H. Bicknell: Advice to Writers

Last week, flipping through my drafts for my poetry class, I realized that almost everything I’ve written these past two months (and, unfortunately, the four months before that) has been about failed relationships. My tone in these pieces is usually bitter; the images are painfully sentimental. I’ve been feeling much too sorry for myself. My mission for this week became, simply, to write on any other topic. I ended up with three prose poems: one about a rocking chair, another loosely stationed in Hell, and the final about a crooked man from Arizona.

I think that it’s important for writers to realize when the time has come to make a change. Otherwise, we confine ourselves to a poorly ventilated box, which only becomes more suffocating as we fill it with ink-smudged pages. We wouldn’t want our friends to see us in this box; we wouldn’t want critics to point to the lumpy cardboard and label it as ours; we wouldn’t want to spend so much time inside this box that it is impossible, once we finally make it out into fresh air, to scrub off all of the grit filming our skin.

This sounds ominous, but it doesn’t have to be as long as we make the effort to keep trying new things. Here are some of my suggestions for getting yourself out of (or making sure you never fall into) a writing rut:

1. Read. Everything. All the time. High brow, low brow, explore different genres, try reading things you don’t even think you’ll like. I once paged through an old med-school book of my dad’s about sexuality, which was surprisingly engaging. Don’t just read for class; read for pleasure.

2. Observe. Writing down striking observations is an assignment in my class, but I think it’s a good idea for any writer. It heightens your awareness during moments you might otherwise tune-out (like walking to class) and can prove a great source for material.

3. Do things you normally wouldn’t, even if they make you uncomfortable. Take a different route when you walk, go into a new store, visit a museum alone, talk to someone new. The awkward or unusual can help alter your perspective, which may translate to your writing. You might also want to try writing in new forms, perhaps ones that are more restrictive than you’re used to, which force you to write and think differently.

4. Write constantly. Sometimes things need to be written to death before they can officially be put to rest, like memories of a bad year or hatred toward an ex…


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