paint cans on paint cloth

Write Your Story: Getting started

Getting started seems to be the most challenging part of most writing assignments.

Where to begin with the story? What details to include? What is the story anyway?

When I was teaching English to first-year students at Whitworth University, I came up with a strategy for them … and for me. Here it is:

You know the artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)?

One of his methods of painting was to splash and drip paint across a canvas laid out on the floor. (I’m surely oversimplifying his method, but this is a writing prompt, not an art history class 😉 .)

Check out this video from the Museum of Modern Art that shows an artist using Pollock’s methods:

Now let’s apply this to writing.

Imagine you have an idea. Say you want to write about frogs but don’t know where to begin. Or you’ve started writing about frogs but the piece isn’t going anywhere interesting.

How about pretending you’re Jackson Pollock?

Start dripping and splashing your ideas on a piece of paper or on your screen. Frogs are your subject. What do you know about them? How do you feel about them? What experiences have you had with frogs?

Think of:

  • words
  • colors
  • smells
  • feelings
  • moments
  • sounds
  • associations
  • tastes
  • etc.

I pretend I’m throwing them on a canvas, and they don’t have to make sense or add up to anything.

Here’s the beginning of my splashing and dripping:

  • Kermit
  • poison arrows
  • ponds
  • princes
  • the princess and the pea (Where did that come from? Does that have anything to do with frogs? Maybe, maybe not. Doesn’t matter. Write it down and keep going … )
  • kisses
  • Valentine’s Day

Sometimes I find that getting ideas out of my head and on a screen or paper where I can see them leads me in the direction of a story. In this case, I might realize I know more than I thought about frogs, or that I have an unusual idea about them.

Or I might realize that I don’t have much to say about frogs, but I do have a story that’s brewing in my mind about Valentine’s Day … so I’ll head in that direction instead. Put away the frogs for a while and focus on meeting my Prince Charming.

I read that Jackson Pollock didn’t stop after the dripping and splashing. Sometimes after he dripped and splashed the paint, he would use tools to move the colors around.

That’s what we do as writers. Get the ideas out, and then move them around, so they create the message we want to send, tell the story we want to share.


Are you ready to start writing? Join me in class and create a Memoir Moment!

Paint can photo by Taelynn Christopher on Unsplash

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