This month's writing prompt is loosely based on something I read about Erik Ehn's silent writing retreats. I read an account that in the midst of silence, he gave one playwright a poem to memorize. I think this exercise was meant to counter the struggle with silence.
Block out some time -- maybe two or three hours. Try to do it one sitting. The goal should be to write a new 10-minute play. But who knows--it could grow into something longer. You need to focus for this, so try doing this without music, internet, social media, or any other sound or distraction, except the poem on which this exercise is based.
I recommend doing this with pen and paper. Writing long-hand will force you to write slowly. Your mind needs time to keep up with new material. I find that this helps.
1. Choose a poem. The poem should be short enough to memorize. Something about it should be compelling to you, though you need not know why. This part could be time-consuming, if you don't read a lot of poetry. I would be happy to send you a few poems to choose from, if you message me. Or choose something at random. Go to a bookstore, flip through a few books of poetry, and force yourself to pick one quickly.
2. Spend 10-15 minutes memorizing the poem -- speaking it aloud. Say the words aloud as many times as you can in this time. You want to get the words in your mouth. Hear the rhythm. Let the diction and the sounds get into your sense memory.
3. Do a free-write based on the poem. What images are there? How would you describe the tone? What ideas/thoughts are provoked through them. What is the structure of the poem? Do you see any oppositional images, words, or ideas? What type of play might be derived from the poem? Spend at least 10-minutes doing this.
4. Now do a more specific brainstorm about the play you will write. It will be inspired by this poem in some way, though it may be in a way that's not immediately obvious. Your play might borrow from the poem's structure, tone, thought, character, diction, image, etc. Don't force anything by trying to make your play connect. But hopefully, some ideas have come to you as you have memorized and ruminated on the poem. Who are your characters? What do they want? What things are in opposition--words, ideas, characters? Don't spend a lot of time planning. Give yourself 5-10 minutes, then move on to the next step.
5. Once you have made some decisions about your play, start writing. Try to start in some emotionally charged, raw place. Be fearless. And write -- don't stop until you have at least a 10-minute play. This will be a draft, and as such, it will likely need revision and rethinking. But maybe there will something really great at the core of this new play. Don't stop to revise now. Don't try to make sense of it. Don't judge it. Just be with the material. Trust your instincts. You might have some really weird images, your characters may say things that you don't understand yet. That's all okay. Just keep going.
I'm going to do this exercise too. I'll post the next writing prompt in a month, so you've got time to make this happen. If you try this, I would love to hear about your experience.