Many writers like to believe that their drafts are pearls of literary wisdom that just need to be harvested and polished, that all drafts are gems-in-waiting. I am not one of those writers. I write a LOT of drafts that never see the light of day, at least not in anything near their original form. I subscribe to the “get it down” school of thought: something, anything – brain dump, word vomit, whatever bodily function you want to attach to raw drafting – because writing is a bodily thing.
Just like a person must exercise in different ways to develop all of his/her muscles, writers need to “exercise” as well – they need to write about things that make them uncomfortable and maybe even hurt a little (rather like doing lunges or side planks). Sometimes writers need to just metaphorically drag their sorry asses out of bed and go for a run, even when they are tired and have a sore throat and don’t feel like moving. Prompts do that for me.
Although the internet is rife with prompts, many of them are simplistic: write about a color, write about a kitchen utensil. There’s no context, no meat. Well, finding good prompts just got easier. Poets Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano have written The Daily Poet, a book of 365 writing prompts to give you NO excuses. Whether you write to prompts on your own or you use them when you meet with writing groups or with a friend at a coffee shop, there is something here for everyone.
The format of the book is simple – one prompt for each calendar date, starting with January 1. Prompts in the book sometimes correlate to the selected date – the birthday of a famous artist, a historical event, etc. – but the variety here is endless, and the prompts certainly do NOT need to be used in chronological order.
You will find references here to Dickinson, Twain, Bishop, and Millay, but many of the prompts also reveal the personalities of the authors; for instance, at least four prompts mention John Lennon/The Beatles, and The Simpsons, Batman, and tilt-a-whirls all make appearances. The voice is playful, yet informed – writing is work, but it should also be fun, and that is evident here. I highly recommend the book for ANY writer – although some of the prompts are poem-specific, most could be used to free write into any genre of writing.
My favorite prompts are the ones that provide some type of linguistic framework: a line, a list of words, or a form suggestion. As an example, here is the prompt from December 24, reprinted here with permission:
In The Beginning
Write a poem today using one of these opening lines:
Beneath the moon I saw…
Because the day was rushed…
In my pocket I keep…
Some days disappear like…
At the party s/he discovered…
I want to be more like the color red…
For extra credit, write a six stanza poem in which each of the above opening lines begins a stanza.
There is much about this prompt that I like. It provides starting language points and gives options. Any one of the lines is an evocative start. And I love the idea of extra credit – it provides an opportunity to use the prompt in more than one way and to keep the language flowing when it may stop. In order to show how this prompt worked for me, I will share my first two draft attempts.
Beneath the moon, I saw a heron, still
and silent in the fogged waters
of the lake, slow curve of feathered neck
sculpted in shadow. Such strange grace.
Because the day was rushed, I almost missed
the cardinal perched outside my classroom
window, slow burn of its feathered neck setting
small fires. Such fleeting flame.
In my pocket, I keep a speckled stone,
plucked from a wild Galapagos beach, finches
darting overhead, slow roll of feathered waves
teasing the black sand. Such simple peace.
Some days disappear like stones inside
a pocket, like the tide hushing in their swell
over the shores of jagged coastlines, a child’s
drawing, wild and uncontained.
At the party, I discovered a stillness in the crowd,
a fog of voices swirling as I curved my back
against a mirror, in the shadows, not alone
but solitary. ??????????
I want to be more like the color red, like
the cardinal whose plumage shouts its presence.
Instead I tuck my head beneath a wing and curl
into the shadows, nested, camouflaged.
This first attempt had elements that I liked – the repetition of images used in different ways, etc. – but some of the language and structure was too heavy-handed for my taste, and the order didn’t seem to make any sense to me. I put it away for a few days and tried again. This is how it looks now:
(Second attempt removed as it has been revised for submission…)
It is certainly not a finished poem, but it is a draft that I feel has potential. I’m not sure about the sections- will I keep them separated or look for connective tissue? Will I eliminate the prompt lines altogether, or do they anchor the other ideas in place? I’m not sure. But I never would have had any of those opportunities without this well-crafted prompt. Get the book – you won’t be disappointed.
The Daily Poet is available from Two Sylvias Press at the following links:
And make sure to stop by Kelli’s blog: http://ofkells.blogspot.com
and Martha’s blog: http://bluepositive.blogspot.com