Here’s an exercise I’ve been using a lot lately.
It evolved out of my daily creative check-in — a 2-minute self portrait, then a 2-minutes free-write. I felt like I needed something to cap it off, so I started circling 5-7 words and making them into a kind of poem or mantra. A haiku for the day, if you will (though it’s technically not a haiku).
Lately I’ve been trying a different kind of haiku hybrid: the 7 words or less challenge.
The idea is simple. You pick your topic — maybe an event in your past, or what you want to do today, or looking back on the week — and then express it in seven words.
For someone like me, who processes visually & verbally – often with a rush of words that overwhelm like a waterfall – there is something satisfying about the limitation of saying it in seven words. They have to pack a punch, like Hemingway.
And what surprises me is that it often isn’t hard to do. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I could get the essence of any event in my life across to you in 7 words. Maybe better than if we sat down for a long talk over coffee.
Does that sound like a challenge? Join me, let’s give it a shot!
Here, I will talk you through it.
Approach #1: Freewrite and select words
Set the timer for two minutes, and write freely about whatever is on your mind. If you want, pick a starting point or question, like “the week in review,” or “how am I feeling today,” or “what I need to do.”
Now write anything you want for two minutes. Don’t think about it, and don’t try and answer the question. Write whatever words float into your brain, even if it’s just one word over and over. It doesn’t have to make sense. Just move your pen across the paper.
When you’re done, let your eyes wander back over what you wrote, and circle the first seven words that jump out at you. (You can do more or less words, but I find 7 is a good rule of thumb).
Now write those words down, and play around with them.
Here’s an example of how this went for me a couple weeks ago. I wrote about how I was feeling in the morning, and then circled 7 words that stood out:
wild, riot, flower pot, rich, soil, growth
I turned those words into this little poem:
wild riot in a flower pot
Approach #2: Haiku Hybrid in 7 words or less
Decide on a topic. Here are some ideas:
– a life event I obsess about
– why I’m like my mom
– my first boyfriend
– a fight with my best friend
– my neighbor growing up
– a time I failed
– my year in review
– what I want in 2016
– what I learned from my family
– my superpowers
– my parenting style
– the opposite of what I want to do
– a book that made me cry
– the first movie that scared me
– favorite piece of clothing
– music I will not listen to
– ideal vacation / job / life / day…
– my birth story
– what needs to change
– something traumatic
– something transcendent
– something that changed me
– who I was five years ago
– what I wish I knew when I was 20
– who I will be in ten years
Or you can keep it open and talk about your week or what you’re feeling.
Now say it in 7 words or less. You can use the idea of “words” loosely – I interpret it more as key phrases or snapshots of the experience you’re describing (as opposed to 7 words in a logical sentence).
So for instance, here is how I would describe my week in seven words or less:
That might not make sense to you, but it does to me! Here’s another example:
Theme: Dark time in my life 5 years ago:*
year of yes
year of no
Here’s another one off the top of my head:
Why I don’t watch horror movies:
Isn’t it interesting how this tells you a different kind of story than if I explained in detail why I don’t watch horror movies? It lets your mind fill in the gaps – it’s more of a game between us, which is more interesting for both of us than me telling you what happened.
BONUS: if you do this in your journal, you can look back over your hybrid haikus and see if any themes emerge.
And if you want, post your haiku in the comments or on the facebook page!
*if any of you have seen my solo show / manifesto, you saw me try a version of this in front of an audience! Which you will be able to see again in January when I do the full show here in Portland. Tickets are on sale now!