I love writing, and I love teaching. So I enjoy the blog series “Writing Ideas” on this site. You can find Part One and Part Two here. Whether you are a writer or a teacher of writing (or both), I hope these ideas inspire you to practice the craft of writing.
I first learned this idea from my incredible student teaching supervisor (Hey, Kris!), who impacted both my teaching and my writing in significant ways. She brought in a bunch of newspapers and asked students to find an article that grabbed them in one way or another. After cutting it out, they would highlight, underline, and mark any words that stood out. These students then wrote a poem, often using, pivoting, and contrasting some of the key words from the article to create a poetic response. I love how this activity prompts us to take a genre of writing that some deem to be bereft of any poetry and then to create art with it. I also appreciate how it motivates a poet to respond to the world. It wasn’t until just recently that I realized I more or less use this strategy in part of my hymn writing process.
A Writer’s Conversation
Back when poets were writing sonnets left and right, there was a great deal of interplay among them. At times, it was almost as if this community of writers were having a chat over coffee, except in iambic pentameter. The conversations were not always happy, but there was a dialogue that happened. I’ve recently learned that this happens in bluegrass music as well. Often, a writer will intentionally allude to and respond to someone else’s song. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes forget that this might be a possibility: writing in response to writing, engaging another writer. Now, the writer doesn’t have to be alive anymore . . . someone else will just have to pick up after you. But if there’s a book you love or a poem that captures you or an article that provokes you, consider writing a response. I love this for at least two reasons. First, it is a reminder that you are not an island. It helps you engage with the larger community of the written word. Second, this is an age when a carefully crafted response to someone else is probably a lost art. Let’s hone both our writing and our social skills by responding with the care we give our other writing.
When we’re writing a piece of fiction, we have a million things to juggle all at once: plot, setting, character, voice, syntax, vocabulary, pace, and on and on and on. Same thing with poetry: rhythm, meter, rhyme, allusion, form, style, content, word choice, and on and on and on. It’s enough to make you want to quit! So don’t do it all. When it comes to practice, don’t worry about everything all at once. Spend fifteen minutes focusing only on character. Write a thousand words only providing the setting. Compose a poem that’s utterly useless except for the sound it makes. I’ve seen painters create numerous sketches before creating a complete work of art. We can give ourselves permission to do that too.
And as always, tweak these for your own needs and contexts. Happy writing!