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one-minute poem (quick writing prompt)

one-minute poem (quick writing prompt)

(4 min read) I’ll take a few minutes to explain this quick writing prompt, but it takes less than a minute to do. The speed and precision make this a fast warmup for a group (a favorite icebreaker for classes and workshops), or if you’re on your own, it’s a nice a way to write a little something during a TV commercial break. Try this on any day when you wanna make something new, but especially on a day when you’re feeling like “Ugh, I’ll never write again” or “I’ll never have time to make art.”

I came up with this exercise to support a specific writer when they came to a session with me as a writing coach, but now I use it all the time.

I love this quickie writing prompt because in a minute you’re FINISHED.

Finishing things you write is good practice.

I also love this exercise because it captures a core lesson about writing (I’ll explain at the end). 

Okay, one minute:

Think of a person who’s dear to you. Someone you care about. Could be a close friend, a sibling, even your kid; a person who you really love.

The first rule is: try to say something real about this person. A true thing.

The second rule is: you only get one word.

What kind of word? Any kind you want. Can be a descriptive adjective (bubbly, gentle) or a factual noun (nephew, plumber.) Or just something that feels right for reasons you can’t explain. Maybe it evokes a memory (beach), explains how you feel around them (held), or just kinda sounds like your friend’s name. Maybe it is simply their name! It’s your poem, you do what you want.

You don’t have to use the first word that pops to mind, but you can if you like it. Pick a word you like. You can think about it a bit but choose your word in less than 20 seconds. Just pick one. Tell the truth.

Choose one word.

One word about your dear person.

That’s the first word of your poem.

Next, think of a food you like. Something you love to eat. Find one word that’s right for it. Can be a descriptive adjective (spicy, frozen), a factual noun (noodle, eggplant), or something about why you like it (birthday, grandma)… you get it. One true word about this food. A food you like. One word. Take less than 20 seconds to choose.

That’s the second word of your poem.

Now, think of a dream or a goal. A wish. Something that’s not yet in your life that you want. Find one word that’s right for it.

That’s your final word.

Put those three words together and tell me that’s not a poem.

Tell me that’s not a love story.

Tell me that’s not art.

You made art.

Congratulations!

Ok, there’s a lesson here too. It’s about capture and power and how writingmakes sense.” I do this exercise to get back in touch with my basics. I did it three times this morning:

Listening nighttime ask.

Shucks sweet everywhere.

Paint jalapeno ready.

Does “PAINT JALAPENO READY” make sense? Mmmmm. Not exactly, right? But it sort of does… and here’s the heart of this exercise. Did you know I was talking about my friend who constantly talks about painting murals (paint), about a specific spicy mac and cheese from a specific restaurant that’s closed now (jalapeno), or about a goal to break my best running time on a 5k so that I can keep up with someone I know who’s faster than me (ready)? No. I mean, probably not. How could you get all that detail? Maybe you’re psychic and you got it all. But it’s a poem. You didn’t need all that. Could you say what I was talking about exactly? Naw. But (hopefully) you still got a bit of a feeling about it; something energetic, something jazzed or excited, something on the move; even with such a tiny quick writing prompt, something true about my feelings snuck in there. Paint jalapeno ready.

“Paint jalapeno ready” is a vibe. It feels different from the ASMR-adjacent calm of “Listening nighttime ask” or the optimistic falling-in-love energy of “Shucks sweet everywhere.” Three words can capture a lot.

As a writer, you’ll never capture everything.

But you’ll capture more than if you didn’t try at all.

Writing about things you love (a person, a food, a dream) is a way to capture and celebrate your life. You don’t need hours or a book deal. Try it in 60 seconds.

(You can stop there or you can also do this quick writing prompt ten times; you’ll get a full-on poem about the things you love and want. Put the three-word lines in an order that feels fun to you, then see if someone wants to publish it in a lit mag. Read it at an open mic to make new friends who are curious about how you caught all those feelings in so few words. YEAH, IT’S ALLOWED TO BE THIS EASY. Maybe not all the time, but some of it.)

A word for your person, a word for your food, a word for your dream/hope/goal.

That’s the quick writing prompt. I hope you love your 3-word poem.

(If you wanna share your 3-word poem I’d be delighted to see it. Post it on your socials and tag me @howtowritesomething on IG, FB, Pinterest and @howtowritesome on X/Twitter, or email it to megan at howtowritesomething dot com.)

xo, megan

Thanks for giving this a few minutes. I hope it felt supportive.


Writing coach Megan Cohen is a white cis woman with soft femme hair. She wears black but stands in front of a wall covered in brightly colored brainstorming post-it notes. She smiles with closed lips and warm eyes. Her skin is amazing even though she's middle-aged.

I’m a f*ckin’ friendly writing coach.

Let’s see what an hour with me can do for you. Get treated with honesty and respect. Bring your work-in-progress, your goals, or your frustrated blank page. Sliding scale; no ongoing commitment; just an hour to work on your writing. See me in a private zoom to put my 20 years of experience on your side.

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