If you find yourself unable to write, don’t write. Play with your words.
Here’s a great unplanted seed for a writing exercise: Go to your favorite website and find an article that contains a not negligible amount of text. Highlight a paragraph and the copy it to your clipboard.
I’ll do this with you. I’m going to nytimes.com. BRB:
Sunayana Dumala tried once again to enter the worship room she and her husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, had created in their home for daily prayers. Mr. Kuchibhotla had built an intricate wooden shrine by hand two years ago, a small sacred edifice where they would kneel each morning. Months after his death, it became a place where she would honor him.
OK, so I have my text.
Now pick a number. (I chose 3.) Go into the text an erase every X word. It’s SORT OF an arduous task, but at least your brain is spending time with the words and their meanings and connections. Then, I’m going to get rid of all the punctuation and make every letter lowercase. BRB:
sunayana dumala once again enter the room she her husband kuchibhotla had in their for daily mr kuchibhotla built an wooden shrine hand two ago a sacred edifice they would each morning after his it became place where she honor him
Now invent a form based on numbers and letters that have significance to you. If you have tarot cards they can be helpful in this step. I’ll do that. King of Coins. That features a pentagram in this deck. Five lines per stanza. The card I’ve pulled in this deck features a self-portrait of Dali restraining a leashed leopard. There’s also a gentle, prone cow in a yellow fog blowing up and out of Dali’s head. That makes me think of a certain hunter/hunted duality. A certain predictable unevenness.
I’m going to alternate my line length 5, 10, 5, 10, 5. This kind of stuff is dumb, for sure, but it just gets your brain going.
sunayana duma la once again enter the room she her husband kuchi bhotla had in their for daily mr kuchi bhotla built an wood en shrine hand two a go a sacred edifice they would each morning after his it became place where she honor him sun ayana duma
Now move the lines around in any way you see fit. Let go of all the rules. Do something that you don’t understand. Translate some words and phrases into Italian.
la once again enter the camera she bhotla had in their for quotidiano mr kuchi go a sacro altare they would each it became place where onora il sole sunayana duma her husband kuchi bhotla built an wood morning after his ayana duma en shrine dare due lettere
Play with it some more. Trim off the fatty, hard-to-chew bits. Smell what the rock is cooking. Don’t question yourself. Find ways to make new phrases, invent new tastes. Create meaning where there was none. Skewer meaning where there was some. Boil down all the excess, tasteless liquid. Make the phrases economic. This is for your ears and heart only, no one else’s.
la once again enters the camera she had in their for quotidiano mr kuchi a sacro altare they would each upon it became place onora il sole sun burnt her enemies just as her husband mr kuchi built a wooden mooring the morning after his second skin graft parchment enshrined dare due lettere
That’s it. Eschew rationality, meaning and “good taste”. Don’t worry about judgment, neither from outside nor within. The exercise is just meant to get your brain good and juicy. To force you to conceptualize in weird corners of consciousness. Make the process your own. Don’t listen to teachers. Unless they’re good teachers.
When your engine is warm and you’re ready to write that big important thing that comes from someplace personal and genuine and urgent, your mind will be nimble, flexible, willing to go where it needs to go to put heart to mouth.