|Pop Culture Geek
[To become aware of our discursive thinking around the act of writing, we do a“Build-a-Poem” activity through a series of steps and discuss each stage of the experience.]
Many of us are not aware of the messages with which we bombard ourselves when we’re writing. We’re not aware of how much we try to predetermine our writing experience and outcome.
Discursive thinking refers here to the self-talk we engage in: that constant sorting of experience into good, bad, neutral. It’s a type of inner talk or inner rhetoric that carries tremendous influence, as Jean Nienkamp among others has pointed out. We frequently persuade ourselves through our self-talk without realizing it.
What follows is an activity I’ve used with students and when giving talks to help people become more aware of their own discursive thinking around the act of writing. (I've left quite a bit of page space between each step; try not to scroll ahead beyond the asterisk until you've jotted down the current line.)
Step One: After opening a blank screen or finding a scrap of paper and pen, take a moment to get comfortable. Observe your breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
So you’re about to write a poem. Right now. Within the next 3 minutes.
Step Two: For a minute jot down your reactions to what I just said—to the fact that you’re about to write a poem: any reactions.
I purposefully selected poetry because most people have strong reactions to this genre. (I've heard grown people groan at the prospect of a poem.) The idea of an upcoming experience with poetry arouses a whole gamut of emotions and associations from the past.
The reactions you wrote down constitute your discursive thought about this upcoming act of writing.
Step Three: Watching your breathing, come up with a line for each of the prompts I’ll give you. Write down whatever comes to mind, not worrying about quality or audience. Try not to read ahead to upcoming prompts—just spend 30 seconds on each and move on. Each prompt provides the next line.
First line: Think of an emotion you’ve recently felt and compare it to an object in nature using either a metaphor or a simile.
Second line: Describe that natural object using one of the senses.
Third line: Use a list (you decide what goes in the list).
Fourth line: Zoom-in real close to the natural object and describe something microscopically.
Fifth line: Something in the background to this natural object is pointing to another emotion you experience. What is it?
Sixth line: What’s the weather or climate around this natural object?
Seventh line: Something lies within a few feet of this object. It’s an item you haven’t seen since your childhood. What is it?
Eighth line: Use a simile (you decide what goes in the simile).
Ninth line: There’s a shadow lying on the ground. It belongs to a person you wish you could speak to again. What’s interesting about the shadow?
Tenth line: Something is about to change in the setting around this natural object. What is it?
Read through your poem.
(Feel free to share your poem by commenting to this post or email it to me. I'd love to read it.)
You wrote this poem in a short span of time. You had no concept of this poem ten minutes ago, and the poem has been relatively unaffected by predetermined thinking. It arose in the moment. It is emblematic of all that can arise in each moment. Did you think you could write a poem like this? Who knows what your next idea or sentence will look like? Take a moment to jot down the thoughts which are passing through your mind right now about writing.