There is no wrong way to complete a writing exercise.
So begins and ends the introduction to The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice, a new book by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano of Two Sylvias Press.
The key word here is “complete” because as we know, it’s the getting started that’s often the problem. When you’re writing, the world is beautiful and you’re in love. But sometimes, no matter how hard you shake the tree, the muse just won’t come down. And when that happens, whether you’ve published 10 books or none, it’s pretty bleak. You hate that damn tree.
Enter this new book of prompts. Like a day-at-a-glance calendar to keep on your desk, each page poses a question, suggestion or challenge that’s meant to get your creative synapses firing. Yes, there are several fine books out there that feature writing prompts or exercises, but what I particularly like about this book is its overall format and the way individual prompts are structured.
With this book, you don’t flip through and wait for something to strike your fancy. Instead, you open to today’s date, and work with what’s there. For me, that eliminates yet another possibility to procrastinate, or just decide I can’t find anything that strikes me. In other words, fewer choices = more writing.
Second, I really like how the prompts make use of significant historical events, but also bring in references to contemporary life, poets and poetry, even sometimes sending the reader to the library, a web site or just a walk around their neighborhood, like this one for February 8:
Under Elizabeth Bishop’s Spell
It’s the birthday of Elizabeth Bishop, one of the most
well-regarded poets of the 20th century. Bishop’s forte is
looking closely at the world’s creatures and sharing
them with her reader in a painterly fashion: palm trees
are fistfuls of limp fish-skeletons and a dead hen’s wing
is as thin as tissue paper. For today’s poem, take a walk
around your block and notice the small and seemingly
insignificant things you pass (a leaf, a beetle, a patch of
poppies), as well as your neighbors and/or their dogs,
cats, and children. If you are up for it, take notes. Either
way, return to your desk to describe in vivid detail what
Or this prompt for March 1:
Another Way To Be Faithful
On this day in 1872, Congress authorized the creation
of Yellowstone National Park. Since one of the most
famous American natural landmarks is the geyser, “Old
Faithful,” write a poem entitled “Old Faithful” that has
nothing to do with Yellowstone Park or geysers. Think
about what in your life has been faithful to you: a
relationship, a car, an illness, a pet, a pen, a roof that
survived a bad windstorm. The more peculiar the item
is, the more interesting the poem will be.
I’m about to embark on the 30/30 project with Tupelo Press for February—yes, I agreed to write a poem a day and let them post it on their site (ack!). It’s a fundraiser for the press and I’m happy to support them, but boy am I grateful to have this resource at hand for those mornings when I’m totally freaking out.
Even if you’re not trying to write a poem a day, developing or sustaining a daily writing practice is a great way to avoid the feeling that everything you write has to be perfect. If you generate lots of material, it becomes less precious. That mean you can free yourself up to take chances, try something new, play a little, have fun. What a concept, huh?
By the way, these prompts are directed at poets, but I can’t see why they couldn’t be adapted to prose. So, poets and novelists and everything in between, here’s a great resource from two fabulous writers—go get yourself a copy, and get writing. No excuses. I mean it.