Writing is a lot like running: it goes over better if you stretch first. It’s not easy to dive into a blank page cold, and it can be frustrating to expect a full-fledged poem on your first try. Instead, get your mind moving and maybe shake a few ideas loose with one of these eight poetry exercises. Whether you like to rhyme, write in free verse, or perform spoken word, it’s helpful to give yourself a little warm-up before you’re off to the races.
Look up the year you were born on Wikipedia, and you’ll find a long list of events. Choose a handful you find meaningful or interesting, even if you have to do a bit of research. Then, pick one to use as a jumping off point. You can take the fictional route and imagine being a participant or observer in the event, or a more literal one and imagine all the ways this historic event has affected (or not affected) your life.
Erasure (AKA, the blackout poem)
This exercise starts with a block of text, which can come from anywhere—the newspaper, a magazine, a book, the back of a cereal box. Use a pen to underline some of your favorite words in the block. Then use a marker, white out, or a pen to omit the words you don’t love. Let the words left help you form your next poem.
Make Metaphors (or similies)
If you’re feeling stuck, don’t worry about writing an entire poem at once. Whip out a notebook and just jot down some comparisons. Start by thumbing through a book of poems, or heading outside where you can observe nature, people, and traffic. Whatever metaphors or similies you find don’t have to be groundbreaking—they don’t even have to make sense! If you come back to your list another day, there’s a good chance you’ll find at least one of those thoughts inspirational.
If you feel your creative well is running dry, slow down and pay some extra attention to the world around you. With a notebook in hand, venture out and make five sensory observations for each of your five senses. For example, in a subway station, you might see white square tiles, strangers, empty chairs, a forgotten umbrella, and graffiti. It’s easy to overlook the charming, interesting, or even haunting images that exist in your surroundings.
Create a list of word pairs or phrases using alliteration (or assonance, if you prefer). They key to making this exercise work is to not overthink it. Even if a word doesn’t fit perfectly within your alliteration or assonance rules, write it down. Let the sound of each word lead you to the next. You might be inspired mid-activity and just start writing, or you might need to sleep on it for a night and revisit your list with fresh eyes.
Much like alliteration lists, synonym lists are like a good stretch before a sprint. Start with one word, then write down as many synonyms as you can, even if they’re not a perfect match. For example, the word bored could lead you to blasé, apathetic, disenchanted, jaded, lukewarm, world-weary, and so on. And don’t be afraid to use a thesaurus! Each synonym presents various shades of meaning, and you might find yourself zeroing in on a particular mood through an uncommon synonym.
Imagine you’re someone else
Whether it’s King Henry the VII, Amy Winehouse, or your next door neighbor, try imagining what life is like in someone else’s shoes. Not only is this a good practice of empathy, but it can help you get out of your own head. Try writing a poem from their perspective.
Dust off some old poems you maybe hid away in a shoebox, or a seventh-grade homework assignment your family once hung on the fridge. You may appreciate how far your writing has come, or be surprised at how your perspective has changed. Whether you find a few gems or key phrases in your work or have an encounter with an old memory, it can be inspiring to revisit the past.
There are plenty more ways to get those creative juices flowing, you just have to be willing to explore. The important thing is this: don’t worry about forcing a poem out on the first try. Get out of your own way and give yourself some room to play, wander, and even fail. Even if an exercise feels silly, you might be surprised by what new ideas strike you later.