Sunday, July 8, 2018

Tobi Alfier - When Your Words Aren’t Ready

When Your Words Aren’t Ready To Come Out

Some people call this stubbornness of words Writer’s Block. I say unless you’re working under a deadline, go do something else. Years ago, my brother told me
if I went sky diving I’d forget I hadn’t had a date in a while. It worked! Go to a movie, do submissions, or read something. You’ll come back to your writing refreshed. The words will come when they’re ready.

There are times to be hard on yourself. There are times to cut yourself some slack. If you’re committed to writing at least a page a day, by all means do it. The goal isn’t to make you feel guilty, just give you a break if you need one.

If you want to jump-start your words, a few things you can do are:

Change your location. If you always write in your office on your computer, take a pad of paper and go get a cup of coffee. Likewise, if you always write your first drafts long-hand, do it somewhere else. Go to the park. Go to the beach. Change your scenery.

photo by Karolina Grabowska
Eavesdrop on anyone, anywhere. You will be amazed at what you hear that may inspire poems. Eavesdropping on phone conversations is great because you only hear half; you can make up the other half, and that can give you perfect endings to narrative poems. “Vodka soda in her right hand/ cell phone in her left/ she took a sip/ said don’t you ever call me again.”

Watch people. You’ll get a feeling about them; that feeling may turn into a poem. Remember that even if you’re not right, it’s a poem, not memoir. I wrote once about a woman named Etta Mae. When I found out her name was really Shirley, I didn’t care. It was a poem.

Listen to your outside surroundings. Open a window or sit on the porch. You will be amazed at what you hear in the silence. At a workshop once, the instructor told us to go outside and write what we heard for twenty minutes. We were in the quietest, most secluded building on campus, yet every single one of us wrote something different!

Experiment in Sound

This is the human studio,
a paragon of negative space.

Trucks rumble.
Compressors shoot air-gun sounds when gears change.
The drone of air-conditioning with spikes of whooshes—
like the wooden tines of a rake being smacked against
photo by Anita S.
a stucco house. 

The clicking sound of chewing in lock-step
with the squeak of tennis shoes. The odd bicycle.
Exhalations of small dogs in time to the jingling
of their owners keys. Over it all, the gentle
whish of the wind carries the hopes of children
playing down the way.

A tongue licking ice cream has no sound
but the sigh of satisfaction

(Previously published in Bellowing Ark)

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

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