Monday, April 4, 2011

Think Small: An Exercise to Help Grow Your Writing

"Writing energy is like anything else: The more you put in, the more you get out." --Richard Reeves

I managed to get a walk in this morning before the rains came, and was rewarded with my first sighting of the lovely violet.

I heart this little flower. It brings back memories of childhood and fistfuls of the purple joy often gathered in the field back by the creek and in turn offered to my mother, who would treat the dainty blossoms like a treasure and immediately put them in a small vase of water. The bouquet always took center stage on the dining room table. Nevermind that the violet is not a hardy flower, and that the whole bunch will wilt in a matter of hours. They're here for a short spell, then gone--but their beauty lingers because they existed.

Sometimes a writer's progress is short-lived, too. We sit down at the desk only to find that plucking the words out of thin air comes hard, the muse has wilted, the ideas that sounded so beautiful in the mind shrivel up once confined to black and white. How can we get started, foster creativity, and/or frame a bit of beauty through something as common and small as, well, words?

Sometimes simple writing exercises capture a bit of the elusive.

I recently came across an old issue of The Writer magazine (October 2002). In it, Diane Mayr wrote an aticle entitled, "Too Busy to Write? Keep in Writing Shape with Rhymes, Limericks and Haiku." Now, I'm not a poet, although in my secret life I'd like to be, but this caught my eye. Mayr says, "It could be your job, your family, your health, but whatever the stress, it's preventing you from working on that writing project you've been thinking about. When life interferes, the time has come to think small. I'm not talking about breaking down a book into segments that may be written a weekend at a time--stress doesn't usually take the weekend off. I'm talking about writing really small, five lines or less, and doing it whenever you can squeeze in a few minutes of writing time."  

She continued, "You must keep working through the stressful times, so you don't lose your writer's edge. One way to keep it sharp is by writing terse verse, limericks and haiku."

Terse verse? "Simply put, terse verse is an idea expressed solely through rhyming words." Her example: "Green/wood/scene/good."

"Can you see the forested landscape?" she asks. "Does it make you think of the good times you spent at camp, or a special spot? Those four words have done a lot of work!"

"Coming up with rhyming words," she continues, "is something that can be done anytime, anywhere. Use your commuting time to write terse verse. Experiment with different rhyme patterns...If you have a few extra minutes, flip through a rhyming dictionary...and be inspired. Keep those words working."

I returned to my memories of the violet, and picked up a pen. I scribbled...and ended up with: Violet/peeks/kisses the air/then once again sleeps.

Although the results won't win any prizes (I've already admitted I'm not a poet), the exercise got me started, and before I was done I had extra pages toward my day's writing goals to account for. I don't know if those few terse words can take all the credit, but I'd like to think they loosened the writer's dried-up soil a bit with their roots and fostered extra growth.

Still and all, don't ask me to do limericks or haiku. I haven't advanced that far yet!

Do you have any special exercises that help grow your writing sessions or you do on the run during stressful times? Want to try your hand at "terse verse," and share your poem here? Would love to read it!

"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." --Jim Ryun


  1. What beautiful thoughts! Like you, I save all my old writing magazines, and I like to browse through them for inspiration.


  2. This is a lovely post, and your flowers reminded me of a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley that used to come up on the side of our brick house each Spring. Every year of elementary school I picked some from the roots, dampened the ends, and wrapped them in aluminum foil to take to Miss White, my first grade teacher. They were her favorite flower. Thanks for the memory and for the writing prompt advice :)

  3. This sounds like so much fun...and I can "write" a haiku while I do other stuff (you!). I love the idea and am already looking forward to it!


  4. Like the idea of terse verse. Will definitely try it. Like you, I too can't call myself a poet, though there are one or two absolutely mundane bits of poetry in my scribbling pad.

  5. Awesome post, Kenda!! I love it! :-)

  6. "Sometimes simple writing exercises capture a bit of the elusive." I love this bit. I always gobble up those articles The Writer and Writer's Digest about poetry. I am *not* a poet, but a secret part of me would love to be. One of these days, I'm going to drag out all those old articles and give it a go.

  7. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by!

    Jess, I loved your story about the lilies-of-the-valley--I bet Miss White got a big smile on her face when she saw you coming :-)

    Carla and Rachna--would love to see samples of your haiku/terse verse writings!

    And K.M.--glad to know of your secret desire to be a poet, too. Who knows? Given enough time...maybe...?

    Have a great weekend, all :-)

  8. I remember how you always LOVED violets! You'd point them out when they'd pop up outside the house. :) "Their beauty lingers because they existed"--very, very nice....