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Get a Gimmick

A friend introduced me to these little gems, Haikubes, and I was giddy and willing. "I thought you might think them too gimmicky," she muttered. 

Are you kidding? Gimmicks get me to the page and keep me going. I've long advocated for writing exercises. In my early days I pledged allegiance to Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, then Julia Cameron's Morning Pages. Years later, I still rely on writing prompts to keep my mind open and my hand moving. 

From magnetic poetry to cross-out creations, every good gimmick tricks the mind. The best writing exercises stir the brain, but not too much. They provide structure, but loosely. Once the foundation is set, you let it flow. You don't try too hard. You don't worry about grammar or spelling. You don't edit. You keep the hand moving. It's all warm-up, this writing, this life. 

"If you find yourself caught in a bigger rut, what you really need is a new idea," writes Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit, "and the way to get it is by giving yourself an aggressive quota for ideas." 

This, I think, speaks directly to writing exercises. They are timed, structured, and demand delivery of goods. 

"A lot of interesting things happen when you set an aggressive quota, even with ideas," she continues. "People's competitive juices are stirred. Instead of panicking they focus, and with that comes an increased fluency and agility of mind." 


My recent go-to gimmick is from The Writer's Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long: 

Go to a cafe. Or go to a park. Or go to a library. Or go down to the river. Write for fifteen minutes at a steady pace without stopping. Describe what's in front of you. You can describe the whole scene, or just one object.

Don't write about anything except what you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Don't write your feelings, opinions, or reflections. Wite color and shape. Write sound. No feelings. No opinions. No thoughts.

These writings connect you to the world, to where you are. The more you do them, the more aware you become. They are pure training in sensory observation.

Will these exercises produce strong stories or keeper poems? Maybe, but not likely. But they will provide a warming and a stretch. For every dance, there are the first tentative steps. For every song, the initial wobbled notes. Writing exercises and "gimmicks" are the first clearing in a brambled hike. They help start the walk that will expand your view. 

What gets you writing? What's your gimmick? 


Reader Comments (4)

I find myself really visually inspired--a lot of my poetry stems from layouts I've made, and that seem to demand an accompanying bit of writing. I write quickly and hard, but then it's done. But the visual part seems to do the pre-writing in a way; my writing is working off of connections my brain made subconsciously when it was putting the visuals together.

I've been meaning to ask you, Drew--are there any informal poetry groups locally?

February 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHeather T.


This is an excellent peek into process and perspective. I totally get the "pre-writing" aspect. For my "professionl non-fiction/work" writing, I do a great deal of internal pre-writing, and when I get to the page it's there, I'm "on."

With poetry, it's the opposite; I often don't know what I feel until I begin to write, and then I'm off on unexpected paths.

It's fascinating, really, to see the many ways the mind works. And, as always, I try to think without thinking. . . . I 'think' you might know what I mean.

Thank you, Heather, for jumping in and sharing!

- Drew

February 28, 2018 | Registered CommenterDrew

I think my gimmick is Night Pages. *laughs* My brain does not work in the morning. You can forget anything useful ever coming out of it. But I have found that if at bedtime I have an image or feeling in mind, I grab my notebook and write for one full page without stopping and without allowing my brain to have commentary on what it thinks about the quality or purpose of what I'm doing. I don't let myself reread the page. When it's full, it's full, and that's that. Close book. I'm allowed to reread after a few days when I know my brain has cleared out for other thoughts by then. Some of it is utter crap. Some of it is a useful exercise. Some of it comes out halfway to a finished poem already. But it gets me freewriting and it also gives me a quieter brain when I try to sleep. =)

March 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLissa Clouser

Lissa, I really like this idea!

Not looking at the work can be so freeing; the mind can be so critical, but this method allows the mind to wander and explore. I'm going to try it!

Thanks (and nice to see you here).

- Drew

March 29, 2018 | Registered CommenterDrew

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