The academic year has just started at NTU, and our new MA Creative Writing students have had their first sessions. In one, they were asked to write a metaphor or analogy for their creative processes, in response to reading  Mark Strand’s poem ‘A Dress’. Here are some of the responses – each of which was written quickly, almost as a freewriting exercise. Enjoy!

Creative writing is an exorcism of sorts. It is the only way to deal with that intrusive, niggling narrator voice in my head that pops up on random days with a phrase, an image, an incomplete sentence while I’m cooking, gardening, trying to get through my dreary workload but all the time knowing that demon won’t be gone until I make time for the deliverance and commit those imperfect words to paper.


Words are fish and writing is fishing, its bait being the time spent staring at a white screen and its cruelty not quite serrated hooks through recently serrated cheeks nor drowning on an unfamiliar shore as a bald man with a thick jacket and an even thicker moustache takes a pointless photograph, but cruelty upon the writer, staring at a white screen, waiting.


During the exercise I tried to think of a succinct way of framing my words to eloquently describe my writing process. Which for me, can be both as easy as breathing and as painful as an asthma attack. The following metaphors/ analogies are my attempts to dissect what I now consider to be an intrinsic part of my existence.

  1. The deep-sea dive.  Writing for me is like deep sea diving, going into the unknown, the depths of one’s soul in order to find the treasure that was always there.
  2. Farming-agriculture/giving birth. What comes out of me has to be produced from something activated deep within what I already possess. Like seeds pregnant with promise. These seeds are planted in my subconscious as I walk through my life.  Locked within are the thoughts and concepts in my psyche that grow to maturity, watered and nourished by my day-to-day experiences and encounters.  Finally, what I produce is harvested/extracted when I give birth to a composition.
  3. Gem mining/excavation. My creativity, like all of the most precious elements and stones, is buried deep underground.  The pressure of life creates purity and, once excavated, what is exposed can be processed. Once shaped, I can share its beauty with the world.

Reflecting, I noted the recurring theme. My mind just can’t release the concept, as I try to shake the apple of my thoughts from the proverbial tree of knowledge that is my brain; this is what I know to be true about my creative writing process:

“The whole process is about pulling out of me that which I didn’t know I had in me.  The deeper I dare to travel into myself, the more I find to share.”


A rain storm in the sunlight – it drips until it pours and then the clouds reveal a rainbow.


Filed into a dagger’s point, my thumbnail scores a blood red groove across my forehead, slicing through hair as it circles my skull. 

The top comes away like the lid of a boiled egg.  

Strong, nimble fingers, quite unlike my own, winkle out the cephalopod brain, but it’s my clumsy hand that smashes it against the whitewashed wall. 

Much later, I squint at the mess as I untie my apron. I shakily grip a piece of tea-stained silver and begin to spoon it back in. 


For me, writing is like standing in a room where all the walls have collapsed. I must search in the rubble to find the first brick, then the second and third, to rebuild the structure. It’s a slow meticulous process, but eventually I am standing in a beautiful new home surrounded by people I love


Creativity is within all of us to some degree. It flows like water out of us. it’s an expression of who we are. Having the ability and opportunity to express ourselves is good for our well-being, and it’s very therapeutic.


Let me Find Myself

With a blank notepad, a pen, and an innocent dream of glory

I visit a sunlit ravine with distant views,

Preceding a tranquil lake in a basin.

The earth dare not move in this quiet place, 

And besides the interruption that is me, all seems still.

With empty words I try to ensnare this strange world

Within a leaking bottle –

But it is much too quiet and still,

And who am I to comment? 

Alas, I concede to myself –

As seeing tells what telling doesn’t.

I return to endure that dark solitary room

Where the voice inside my head

Refuses to let me rest,

And amid the death of all my peace

  Little else remains other than me, him,

And a million strangers in between.

 Whoever there is hiding in this cold room – 

I need to find myself,

Let me find myself.

The Mirror and Me

Bestow the image before me –

Ever so crystal and clear

And it is there for all to see;

This image so insincere.

I cast stones at the mirror

To tell if the picture is a lie,

And as the cracks begin to appear

I see the image split and die.

Here I stand and stare

At the image now wise and true,

But the truth tends to scare

And scare it shall do.

And now when I pass that cracked mirror

That sits upon the wall,

 I never have to wonder

If the reflection is mine at all.

To Keep an Hourglass

If I want to find my hourglass

It’s mounted upon the wall;

And sometimes late at night

I grab the glass,

To watch the sand fall.

How a mortal loves but to lose –

To sought, to fight, and to gain,

Of the great power a man can yield

No shard of it shall remain.

How we move mountains with a hand

Yet neglect the unknown as we lie,

And although we own the earth’s good land

 Never shall we question why.

What a man can do

To what a man cannot,

From what we know

To what we never shall,

And to all which falls between.

Oh, dear hourglass so wry!

How you do remind me,

Of what we are before we die.


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