Thursday, May 1, 2008

Poetry as Freelance Inspiration

Deadlines and commitments….what to leave in, what to leave out…

Bob Seger, Against the Wind

I’m wrapping up National Poetry Month with some tips on how poetry can not only relieve stress, but also inspire one of the hardest-working writerly types: the freelancer. A freelance writer’s day is filled with deadlines, marketing, queries, article ideas, research, and perhaps a little writing squeezed in between. A lot of freelancers I know make their living by service pieces, articles or web content that has a specific goal. While we can write a standard piece in a lively way or admire a well-turned phrase, there isn’t a wide amount of wiggle room in most of what we do. Since I started in poetry and grew into freelance writing, I’ve developed a few tricks to keep the creative side fresh and improve my overall work.

  1. Headline haiku. I’ve been working for hours, I’m on a tight deadline, and my frazzled brain has completely lost the main thread of a project. I want to step away from my computer for a few minutes, but I don’t want to lose my train of thought. So I go outside, or sit by the window and watch the birds swoop down and snatch up kibble from the dog dish; while I’m away from the work, my mind takes all the info that’s trying to shoulder through a thin door, and lines it up, haiku-style.

Historic, urban

Iowa fills nation’s plate;

American charm.

As I’ve just proved, the haiku doesn’t have to be good, it just helps organize the thoughts. For my own use, charts, lists and bullet points aren’t nearly as effective as this poetic tack.

2. Take a project further. Several years ago, I was hired by a local non-profit to visit the local rest home and interview a few people about their lives. It was an amazing day, filled with stories of loss, love and wisdom. After I wrote up the individual profiles, I still couldn’t get a few of those open, friendly folks and their stories out of my mind, so I wrote a poem about each of them. The one that still sticks with me was about a man who couldn’t remember his own son’s name or where he was, but recounted his experiences in depth about homesteading in Alaska, including one eventful day when bears smelled breakfast cooking and broke the cabin door down while he and his wife hid upstairs. He remembered that he had won an award once for his work in teaching drama, and began pulling out all these newspaper clips from his life. The poems I wrote from that day were worth more to me than the check I received, and I started interviewing other elderly neighbors and relatives, distilling their stories to one life—or even one moment—caught in a single poem.

3. Outdoor spot poetry. If you’re looking for the perfect activity on an autumn artist date, try this: pack a few colored markers in your pocket and head out to a local park. As you relax and feel your creativity twanging back into shape, take out a marker and scribble a quick poem on a leaf or a bit of tree bark, then let the wind whisk it away. (Yes, you should use water-based markers, but I’m not the pen police.) The feeling of watching your words lifting up with the breeze and becoming part of nature is liberating. Plus, you’ll occasionally get someone shuffling through autumn leaves and discovering your poem. I always hope it’s a pleasant surprise, but either way, it’s still a great method to boost your energy levels and relieve that deadline stress.


Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Wow! I love the Outdoor Poetry idea. I'd also like to try writing poetry in a booth. Spend some time with each customer and write a poem personalized for their needs. Of course, there is always the fear that they'd hate the result or that nothing would flow if I set up that sort of situation.

Poetry is a wonderful way to release creativity and emotion. I think we should all spend more time waxing poetic. ;-)

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Opps, forgot to subscribe to comments. :-)

Unknown said...

yeah, the poetry booth has always intrigued me...maybe one day I'll be brave enough to try it. I do have an idea for an automated poetry booth, where people could stop by a mobile computer station or kiosk and add a line to an ongoing poem, which would then be published to a website. Kinda like freeform meet-up poetry.

Carolyn Erickson said...

OMG. Headline Haiku - what a brilliant idea! I usually have so many threads going in a rough draft I could weave you some pretty floral-print fabric.

I am going to try the Headline Haiku idea the next time one of my articles starts to run amok. Thanks. :D