What’s your image creating process?

For a while now, I’ve been feeling like my writing process gets in the way of the time I actually spend writing.  This is becoming problematic to the point at which I’m having a lot of trouble sitting down and writing a poem.  I think it’s because I’m so anxious to come up with images right away that excite me and inspire me, when really the ideology of “first thought, worst thought” usually applies.  So I’ll write down a bunch of random images (usually just words describing things I see that I find interesting): table, banner, swing, flower–none of which typically lead to me becoming next Rebecca Lindenberg.  Then I’ll brainstorm instructions/directions, except not explicit ones, more just the intros to them: “let me,” “go to,” etc.  Still not inspired.  These usually end up covering the top half of a page, not in any particular organization but across, diagonal, big, small, you name it.  Crappy images all over this piece of looseleaf paper.  And somehow if I do this for a long enough time–have enough bad ideas, look at enough domestic objects, make enough combinations of two words–I come up with a poem.

I am going to go out on a limb and assume that my method of writing is not your method of writing (it happens with critical analysis papers as well & I end up surrounded with six pages of paper, each with one important sentence on them.)  For a senior English major, it’s pretty embarrassing the time it takes me to come up with a poem/paper topic I can expand on, and saying that my process is all over the place & disorganized is an understatement.  So I guess what I’m wondering is how do you all start poems?  Any advice about delving in somewhere, or finding a topic that you can completely flush out in a technical, imagized poem?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


4 Replies to “What’s your image creating process?”

  1. I definitely agree with your sentiment that processes get in the way of composing sometimes. I’m reminded of one of those little infographics that detail the writing process via pie chart, usually satirically. Were I to have one of my own, 95% would be taken up by things like “procrasti-eating,” “aimlessly wandering wikipedia or tumblr in the name of ‘research,'” “staring angrily at the mocking cursor,” or “rolling on the floor of various friends, usually Amy (due to convenience).” About 5% of the chart would be actually writing. Needless to say, I also struggle with efficiency.

    I’ve found that the largest part of my problem is that I expect too much of myself in a first draft. Published poems (or even workshop poems) are presented to us so cleanly, so simply, that I sometimes forget that the writer probably had to fight tooth & nail to get to where they are with the poem. In that sense, I just let the garbage flow, so to speak. I give it its space & even go so far as to save it as a draft, because I might be able to use it with a bit of re-working. Accepting that the first (& second, & third) draft is probably going to be trash has made the process a lot easier for me. I allow my poems to suck, and I acknowledge that they suck, because then I can start to re-work. Good images can come later.

    In terms of creating images, I’ve found that I often get my start from little curious facts (this is where the “wandering Wikipedia” and “scrolling the dredges of tumblr” come into play, or so I like to tell myself). If I can find an interesting fact (for example: an octopus has three hearts!) can be a good launching point. It can often give you a language to base into, & different neat images to start working from. From there, it’s the old & oft-unwelcome knowledge: revise, revise, revise.

  2. Ashley,

    I really love this blog post because I’ve never really thought about the vast differences in the way each poet begins writing his/her poem. Thank you for opening up this conversation.

    I rarely begin my poems with an image, the exception being when I think of a really great image out of the blue, I will jot it down and turn it into a poem, but we all know great images out of the blue are a rare occasion (at least for me). I always begin with subject matter, and usually go from there. To begin to conjure up the images for this subject matter, I try to put it in a physical space and find the language of this space. From there, I play with this language set. In this process, I will say that I sometimes restrict myself, obsessing a little too much about using cohesive language and looking past language that might not fit perfectly in this space, but may create an image that really works. So my recipe for imagizing is not anywhere near perfected.

    Sarah, I love that you draw inspiration from interesting Wikipedia facts. I’ve noticed in my own writing (not only my poetry) that there is always a lack of research. I so often restrict myself to using my current knowledge in poems. Why don’t I look things up and try to put them in a poem? I have no idea. It’s something I’d really like to start doing. So many of the poems I’ve admired in workshop have had a foundation in research of a topic (unless their creators had prior extensive knowledge of the subject matter). I need to start doing this!

  3. Hey Ashley,
    I think it’s interesting that you brought this up, because sometimes I feel like I have a lot of trouble starting poems (I think everyone does!). Whenever I’m writing I need to listen to music, it really helps me create images in my mind. How have you been using the exercises? Do you find that they work for you? Sometimes I can barely write a line based on the weekly exercise, and other days I’m so grateful for them because I don’t know what I would write if I didn’t have them.

    Some advice I have for you if you’re stuck is to read something you really love. I do this all the time to remind myself of why I’m writing in the first place; I love this writer because he/she made me feel something, and I want to make people feel something with my writing. I also think watching slam poetry is really inspiring.

    I hope I was some sort of help!


  4. Thank you guys so much for all your feedback!
    Sarah, I totally agree that I also put way too much pressure on myself for any first draft of a poem. I think it’s really my own state of mind that prohibits me from allowing any creativity to “flow out.” It’s so easy to read a poem and think, Oh my god, did this just happen?! Nothing I ever do will be this good! … and then it gets really hard to persevere. You’re completely right–as poets, we need to allow ourselves space to “suck,” because hopefully from there, something will happen. Also, I forgot about things I can do to rejuvenate my creativity, like reading Wikipedia… I wrote one of my favorite poems based on a fact I read on Wikipedia! (In case you were wondering, that fact was: If Miley Cyrus’s viewers were a country, they would have the fifth largest population in the world, just ahead of Brazil. Chloe, you are right, you should definitely try this research-poem idea… go on wikipedia and see where it takes you! Maybe I’ll give that a try again also 🙂
    Arianna, I’m the same way about the exercises… sometimes my ideas for them are right there, and other times I really have to work to come up with something! It’s interesting that you watch slam to get inspired… maybe I’ll try that too!

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