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Poetry: Brainstorming (Getting Outside Yourself)

Writers tend to be the most prolific when they're inspired by something that's happened to them personally: falling in love, a family member dying, a friend's betrayal. Often people start writing when they feel the need to put words to paper to help them cope with or celebrate such events. While great poems can sometimes result, other times the work lacks a broader relevance to others: so what if Bobby loves Suzy? Or, the writer can't seem to come up with anything new to say on the subject: the work seems to be indistinguishable from the millions of other poems written about broken hearts or existential angst. The work fails to uncover a new slant; it has nothing new to say. Think of writing as a conversation: you can't tell other people what they already know or what doesn't interest them—you instead want to add to and build upon what has already been said, and also surprise, delight, move, or challenge them.

In this exercise, take a different approach, one that is a compromise between writing about what personally inspires you and getting outside of yourself. Think about something you love, something that you can talk about for hours—an activity, object, or something from nature. It could be surfing, the sky, trains, or even something as silly as hamsters. Now take that favorite thing and freewrite for ten minutes: write about why you like it, all the facts you know about it, a memory connected with it, your philosophical musings on it.

Next, get online or go to the library and do some research about the thing you chose. Try to get your hands on whatever you can find written about the subject—its history, the science behind it, etc... Once you've gotten some interesting material together, see if you can come up with a poem mixing the information from your freewriting and your research. By doing this exercise, you are harnessing your passion, but you are also getting away from and outside of yourself by reaching beyond the material of your immediate life to something separate from it.

Once you complete this exercise, you can get a critique from a writing teacher.

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