Each week I will set a kickstarter theme or idea, something to get you writing, a prompt to use as you like. Keep writing!
Week 60. 6/1/2020 Given that we’re all under some sort of constraint, I thought we might explore a form of word constraint Oulipo – OuLiPo is an acronym for Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (Workshop of Potential Literature). For example The “N+7” method: Replace every noun in a text with the noun seven entries after it in a dictionary. … Or try Snowball: a poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer. Or a Lipogram: Writing that excludes one or more letters. You can make up your own constraints and create some weird and exciting text
Week 59. 30/3/2020 What I did yesterday: be thorough and detailed.
Week 58. Monday 23rd March 2020 The world in lockdown: Now’s the time to pull out an old abandoned poem or piece of writing, chop up the lines, re-create it, make it crazy or surreal. Either cut it up line by line and rearrange in a new order, or try cutting the paper vertically, then shifting the left side down and see what interesting lines two new halves make. You can try these exercises with other poems too, but if you want to use the result, do acknowledge the original source! Keep positive.
Week 57. Given that there’s all sorts of scare stories and fake news whizzing about due to the C virus, they’ll soon become Urban Legends – cautionary tales told by those who believe (or claim) the incidents happened to people they know personally or acquaintances of friends or family members. They reflect current societal concerns and fears: make one up about the pandemic, or rising sea water, white slavers, whatever current concerns you fancy, but set it locally, give it real details.
Week 56. A tiny white haired woman came up to me in the library and gave me a small card on which was written: ‘You are not a human being having a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being having a human experience.’ Are you an Angel she asked? Was she?
Week 55. An Ekphrastic poem is a response to another work of art – think Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. This is what I’ve been doing with Janet Lynch’s paintings, the result is a small exhibition at City Library Newcastle, opening on Saturday 7th March 2020. Try it yourself – Think of a work that moves you and write in response.
Week 54. Cast off – knitting, sailing, clothes or a spurned lover?
Week 53. We’ve been battered by Storm Ciara and now Storm Dennis. It could be Storm Ellen next, as it goes alphabetically. I used to have terrible tantrums as a girl. Add your or someone you know or a character’s name to Storm… what sort of storm would you be? Have you ever stormed? have a flight of fancy.
Ta-Da! Week 52. I’ve been writing these weekly kick-starters for a whole year now. So – choose a year, choose an event, begin That was the year I… or look forward This will be the year I…
Week 51. The Sound of… Home, of My Life, the street, Change … describe a place, an event, a mood, in all the different sounds: natural, man-made, music, speech and voice. Think radio, like writing in sound, listen to Witnessing Westgate Hill on my Soundscapes page.
Week 50. Create a celebratory ritual, for an event that doesn’t have one, or you’d like to make your own alternative: for divorce, a not-marriage, for the first period, for the last period! What words, actions, ritual foods and drink would you use, and who gets invited?
Week 49. What happens in the Cosmic Ballroom? Do you move to the music of the spheres? Do you dance with angels or with dust? When do they call Time?
Week 48. Secrets and Truths: what secrets are you/a character/a place keeping? What does it do to someone, to harbour secrets? What happens when we finally tell the truth? Is it met with disbelief or like a bombshell?
Week 47. Go out and visit a place you don’t usually, on your own: – it could be indoors or outdoors. How do you feel, awkward, more aware, out of place? Write about a character in that place, why did they go, what will they do?
Week 46. Gift – wanted, unwanted, surprising, shocking? Was it given or were you born with it? Lots of ways to think about a gift…
Week 45. As Christmas is nearly upon us, focus on the rich scents of the season: woody pine, cinnamon and star anise in mulled wine, baking mince pies. Write about food, the smells and tastes that bring moments to vivid life – the food of childhood, the food of ritual, the food of love, of medicine, the last supper, the awkward meal, eating in another country.
Week 44. When he/she/they said…
Week 43. The Wall – ” There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.
Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Week 42. Grace Paley, a wonderful short story writer, in Wants wrote: “(My ex husband) said I attribute the dissolution of our marriage to the fact that you never invited the Bertrams to dinner. That’s possible, I said. But really … first, my father was sick that Friday, then the children were born, then I had those Tuesday-night meetings, then the war began.” She telescopes a life into a few sentences. Try writing one random sentence for every decade of your life – turn it into a poem or short story.
Week 41. Open a local paper – read the small ads, imagine who wrote them and why, or turn them into a found poem. See the anthology published by Grey Hen Press of ‘found poems’ (in which I have a poem) to get the idea.
Week 40. Rewrite a fairy or folk tale, set it in modern times and see what happens. Read Angela Carter’s collection for inspiration.
Week 39. A Printer’s Devil was a printer’s apprentice who performed tasks such as mixing ink and fetching type. A Powder Monkey, usually a young boy, carried gunpowder to the gunners on a military sailing ship. Create an unusual job and give it a strange title: who did it and what did it entail?
Week 38. “Ustopia is a world I made up by combining utopia and dystopia – the imagined perfect society and its opposite – because, in my view, each contains a latent version of the other.” Margaret Atwood. Create your own Ustopia.
Week 37. The evening hour… gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves. From Street Haunting by Virginia Woolf. An appropriate theme for Hallowe’en?
Week 36. Write an instructional poem How to… e.g. See Helen Mort’s How to Dress from her collection No Map Could Show them, or some of Julia Darling’s wonderful poems e.g. How to Deal with Terrible News.
Week 35. Write a Haiku for every month – traditionally three lines of 5-7-5 syllables which focus on a brief moment in time; a use of a seasonal reference, a colourful image; present tense and a sense of sudden enlightenment and illumination. Here’s a wonderful example by poet and lyricist David Bradford.
