Snake Woman – Writing the Unforgettable


1. Think about carnivals, fun fairs, or circuses you may have gone to as a child. Or perhaps you’ve recently taken one of your own children or a grandchild to a circus or state fair. What comes to mind? Does a particular event or situation come to memory? Freewrite for 10 minutes about your experience. Remember to include as many details (invented or real) that you can. What sounds can be heard? Smells? What can you taste? What attractions or people are there?

2. After the freewrite, go back and circle or underline any words or phrases that strike you as interesting or unusual. Could any word or phrase you highlighted be explored further in another freewrite? If so, write about it for an additional 5-10 minutes.

3. Read Snake Woman by Emilia Phillips

Snake Woman
by Emilia Phillips

Details! Unforgettable Details!

The details and imagery in Emilia Phillips’ poem transports the reader to another time and place. We’re right there at the side show, an audience member curious and fascinated by what we witness. We can smell the truck exhaust and taste the double-fried/ Twinkies. We can feel and breath the air of smoke & storm. We are drawn to the black snake woman sitting on her stool with her shaved head…/concrete tail affixed in a boa’s/ circle. The bubble she blows is an explosion in our ears as It pops.

Whether you’re writing fiction or poetry, paying attention to detail is key to creating a memorable piece of work. The blank page may be a writer’s canvas, the words the brush strokes, but it’s the details that will give the reader a vivid image.

Adding the Unexpected
Rorschach Test Writing

5. I’ve posted a Rorschach test card here, but if you prefer you can find others online or make your own by splotching ink or paint on a piece of paper, folding it in half, then opening it before it sticks. I also recommend printing the image so you can look at it from multiple angles. Looking at the image, what to do you see? A disfigured monster, the map of your country, a dog howling at the moon? Jot down everything you see. Try rotating the image if possible. Add more words to your list. Aim for at least 20 words or phrases.


6. Now that you have a list of words and phrases it’s time to write the unforgettable. Write a story or poem that includes the words from your list. You could also continue working on what you wrote during the warm-up and develop it by adding these words. If you’re not certain how to include some words or phrases, try using theme in a metaphor or simile. This will give your piece a powerful punch of the unexpected. Write without stopping for at least 20 minutes. Go!




Emilia Phillips, 2015. Photo by Tracy Tanner.

Emilia Phillips is the author of two poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, Signaletics (2013) and Groundspeed (forthcoming 2016), and three chapbooks, most recently Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, 2015). Her poems and lyric essays appear in Agni, Blackbird, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Green Mountains Review, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, Narrative, New England Review, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Poem-a-Day (Academy of American Poets), Poetry, StoryQuarterly, Third Coast,Verse Daily, West Branch Wired, and elsewhere. She received StoryQuarterly’s 2015 Nonfiction Prize, judged by Leslie Jamison, and The Journal’s 2012 Poetry Prize, judged by G.C. Waldrep, as well as the 2013–2014 Emerging Writer Lectureship from Gettysburg College and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, U.S. Poets in Mexico, and Vermont Studio Center.

She is the Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Centenary College of New Jersey, poetry faculty for the Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop, and the interviews editor for 32 Poems.
She blogs about teaching and writing at Ears Roaring with Many Things: On Writing & Teaching Creative Writing.


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