Erasure, another kind of writing exercise, begins with an existing text. As the name implies, you create a first draft by eliminating most of the original text, creating (one hopes) a brand new one. These are great when you're very stuck. Which I am often enough! I did several of these during NaPoWriMo this April.
I usually start with a long poem, and removed probably 7/8 of the original words and add my own, liberally. If you're feeling truly geeky, you can even use the cut up machine. It's not an instrument of torture but rather a William Burroughs inspired gadget that eliminates words from a text randomly.
If you're not sure where to begin, here's a text that you can experiment. It's a poem by John Ashbery. If you try this prompt, feel free to leave a link to your poem in the comments.
YOUR NAME HERE
But how can I be in this bar and also be a recluse?
The colony of ants was marching toward me, stretching
far into the distance, where they were as small as ants.
Their leader held up a twig as big as a poplar.
It was obviously supposed to be for me.
But he couldn’t say it, with a poplar in his mandibles.
Well, let’s all forget that scene and turn to one in Paris.
Ants were walking down the Champs-Elysees
in the snow, in twos and threes, conversing,
revealing a sociability one never supposed them as having.
The larger ones have almost reached the allegorical statues
of French cities on the Place de la Concorde.
“You see, I told you he was going to bolt.
Now he just sits in his attic
ordering copious plates from a nearby restaurant
as though God had meant him to be quiet…”
“You look like a portrait of Mme. de Stael by Overbeck,
that is to say a little serious and washed out.
Remember you can come to me any time
with what is bothering you, just don’t ask for money.
Day and night my home, my hearth are open to you,
you great big adorable one, you.”
The bar was unexpectedly comfortable.
I thought about staying. There was an alarm clock on it.
Patrons were invited to guess the time (the clock was always wrong).
More cheerful citizenry crowded in, singing the Marseillaise,
congratulating each other for the wrong reasons, like the color
of their socks, and taking swigs from a communal jug.
“I just love it when he gets this way,
which happens in the middle of August, when summer is on its way
out, and autumn is still just a glint in its eye,
a chronicle of hoar-frost foretold.”
“Yes and he was going to buy all the candy bars in the machine
but something happened, the walls caved in (who knew
the river had risen rapidly) and one by one people were swept away
calling endearing things to each other, using pet names.
“Achilles, meet Angus.” Then it all happened so quickly I
guess I never knew where we were going, where the pavement
was taking us. Or the sidewalk, which the English call pavement,
which is what sidewalks are made of, or so it seems.
Things got real quiet in the oubliette.
I was still reading Jean-Christophe. I’ll never finish the darn thing.
Now is the time for you to go out into the light
and congratulate whoever is left in our city. People who survived
the eclipse. But I was totally taken with you, always have been.
Light a candle in my wreath, I’ll be yours forever and will kiss you.
by John Ashbery