. I don't know why I'm sharing this, because I'm kind of really squeamish about sharing any of my poetry, let alone a wonky writing experiment. So, uh, here's what I came up with

In Response to the Text Message, “I Miss You, Baby. Take Me Back.”

I miss you too, baby.
I miss you the way the sky misses a buzzing horse fly.
I miss you the way the moon misses a grubby astronaut foot, and a flag in the face.
I miss you the way a spiderweb misses a battering broom head.
I miss you the way an escaped circus monkey misses wearing a tutu, and clapping its hands on command.
I miss you the way a wool sweater misses a moth mouth.
I miss you the way a butterfly misses crawling.
I miss you the way a baby head misses its soft spot.
I miss you the way a scab misses a clump of pus.
I miss you the way my ears miss your flickering hisses.
I miss you the way my fingers miss curling in on themselves.
I miss you the way my body misses curling in on itself.
I miss you the way my brain misses curling in on itself.


I miss you too.

So, I ended up trying to come up with images that really kind of snarkily, and sometimes painfully, take the idea of missing someone and turn it on its head, to say, I don't miss you or what you're about at all. There are some images here that I feel like I can take with me into another poem, like the "moth mouth" or the "spiderweb/battering broomhead" or a body part curling in on itself like a dead leaf, or gnarled like tree bark. Basically, writing this, doing this experiment, forced me to think about poetry as poetry. I wasn't trying to portray my own feelings about something (though there's definitely bits of me in there), and I didn't go into writing it with any expectation of what the resulting poem would be.

I've been struggling so much with writers block since winter break began (and it's now OVER), so I wanted to share a post about it, and this attempt to try and overcome it. I'm no pro on beating writers block, but this was a good way to try to get myself back in the mode of thinking creatively without any expectations. Hope this helps a bit! And if you try this sort of experiment, or have any writers block advice, I'd love to hear what you've written or done!


(This book of poems (Mother Said by Hal Sirowitz) is a good book of poems. It's a shame my nose is reading it and not my eyes)

Until tomorrow,


  1. great advice! i used to write more but it sort...disappeared... i would love to get back into it, so imma try i think!

  2. i liked reading this. i struggle with creativity block. i don't know what to call it. i refer to the last time i didn't really create any photographic works of value for a year my 'dead period'.

  3. Interesting approach. I don't know if it's writer's block I struggle with these days, or just being overwhelmed by the amount of useless text I'm trying to get rid of. I liked the form of your poem, and was quite taken with the circus monkey... anything that gets the creative juices flowing again is a good project. With that in mind, my laptop and I have a coffee date.

  4. I find that whenever I am able to write things I am in the strangest places-- one time I wrote just a clip of a random story in Lowe's on my phone's note section that ended up being like 3 pages on the computer. Mostly though I write the best at 12:00am and on in the looming hours of the night. I like your approach, though, and it seems more sensible than waiting until you feel a burst of inspiration. I guess you just have to start somewhere and hope it ends up with something-- and if not, try again another time.

  5. I don't write poetry but I do write music and in doing so struggle with the same thing. Reading this has kind of reawakened my drive to write more. I guess I am able to write the best very late at night...sometimes I write lyrics or hum new melodies into my phone when I am driving and alone and away from my piano. That's the easiest for me rather than trying force it and staring at the keys for hours and coming up with nothing. It's frustrating to say the least.

    Your poem makes me smile:) I like your approach here. I wondering if I can use this approach for writing...I'm sure I can and really want to give it a try.

  6. You came up with a very smart and clever solution! You're such a great writer. I'm definitely going to take some notes from this post for the next time I need some help. :)

    I guess my own solution is writing down unusual words onto slips of paper and placing them in a jar and then I pull one out and write a sentence around that word. If I'm still stuck, I pull out another piece of paper and challenge myself to place both words (often complete opposites) into a sentence. I just continue until I feel really accomplished... or really stupid. haha

  7. I don't think you know how great that experiment is, it churned out a really intriguing poem. I could actually talk at length about it, but I won't, I'm just going to read and enjoy it again!


Thank you so, so much for taking some time to comment on my blog!