A WRITING PROMPT FROM JULIE MARIE WADE

Each Friday we post one new writing prompt created by a Sarabande author. Prompts like this one are included in our online Reader's Guides along with discussion questions and suggested reading to accompany each title. So if you can't wait a week for the next prompt, visit our Reader's Guide page to find them all in one place!

This week's prompt comes from Julie Marie Wade, author of Small Fires.

 

THE EXERCISE: PHRASES

A writing exercise that I like to give myself—and this is especially generative for prose-poetry or micro-essay—is to brainstorm a list of phrases that I hear a lot in daily life or that I strongly recall from literature, television, or film. Each phrase has to be brief but pithy, a phrase that seems to require some kind of inspection or even talking back to, but the choice of phrases is best tailored, I think, to phrases the individual finds personally compelling.

For instance, here are some phrases I have used:

  • “The rest took place beyond images & stories” (from a cinema theory reader) 
  • “Teach me from scratch how to love; keep me kind” (from a Jorie Graham poem)
  • “There’s no hole on earth where the heart drops through without bringing something with it” (from a James Allen Hall poem)
  • “I’m drowning here, & you’re describing the water” (from the film As Good as It Gets)
  • “Skirt the issue” (everyday discourse)

I took these and used them to generate one-page responses. “Skirt the issue” was especially fun because the phrase always makes me think of issues dressed up with all different kinds of skirts, which led to a kind of list poem incorporating as many different varieties of skirt as I could imagine in conjunction with the wide variety of issues that might need to be “skirted.”

So I recommend brainstorming favorite quotes and interesting idioms or even clichéd statements that we tend not to inspect because they seem so commonplace (“heart on the sleeve,” “don’t worry your pretty little head about it,” etc.), and see what kinds of surprising insights and images such a response might generate. The prose-poem/micro-essay might end up standing alone, or it may lead to richer images and insights to incorporate into a larger piece (or both!).

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