DIY MFA: Writing Prompt, No. 2

bare lists of words are found suggestive to an imaginative and excited mind

Writing notebook time!

A very exciting interview with poet Eileen G’Sell in which she describes her process to fire up her writing. Poetry can provide infinite possibilities for both the fiction and nonfiction writer as poetry teaches us about dynamic word choices.

G’Sell shares that how words sound inspires her to keep writing:

Going back to sound, no matter the type of writing, I love calling attention to the tension or “heat” between words based on what they mean, how they’re spelled, and what they sound like. The sounds and appearance of letters can actually “cue” me to keep on writing.

A recent piece I wrote for Flavorpill, about Lana Del Rey, is one instance where this “sonic heat” presides: “The Reign of Del Rey: Lana, Longing, and Generation Z.” Of course the “Rei” and “Rey” rhyme, but the different spelling calls attention to how “Rey” is also a Spanish word, meaning “king,” such that Lana is “of the king” in terms of surname. “Lana” and “longing” are not only alliterative, but share the same trochaic beat. The third “n” in each creates an exciting tension.

She also shares three prompts she uses when she can’t write. My personal favorite is Hot Words! in which she writes two lists, one contains abstract emotions and the second, concrete objects:

2. Hot Words!

Look at your lists and combine some of the abstract emotional words with the concrete terms. You’ll need to transform some of these nouns into adjectives to pair them up (for instance, “fear” into “fearful”). After matching the abstract with the concrete, which pairs are the most surprising or have the most heat?

The phrase “fearful shoe” appeared in my journal when I wrote out this exercise. As to whether or not the shoe induces fear in others or is afraid, I cannot say. G’Sell shares that if an exercise gets weird that’s a good thing.

She also offers a series of prompts to write about an emotion or sense without using any words that relate to those emotions or senses. If you want to write about anger, you cannot use ire, rage, pissed, for example. I chose the sense of taste, specifically salty, and wrote in my journal, “The fish made me drink a gallon water.” (This exercise reminds me of Borges The Garden of Forking Paths, a parable about time [at least I think it is!] in which time is never mentioned.)

We often become dead to the energy latent in words. I know I do. Email, newsletters, 24-hour newsfeed, often composed and consumed in haste, can lack dynamism. We fall into a rut of parroting what we read.

What someone else writes, however, does not concern us. Our words are our concern and our responsibility. In the end, we can communicate with oft used phrases or make different writing choices.

I want to do more. At the very least I want to thrill myself with the very rare fantastic turn of phrase, even if it’s only once every eternity.


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