There are several sure-fire things I do when I feel stuck and can’t write as fluidly as I’d like. Walking almost always works. Whether it’s simply walking down my road or doing mindless circles at the college track or roaming near Lake Ontario, putting one foot in front of the other and allowing my mind to both wander and focus, relax and pay attention, often prompts ideas. Listening to music, for me, is unproductive as far as getting-words-down-on-the-page, but often puts me into the “zone” – the intellectual/emotional space – that will incite writing. Looking and listening, then, are helpful. Movement is helpful.
If those reliable catalysts aren’t clicking, however, I sometimes resort to my magic books. I have three of them. Two are poetry and one is prose written by a poet. I will not divulge the books’ titles or their authors – but even if I did, it’s unlikely that my magic books would also be yours. Every writer, I would posit, needs to find his or her own.
Perhaps I should clarify. These aren’t books about magic, although there’s no reason such a book could not also serve as one’s magic book. They are magic because whenever I open them, I find something that helps me write. Often a single word is the trigger, although it could be a phrase, a line, or an entire poem or paragraph. Rarely is it an idea – I’m not looking for subject matter – although occasionally it could be a mood or might be what I’ll call word-feel. That is, these writers nudge me into a place where words feel good in the mouth, feel delectable or delicious, whether murmured, spoken strongly aloud, or simply thought to one’s self.
I keep these books nearby – within arms’ reach in my study – but try not to overuse them. That is, when I’ve simply stalled or am tired, I don’t grab the magic book. When I’m feeling mentally lazy, I don’t touch them. They are not easy fixes, in other words. They are sacred – to be used if and when I need them. And when I feel that need, I open one randomly – to whatever page I happen upon – and begin reading. If I’m lucky – and I am often lucky in this respect, which is why these have become MAGIC BOOKS – it usually only takes a minute or two to be sparked. And then I put the book down and I write.
Prompts for using magic books:
- Just open to a page randomly and start reading until a word triggers something for you.
- Make a list of five words that you find by opening to five separate pages and jotting down the first delectable word you see on each page. Then try to write something that connects those dots.
- Steal a line and use it as the first line of your new piece. Later, go back and either alter that first line or give credit to the writer you’ve stolen from.
- Find a word in the magic book that you would NEVER use in your own writing. Use it.
Donna Steiner’s writing has been published in literary journals including Fourth Genre, Shenandoah, The Bellingham Review, The Sun, and Stone Canoe. She recently completed a manuscript of linked, place-based essays and is working on a collection of poems. Her essay chapbook, Elements, was released in 2013 by Sweet Publications.