By Ashley Lister
A colleague got in touch with me the other day. He was sitting in front of a blank sheet, waiting for inspiration, and he wanted my advice: “I’m blocked,” he explained. “What should I do?”
My response was immediate: “Write a haiku.”
When it comes to physical exercise, we’re all sufficiently savvy to know that it’s sensible to warm up before running or pumping iron. If you start to run without having stretched your body into an appropriate state of limberness, then you court the danger of serious physical injury. If you start lifting weights without having stretched, then you could easily strain a muscle or tear something important.
And yet, when it comes to writing, a form of psychological exercise than can be as draining as a marathon and as challenging as any weightlifting competition, the idea of warming up with a brief exercise is invariably dismissed.
I know I’ve mentioned haiku on here before, but I do think the simplicity of the form is impressive. More importantly, I think the discipline that comes from writing a haiku, forcing oneself to focus on a clarity of image and a rigidity of syllabic expression, helps each of us to enter that special zone of focus that is needed for writing.
It’s a form of exercise that I try to use before each writing session. The concept is relatively simple. I need to write a single haiku before I can begin. This means I need to compose a three line poem where the first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven syllables, and the final line contains five syllables.
Obviously there are variations on the haiku form, and there’s the distinction between a haiku and senryu that I tend not to worry about, but I stick with the traditional form because it best suits my needs.
This was a whimsical one I wrote the other morning:
I’m worried because
One of my balls is larger
Than the other two
It’s nothing special. But the syllable counting and making this quip in a specifically concise manner, was enough to get my mind into my personal zone of creativity.
My colleague got back to me. He’d written a haiku and then managed to get a few more pages down on his current WIP.