In my eighth grade English class, my teacher gave us a “puke on paper” exercise. Like any 14-year-old is when the word “puke” is used in an academic setting, I was intrigued. Pick a topic, he told us. It could be a person, a place, a specific memory, a season. Then, for ten minutes nonstop, write everything you can about the topic.
My topic was summer. I wrote about the taste of watermelon, and the feeling of sand, and then in a long tangent, I wrote about outdoor games I played as a child. After 10 minutes of writing, I had a mess of words and ideas. No wonder the exercise had “puke” in the title. From our messy first attempt, we picked our favorite lines and repeated the whole exercise again, using those saved fragments as a starting place.
This exercise taught me two important facets of writing. First, you need to write. A lot. Even if it's not good. Even if the ideas barely connect with one another. What matters is that you have words on the page, that you’ve excavated your own imagination and thoughts. Second, revise, and when you think you’re done, revise again. Not everything you write will be the gold you’re looking for. But if you keep mining, keep digging. You’ll find that shine eventually.This writing strategy is something I took with me into my university years and beyond. It became not only a touchstone for my own creation process, but a cathartic purge as well for the feelings I wasn’t sure I wanted to shape into a formal story.
In college, I wrote in passionate fits about my ex-boyfriend who had dumped me a week before finals. Hurt and anger gushed from my pen, my frantic scrawl filling pages on pages. I wrote and wrote, hoping that words would be the catharsis I was seeking.
And it was. Just like in eighth grade when I’d had to find the pearls of prose in my first attempt and then begin again, this time I had to grapple with and revise my own feelings. Rage transformed into hurt, transformed into sadness, transformed into acceptance.
Journaling was a way to wade through my mess of feelings, forcing myself to find words for the vague shape of emotions I felt inside myself. The more I wrote, the more I understood myself and him. The more I was able to move on.
So go ahead, puke on paper. Whether it's for a story, a poem, or a way to cope with your emotion-drenched past. Let it all out, see what emerges, and dig through it to find the moments that shine above all else.
And then begin again.
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