Finding Poetry When You’re Stuck

13 November 2019 on Blog, Storystorm  

Some weeks writing comes easy. Like a gift a context or idea appears and you run to the computer, journal, grocery receipt and draft out a poem quickly before it disappears back into the clouds or wherever poems go to hide.  

Other weeks it’s not like that—at least for me. Some weeks my thoughts feel jumbled, and quite unpoetic. I feel like I have nothing new to say, and like poetry is evading me. Some weeks I feel stuck. 

All writers have felt this. So how do you get unstuck? 

Some people have a favorite spot they go—a favorite coffeeshop, a long walk around the neighborhood, the small desk squeezed into the laundry room. Others have sacred rituals they perform—lighting candles, sharpening a new pencil, changing into the smart glasses. 

I’ve learned the best thing I can do is not to clean my entire house as a form of procrastination (which I am known for). The best thing I can do is, well, write. Sometimes if I pour all the junk out of my head, there is a poem in there. And if not, at least my head is a little cleaner, even if my house isn’t. 

My favorite way to get writing, is to force myself, against all my protests, to freewrite. I’ve tried freewriting, and journaling before, but I never liked it or stayed with it.

That was until last year when one of my classmates offered me new advice for freewriting on a computer screen. Turn the font to white; the goal is that you can’t censor yourself. You can’t see what you’re writing. 

Some people prefer to freewrite by hand, but I can see what I’m writing this way, and I tend to cheat and censor myself. I’ve also heard of people dimming the screen to black, which creates a similar strategy as the white font, but it never works for me. With a blacked out screen I can’t see anything. It feels like my writing slips into a void, and I feel like I’m just punching keys and not making anything. 

But with white font on a white background I can see my words moving. There is something about seeing the cursor creeping across the line and down the page where I feel like I am writing— something is being made. That helps me keep going.

The reward for freewriting is two-fold. First, the act of freewriting usually dislodges the feeling of being stuck. But also, if I am still blocked I can pull up an old freewrite (from last week or last year) and mine it. I copy and paste maybe as little as one line, but often that’s enough to go from. 

Sometimes I surprise myself and a freewrite has an entire poem hidden (and I mean deeply hidden) in there. My subconscious mind can make connections that I haven’t figured out yet. 

Everyone has their own ways of getting unstuck, their own strategies whether it’s freewriting, taking a walk, or buying another new pen. The key is finding out what works for you, and then showing up to actually write. You can’t wait for poetry to come to you—sometimes you have to go looking for it. 

Of course there are still weeks where poetry likes to hide from me. It’s good at that. Sometimes it’s hidden really far in the back of my mind. But I do my best to, kindly and gently, ask it to come out, sit with me, stay a while.  

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Johnna St Cyr is Barnstorm's Poetry Editor, and a second-year poetry student at the University of New Hampshire.

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