Twelve Haiku Mourning a Death – David Bradford
January brings winter’s inch of ice
Horse in the yard waits
Look, here is Death
February floods the marsh
How expensive these flowers
March comes banging the door
Better get down to grief’s black art
April gets its pig’s snout over the wall
The slaughter shed
Come flowering May
So white, so lovely, May
Sweet airs remembering thorns
Up we go skylarking
Where June’s a blue bubble
At the grave’s lip
All July let the great flag of the sky
Beat clutch batter
And wound me
Through August’s sun-struck
Moonfall drags night’s catch of stars
A bright shroud
For stubbled September
A table under trees
A wine glass empty
Full shattering October
Leaves bleeding from the trees
Blood rusts to earth
Earth iron to the core
December draws its bow
Arrow! Sing into the almighty silence
Week 34. Write a manifesto for your household
Week 34. As this is the beginning of Stoptober, why not create a Ritual or Celebration for a Big Change in your life, such as giving up smoking, or Divorce, first period, last period, work…
Week 33. Open a book at random. Use the first full sentence as your beginning…
Week 32. Imagine your pet can write – a will, a letter, a diary, a holiday packing list…
Week 31. Lost things
Week 30. Read My Mother’s Handbag by Ruth Fainlight. Note effective use of the senses. Write your own handbag or other object e.g. My Dad’s Torch poem/flash fiction.
Week 29. I have never… make a list of things you’ve never done or think you never would. Now write about doing one of them. Be bold.
Week 28. Take the end words of each line in a poem you like, now use them as your line beginnings or endings. Use in any order you like. This is interesting to try with rhyming words at the end. You could try using them as internal rhyme words too.
Week 27. Mondegreen – a mishearing of a phrase that gives it new meaning. Writer Sylvia Wright said that as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as, “…and Lady Mondegreen. I misread The Alteration Service as the alliteration service – what would that offer? What have you misheard/read?
Week 26. Waiting – for the train, for the rain to stop, for Godot – what are you waiting for?
Week 25. Walking gets our creative brain working. Don’t sit at your desk looking at blank paper, go for a walk, notice what’s around you. Use place names to create the name of a character: Kirk Deighton, Red Hut, Pink Lane, or to suggest a story title or event: Pity Me, Wideopen.
Week 24. I tend the mobile now/like an injured bird, “Text” Carol Ann Duffy. What’s your relationship with your mobile?
Week 23. Write a poem entitled A poem in which… (I wrote A poem in which I bring back the dead) or you could write ‘A story in which…’ instead
Week 22. Pleasures – important in dark times to list simple things that make us glad to be alive. Radio 4 started this week with a look at Bertolt Brecht poem Vergnügungen, a simple list poem that begins First look from morning window… What gives you pleasure?
Week 21. Some people… see the poem by Rita Ann Higgins
Week 20. Translations from Nushu. The script, Nushu, represents the language spoken in Jiangyong Prefecture in the rolling hills of southern Hunan Province. Women, who were denied education for many centuries in China, used it to share feminine feelings, including fears about arranged marriages, husbands and, of course, mothers-in-law, under an oath of secrecy. Imagine you’ve translated a poem or letter.
Week 19. Describe an outfit you once wore to a significant event, describe it in detail, make it a metaphor for what happened i.e. you met your first love, you attended your grandfather’s funeral, you had an important interview etc.
Week 18. A Wind Phone Who would you phone and what would you say?
Week 17. Make a list of alliterative word pairs: so-and-so, pretty penny, pay and display, round robin: turn one or more into a poem or short story – have fun with it.
Week 16. Turn your fear or other emotion into an animal – what does it look like, how does it move, where does it live, what are it’s habits? Write a poem and create the mood of the emotion.
Week 15. Describe a door in detail – does it lead in or out, what’s behind it, what’s going to happen when it opens? Who goes through it?
Week 14. Using a photograph/postcard: write five sentences about what you can see in the picture. Then five sentences about what can’t be seen. Now place yourself or a character in the picture and write a scene drawing on your ten sentences. Here’s a picture to get you started
Week 13. Imagine having Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: People feel as though their bodies have been altered in size and they have visual hallucinations. Write a story or poem where a character experiences distorted time, space, and body image.
Week 12. Write an Urban Legend – a modern cautionary tale, you know the type: I heard it from a friend who heard it from an acquaintance etc. They reflect current social concerns – about the dangers of buying drugs online or big bad business or global warming. Make up an outrageous story with weird events and a sprinkling of true facts.
Week 11. Maps: A-Z, Route map, contours, climate, constellations, tourist sightseeing map, map keys. Draw a map of your life, however you like: geographical, chronological. It could be a map of the area you live in, or the route you take to work, or the main places you’ve lived in throughout your life. All the places you’ve visited in the world. The groundplan of your home. Or it could be a place, a moment in time, an experience: love, work, children etc. Use it to write a poem or a short story or begin a memoir.
Week 10. Choose a favourite object, give it a voice, its own unique view of the world, its history, family, thoughts and desires.
Week 9. Go outside, somewhere alone. Close eyes and listen – note all sounds, far and near and internal. Write in response. (Listen to my soundscapes for inspiration!)
Week 8. Describe your hand in detail – front, back, colour, texture, shape, skin scars, jewellery, compare in size to something, what it’s done, would never do, compare to a landscape
Week 7. What will cause the most pain?
Week 6. Something very small that had a profound effect
Week 5. Write a sentence: include a person, an object, an event – describe using all the senses. Who missed the event?
Week 4. Look out of the same window at three different times in a day – describe the changes
Week 3. A colour you hate – List everything in that colour. Write a poem or scene using that colour to create a mood. Can you redeem that colour?
Week 2. Write A Recipe for Disaster