Blog Challenges 2019 · Creative Writing · creativity · Personal Writing

Poetry and Imposing Restrictions

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannSay it with me:  I work best under an externally imposed structure.  I need some sort of scaffolding and some sort of blueprint or guide to follow in order to best function.  That’s why schedules and checklists work well for me, and why I always performed exceptionally well in class, but often had panic-ridden, down-to-the-wire meltdowns when doing assignments outside of school.

And it probably sounds antithetical to the whole idea of being creative, but I produce my best work (or at least the best rough drafts) when I impose restrictions on my writing, particularly my poetry.

Now, I have to say up front:  I’m not bound to these restrictions.  I’m not incapable of writing without them, and if, in the course of my writing, I stray from these restrictions, that’s fine — they are intended, generally, as a means to help generate ideas and structure me thinking.  If I move beyond the need for them while I’m writing, that’s fine.  It means they’re served their purpose.  (By the way, while not speaking in the exact terms I am here, Jeffery Cranor and Joseph Fink address the idea of limitations as being beneficial to creativity in the second episode of their new podcast, Start With This.  It’s worth a listen).

Mostly, these tips have been helpful to me when I’m trying to write to a deadline, or attempting to complete a significant amount of writing done in a short span of time (i.e., during NaPoWriMo).  These are, on my end, specific to the writing of poetry, and the resources I provide speak, primarily, from the point of view of poetry writers.

Tips for ADHD Poets

Commit to write in a particular form.  I can’t explain why, but committing to a form feels like solving a puzzle; it’s challenging, fun, and allows me to play with language in a way I hadn’t thought of before, but it also imposes a structure (syllable count, rhyme, repetition, length, etc.) and gives me a means through which to filter and focus my thoughts.  This post on Writer’s Digest has a list of 100 forms with explaination and examples.  If nothing else, it’s interesting reading, but over the last few years, I have written in dozens of the these forms (not always saving the results, sadly), and while not everything I’ve written has been gold — I’ve written.  You know?

Challenge yourself to include a particular word, phrase, or set of words.  Back in my old LiveJournal days (how many other old-school LJers are there out there?), there was a community called same_oh (which still technically exists, even if it’s dead) where users posted lists of words with the challenge to include all the words in a piece of writing.  I used these lists primarily to give form to a series of sestinas that I wrote, using lists of six words as the limiting end words of my lines.  It was hugely, hugely helpful to me, and those remain some of the poems I am most proud of to this day.   On Twitter, there are several places where you can find various prompts; MicroPrompts, Sense Words, Verse Angel and The Quill Diaries are just a few.  Also, this poetry prompt generator does something similar, along with an additional prompt that’s pretty cool.

Use curated imagery to inspire a piece of writing (and read what other people have been writing to see how differently you can approach a prompt).  Rattle Magazine posts an ekphrastic challenge every week, and allows you to read previous weeks’ winners.  It’s a lot of fun, and the images run from abstract collages and composites, to photography, to paintings.

Those are the things that have worked best for me.  Does anyone else have any tips on how imposing limitations has improved their own writing, creativity, or productivity?

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