Stretch Your Writing Muscles

Do you ever find yourself struggling to get words down on the page? I know I do, and frequently feel as if the ideas I have are flitting beyond my reach, just like when a word or a fact is on the tip of my tongue but I can’t quite form the sounds. 

When I try to write, I get stuck for a couple of reasons: I can’t find the words for the idea I have, or I can’t find an idea that I feel is worth putting on paper. 

In this post, I’ll share an activity designed to get the words flowing. I’ll write about ways to develop ideas in my next post. 

If the words are stuck at the point between hand and pen, fingers and keyboard, I approach it in the same way I would stiff muscles: I use words. 

Okay, but how can I use words if I can’t find them? That’s the whole problem! 

That’s the big problem, yes, but what’s causing the words to get stuck in the first place? For me, it’s usually because my idea isn’t fully formed yet, and I actually need to write to help bring that idea into focus (more on that in the next post). I get stuck when I’m not sure how to bring that idea into focus, or when I’m frustrated because I don’t have the perfect word.

In these instances, I take inspiration from Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg. Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life, tells us to write shitty first drafts, and not to worry about how bad they are because a shitty draft is better than nothing.  Natalie Goldberg tells us in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within that writing is a practice like any other physical activity: the more we do it, the easier it will become. I work to let go of the need to find the perfect word, and I just write, knowing that through the act of writing, I will eventually figure out the right set of words. 

But I’m still stuck and I still can’t get words on the page, so to loosen up my stuck words, I play with my words and flex my writer’s muscles. It’s training for the piece I want to write. 

One way I flex and stretch my writer’s muscles is through using writing prompts and word games. I found a lovely word game, created by Lea Redmond, called Paint Chip Poetry: A Game of Color and Wordplay  

It’s a delightful way to inspire a flow of words because colors are evocative of memory, experience, and landscapes and it’s easy to use the color as a nudge to describe and practice using detail and engaging those writing muscles.

You don’t need to have the game, of course, but you do need some colors to work with. You can use anything you have at hand, like color samples from the paint shop, crayons or markers, or a website that generates colors for you, like this one:  When you have your tools at hand, select five colors, and from those five, choose three– or use all of them!  

Once you have your colors, write a passage or poem that incorporates three of the colors. Describing a nature scene or a person might be a good place to start if you need ideas!

Using the Random Word Generator, I pulled the following colors: green grey, flame red, telegrey, telemagenta, and traffic red.

These selections are particularly fun, because of the adjectives that accompany them. It’s not just “red” it’s traffic red and flame red. This gives me some options for further word play because I have the challenge of keeping the words together or breaking them up. Telegrey and telemagenta are interesting challenges as well— how do I even use that in a sentence unless I’m using the literal color? 

So let’s see what I came up with, using these five colors:

          Traffic lights, brake lights,
          red in my eye line, blur
          into flame as vision
          greys in and out of focus.

          Commuters on our way to 
          the telegrey of office cubes and
          desks and carpets and muted colors
          muted sounds and muted minds.

          Greengrey horizon under clouds
          color in the distance flash of 
          telemagenta ahead as a flashy
          convertible changes lanes,
          impatient in the traffic red. 
          The flame red of sun burning clouds away
          beckoning us out of our grey
          muted world into vibrant possibility. 

The theme of a commute to work seemed obvious to me because of “traffic” and the telegrey— tele made me think of telephone, telecommute, even though the voice in this poem isn’t telecommuting, but is in their car on a drive, so the grey and red was easy. Telemagenta is probably the most difficult simply because I don’t like the sound of the word. It is an actual color, but magenta works just as well, in my opinion, even though telemagenta is a specific type of magenta. This was a quick write— maybe 15 minutes to write from beginning to end, so I’m not sure that the poem is actually good, but it stretched my writing muscles and sparked some ideas. Most importantly, I’m unstuck and can feel the words start to flow. Maybe now, I can tackle that idea that’s been eluding my reach. 

Now that you’ve seen the process in action, give it a try. Select five colors, choose three or more of them, and see what inspiration strikes.  After the initial round, you can choose colors again and add on or start a new idea if you’re still looking to loosen the writing muscles.

Or, maybe, you’re writing muscles are loosened up and you can wrangle your idea onto paper!

Check back soon for my next post on finding your idea, or reach out to me if you think my writing consulting services are right for you.

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