Don’t worry, this isn’t a kink thing. Unless your kink is words? Don’t answer that. No, this is about simple writing exercises and how they’ve saved my writing practice multiple times.

Consider the humble acrostic. Remember acrostics? You might even have written one (or been forced to write one) in school. It’s a type of poem/word puzzle based on a single word, where each line begins with the next letter of that word. Here’s one I made earlier:

Possibility spaces are
Often far too massive.
Everything? Anything? ‎‎‎
Make it smaller, please.

It’s basic, I’ll be the first to admit. More of a ‘thought’ than a poem, you could argue. But it took me just a few minutes to write it, and some days I sit down with the intent to write and struggle to produce anything for hours.

Some ideas just feel too big, it’s hard to get a handle on them, to find a way ‘in’. Or else the focus needed to write is crowded out by the pressures, anxieties and distractions of the real world.

My solution? Constraints, the narrower the better. Constrain your topic; pick a single word to be your title. Constrain your writing time; try writing something, anything, in a strict 5 minute timeframe. Actually set a timer. For best results, do this simultaneously with another person (or tell someone you’re doing it); I find the accountability helps.

Constrain the words you’re allowed to use. Writing about your dog? See how far you can get using only the letters in their name. Stick to a rhyme scheme, meter or poetic form, even if you don’t usually write poetry. It’s fine if you cheat, or throw out the rules later and make it into a different kind of piece entirely. That means you wrote something.

NaPoWriMio Day 17: Lyra the Puppy

The poem is written using only the letters in the title.

Pat the puppy 
Pat her at a peppy rate 
Prep thee at the puppy party 
Prep thee partly at the puppy party 
Prep thee partly at the preppy pep rally 
Pay her the ultra puppy rate 
per therapy pat
Truly pet her, truly pat her, 
truly pat pat pat pat 
pat pat pat the pet puppy 
Pat the puppy 
Pat the puppy at a peppy rate

You might not be that proud of it. That’s fine, you don’t have to show it to anyone. But it’s better to write something than nothing. Maybe you can refine it, develop it further, and there might be an idea or a turn of phrase that feels like it’s going somewhere. More importantly page isn’t blank anymore, and you might just be able to ride your newfound focus on to greater things.

I’ll admit this is half writing advice, and half ADHD productivity lifehack. Your mileage may vary depending on your neurotype, but in my experience most people get good results relative to the very small time investment. During the Spooky Poem Month workshops I had whole groups telling me how refreshing they’ve found it, and how satisfied they are with the shiny rough diamond of a poem that they somehow managed to produce from nowhere in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea. Acrostic and friends are like hackers from a 90s action movie; a few strokes on the keyboard, and you’re ‘in’.

And acrostics are just a basic example. There are endless poetic forms, and styles, and ‘writing games’ you can play. Concrete poems are written in the shape of their subject. The Golden Shovel is a fun one, because it gives you an easy way to engage with an existing poem (or saying, or movie quote). Rigid forms like villanelles can be difficult, but satisfying. And the limerick is unjustly maligned. Some of these may require a lot longer than 5 minutes.

Poem: Ode to Snorlax

The poem is arranged in the shape of the pokemon Snorlax.

Ode to Snorlax

Most wise and weighty thinker,
o great and pond'rus sage!
Share with me your secret thoughts,
the fruits of thine deepest and most holy hibernation,
I do beg!

I must know what hidden truths
thou hast slumbering gleaned,
o what hidden berries of wisdom thou hast pluck'd
from thine ruminatious reveries.
I dedicate myself to thee as pupil,
for I do desire to emulate thine ways of calm and gentle hedonism,
thine philosophy of simple pleasures.

So I do swear! I dedicate myself to study
of thine pure and perfect shape - the sphere!
Thine soft and ever-comfy belly upon which,
in thine generosity, thy alloweth creatures
of the field and glen to sleep upon.

Thine indifference to the woes of human life,
thine immunity to fear, to pain or strife.
The things we loathe do not trouble thee a jot, but oh!
The things we do that bring us joy,
the Mighty Snorlax does them quite a lot.
To sleep, to eat, to rest with friends,
this is where thine wanting ends.

So please, o humble mountain sage!
I stand before thee with my Poké Flute in hand to ask:
what is thine secret?
I desire to be not LESS like you,
but rather MORElax.

There’s no shame in plundering good old Wikipedia for lists of writing constraints and poetic forms. And there was this group of French nerds in the 1960s who called themselves ‘Oulipo‘ (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle). They played around with tonnes of writing games, from the ‘Snowball‘ (in which the first word/line is one letter long and the next is two, and so on) to the ‘Beau Présent‘, which honours a person by using only the letters in the name. It’s a deep rabbit hole if you want to go there (and I do! but I’ve written enough).

They’re also very useful if you’re attempting NaPoWriMo.

The point I’m trying to make is: don’t keep staring at the blank page. Don’t keep putting off that really killer idea you have because you don’t know where to start. Write something, anything, whatever it takes. Even if you have to set yourself some freaky constraints.

Even if it means starting with an acrostic.