Set a timer for five minutes and freewrite—writing anything that comes to mind without stopping until the timer goes off. Then circle every third word or phrase of what you’ve written. Use these circled words as the starting point for a poem.
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Write a scene in which two very different characters—an old man and a young woman, for example—are having an argument. Then rewrite the scene so that each character makes the argument the other character was making in the previous draft. Pay close attention to what is revealed about the characters in each draft.
Make a list of objects. One thing should be from your desk, one from your closet, one a body part, one a thing you covet that belongs to someone else, one enormous, one slippery, and at least one that makes an odd or evocative sound. Now, describe each using a simile. Do this twice for each one. Using as many of the similes as you can, write a poem with a title such as “Checklist to Survive a Nuclear Winter” or “Things That Have Nothing To Do With Grief.”
Write a story about the worst moment of your life (such as a loss or a betrayal) as though it happened to someone else. Instead of focusing on the moment itself, set the story the day before it happened and create a character very different from you to stand in for yourself. Write the story using a third-person omniscient narrator to exploit the tension between the reader’s knowledge of what’s to come and the protagonist’s complete lack of awareness of what’s to come. Consider ending the story before the impending doom arrives.
What is something you are afraid to write about in your own poems, either because it is too personal, or because you feel it is cliché? Create a character—a swarthy bum, a baker, a dog—and write a narrative poem in which your character addresses this topic. Let the fact that the poem isn’t really about you be freeing.
Write an erasure poem: Rip out one or two pages from a magazine or newspaper. Read through them, underlining words and phrases that appeal to you and that relate to each other. Using a marker or Wite-Out, begin to delete the words around those you underlined, leaving words and phrases that you might want to use. Keep deleting the extra language, working to construct poetic lines with the words you’ve chosen to keep.
Writing with a specific reader in mind helps clarify a writer's voice—we all know how to tell stories to our friends, and we all intuitively understand the points and details of the story that will interest them the most. Borrowing Jack Kerouac's method from On the Road, write a fictional story in the form of a long letter to a friend. Choose someone you know well, but also be sure to choose a person who has no knowledge of the setting or plot of your story (so you don't take any details for granted).
Choose a favorite poem written by somebody else, type a copy of it, delete every other line from the poem, and write your own lines to replace those you’ve deleted. Next, delete the remaining lines from the old poem so that only your lines remain. Read what you have, and revise it, adding new lines to fill in the gaps.