Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Prompt #7: Into the Archives

This is less of a prompt and more of a useful reminder, and not necessarily an exercise that will produce something this week (though I'd encourage you to come up with something before the quarter is over).  Whether you've been writing for a few months or a few years, you probably have some unused material lying around in your archives: maybe just a great title that you've never used, a few scattered lines or even almost-ready pieces that were abandoned for some reason and never picked up again.

So what I'd like to encourage you to do is take a look at those computer files, those e-mails, those old notebooks, and see what you can do with it.  I'm a big fan of cooking competitions like Chopped (watch below) where the contestants are given unexpected raw materials and expected to come up with something great in a flash, and that's sorta what you'll be doing here.

We leave old projects behind for a number of reasons — including the fact that they're just not good — but I've often been happily surprised to go back to a forgotten document and find something that I like a lot, and have even found fully-formed poems that I'm very happy with.  While it's rare to find a complete poem, it's very likely that you'll find a few good lines, or a good image, something you can work with, whether that means using it as as starting point for new writing or combining them with similar materials from other abandoned poems to make a new/old poem.

This winter I was invited to submit a poem for a collection on the topic of alchemy, and wound up coming up with a new piece that drew together lines from old computer files and old notebooks from over the past 17 years — whiny notebook mewlings from high school, college poems, essays from my working years, grad school stories, etc., which was combined with new material to make something that attempted to approximate my entire writing life.    You can do the same thing, even if your writing life has only been a few months!

This is a particularly good exercise when your writerly esteem needs a bit of a boost or the words just aren't flowing, or as an exercise unto itself.  I'll make a thread on Blackboard where folks can post any poems that they come up with through this method.

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