Write a ten line text. The text must include a proverb, adage, cliche or familiar phrase. You must change this expression in some way. In other words, it can’t be transparent or played straight. It must also include at least five of the following words:
You have ten minutes to complete this text.
Rationale: This exercies give us a fruitful way to use cliches to our advantage by not playing them straight. The time constraints combined with the list force us to act on them rather than get caught up in thinking and associations.
For later: What we have essentially done by adding constraints to our writing is created a form, of sorts. When writing poetry, devising forms often helps me to write sequences of poems that have overt connections or make me think through language in a certain way. If the constraint, form, or project seems productive, I follow Mei Mei Bersenbrugge’s advice and “play a form of feeling out to the end.” In other words, I go as far as I can. This can get us thinking beyond the single text while still focusing our attention on the single text. It is a step of invention that points toward something larger: project, portfolio, sequence, collection, or book.
Adapted from Rita Dove’s “Ten-Minute Spill” in The Practice of Poetry, Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, eds.