Write Like a Witch: Baba Yaga – The Chicken Poem Principle
June 10, 2021
(Or, How to Write When You Got NOTHIN’.)
You know that feeling when you have to/ want to write something more than anything, but you feel like you’re going to die if you do?
You have NOTHING, but, somehow, you’ve gotta do it anyway? Maybe you have a deadline that you can’t ignore, or you haven’t written anything in a month and you’re mad at yourself.
We are deeply and intimately familiar with this predicament. It feels HORRIBLE.
We’re going to tell you exactly how we break through and write anyway. We call it The Chicken Poem Principle. And we’ll show you exactly how to use it.
The Chicken Poem Principle is, essentially, giving yourself permission to write something truly terrible. Nonsensical. Grotesque. The worst stuff you’ve ever written! Writing that would cause you to die of embarrassment if anyone ever saw it!
“But, Sara and Brittany, I cannot submit something grotesque to Uncanny Magazine, and their submission window closes TOMORROW,” you might be thinking.
And we agree, you probably shouldn’t submit something actually grotesque, to Uncanny or anywhere else, unless the issue’s theme is the Gothic Grotesque or similar.
But the point of the Chicken Poem Principle is to write out the grotesqueness, to get the words flowing, even when you are feeling deeply uninspired. Once words exist, they have a tendency to keep coming. And you can edit and refine and add to your heart’s content. But you have to start somewhere, and you can’t improve writing that doesn’t exist. #truth
Here’s how it works:
(Including deeply mortifying examples drawn verbatim from our personal Google Drive.)
1. What are you trying to write? What’s the general theme or concept?
Write the words down.
2. What associations do you have with those words? What images, symbols, or characters do they make you think of?
Write those words down too.
A few years ago, we were invited to write a poem for an anthology of tarot-inspired poetry. We got the High Priestess card. And we wanted to give the poem a fairy- tale spin, so we chose Baba Yaga to represent the Priestess.
We. Had. Nothing.
We were exhausted and cranky and cold (thanks, grad school in January!)
So here’s what we wrote down: “High Priestess. Baba Yaga.”
“#pomegranatehat – blue – pomegranates – papal crescent tiara
Baba Yaga cross? Priestess of __ DEATH. Thresholds. Heads on Sticks. Russia.
Chicken Footed House that spins, have to say a rhyme to get it to open.
Mortar Pestle Forest Material Wildlife Death/Moon/Earth
Three horsemen in her employ representing dawn, noon, and midnight. They are depicted as a white rider, a red rider, and a black rider.
Yep. That’s 100% really what we wrote.
3. Now take words, phrases, and ideas from what you wrote, and turn them into a really awful poem (or story or whatever you’re trying to write.) Make it terrible. (Or at least give yourself permission to make it terrible.)
Fail to rhyme. Have uneven stanzas. Be profoundly unpoetic. But write poetry anyway.
Here’s what we wrote next. We wish we were making this up, but we are not:
“Chicken, chicken, in the night
Why you wake me up?
Chicken, chicken, beak so bright
Chicken, chicken, in my hut
Chicken, chicken, what the f*ck?
Why be feathers everywhere?
Chicken, don’t you even care?
Chicken, chicken, here’s what I’ll do
Make you invisible – ha ha, hoo hoo!
Now whatcha gonna do?
Chicken, chicken… wait, where are you?”
4. Now it’s time for you to write a second draft. Toss the old one completely, or refine it, depending on how you feel about it. Take whatever spark you can find from the first draft and start there. Develop it, fan it, and see what you can make of it.
We sadly can’t share the actual chicken poem in its entirety because it appears in a collection called Arcana, but here’s a passage:
“When the tree outside, long barren,
began bearing flowers,
red as blood, bold as brass,
on its spiny, tangled branches,
I wasn’t surprised, merely hungry.
I fed the flowers to the birds,
who ate as though starved.
They became white, then red, then black –
sometimes they would vanish from sight,
and I would laugh.”
We won’t lie to you – this was a bear of a poem to write.
Sometimes, writing comes easily and quickly, effortlessly. But the real test of a writer is if she writes even when she doesn’t feel inspired. Because let’s face it – if you only ever write when you feel inspired, you’re not going to write that often.
So embrace The Chicken Poem Principle. Write crap. Celebrate how awful your words look on the page. And then refine them, and refine them again. Be the High Priestess and herd your errant words like chickens before you!
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