Try This: Get a Reference

Desperate for a creative jolt, I often thumb through the dictionary for words that catch my eye and stir my mind. 

Wanting to go deeper, this week I pulled out a stack of reference books and discovered a random but flush collection of new words, concepts and ideas. I jotted down phrases that struck a chord: lava tongue . . . meander scar . . . a peatbog is a trap. . . passages allow movement . . . related to pass, a way through a mountain. . . between large bodies of water

And then I stopped thinking and let my hand and mind loose. Words filled the page in that delicious delirium of a freewrite. I was writing about land and scars and passage. A seed was planted, and grew into "a crumble of breath and bone" and other surprising lines. 

I'm not sure what will become of the material from this exercise, but I do know that each time I return to the page, and turn off logic, something shakes loose. Each time I'm closer to making sense, and making something that feels solid and true.  

Try This:

• Find a reference book — a cookbook, dictionary, history book . . .

• Randomly scan for "poetic" phrases or inviting passages. Write them down (the physical act of writing is important in this exercise, and helps engage the writing mind).

• After you've gathered a good selection, do a 10 minute freewrite in which you write anything that comes to mind, and keep your hand moving at all times. If you get stuck, simply repeat your line until you become unstuck. Don't worry about punctuation or logic. Just write. See what pours out. See what rushes in. 

If you like, share your results in the comment section. Don't be shy — let's share our starts and scratches, our works-in-progress and works-at-rest. Let's exercise the writing muscle, aches and all.

Some of my favorite reference books:  Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, Food Lover's Companion, and books on landscape architecture and design. 

What reference book sparks your creativity?