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What to write about?

One of my spiritual practices is to write – daily. But, when I sit down to write, I often don’t have a ready subject in mind. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve found that help me get started on that blank page. I always write the date at the top of the page. And sometimes that triggers a memory which I begin with. Usually not. But it does get SOMETHING down so that I’m not staring at a blank page. I often begin by describing something I see right in front of me; my cup of coffee, sun on the floor, trees blowing in the wind, my pen scratching on the page. It really doesn’t matter where I begin. What matters is where I go. I aim to find a surprise every time I write. That can happen only if I approach the page exactly without knowing where I’m going. Invariably, if I start with a specific idea, it usually fizzles out. So, once that first true sentence is down… “I sit with this cup of black coffee in my favorite blue mug.” I try to just write the next true thing. Sometimes I keep the pen moving (which is always a good idea!) but sometimes I wait BRIEFLY for the next thought. If I wait more than 30 seconds, I get lost in day dreaming trivia. But, if I just keep trying to write the next true thing. (Maybe the next true thing is. “I’m bored”….) But if I push beyond that – “why am I bored? What would so and so (some famous writer) write about that? What color is boredom etc. etc. I aim for writing just one page.

Step two then is – go back and reread what I just wrote and underline phrases or words that seem important. I use one of those phrases or words to begin one more page. I try to delve more deeply into that idea and to keep writing one true thing until I have another page of writing – or sometimes the second page becomes a poem. I am more apt to try to “craft” the second page. But sometimes not!

Another “trick” is to keep a word jar. On individual pieces of paper, write down some “juicy” words, such as; juggle, thunderstorm, sea glass, guardian angel, loneliness, unstrung, uncorked, fireflies, fog, trouble, haberdashery, hidden, night, unfolding, longing, dusk … etc. Make your own collection! Draw one word and make yourself write a whole page that begins with that word.

Here is a prose poem I wrote today using the method of beginning by describing an object in front of me. In this case it was a small bouquet of “everlasting” dried flowers in a bottle. I THOUGHT I was going to write about my Grandmother who loved the color purple – but it turned out to be more about my Granddaughter and ultimately about me – which is where I always want to go with my spiritual practice --- to learn something new or to expose something hidden.


In an empty bottle that once held boba tea, there now is a clutch of purple everlasting. They’ve been there for months. I put them in the jar when my Granddaughter was visiting because we both had memories of a particular trip into San Francisco where we got the boba tea, which neither of us liked, but we thought the bottle was cool. The fact that the blossoms are called “everlasting” is sort of funny because they aren’t, of course… as we sadly know, but don’t believe, about ourselves and everything else. Even my Granddaughter has outgrown the shoes she wore on that day we got the boba tea. The shop has possibly gone out of business, the way things go these days. And I have gone out of the business of trying to save memories in a jar – though I wish I could. I find my own memory drying up and becoming fragile as I try to rearrange these tiny purple blossoms this morning.

~Penny Hackett-Evans

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