Sunday School for Sentences #14: What Picasso And Dave Chappelle Know about Writing. For Realz.

I was awoken this morning by a fantastic aroma

If rhymes could kill I would put you in a coma

da da ding ding rrr rrr ring a mobile phone-a

It’s the guy named Drew and he wants to come on ova’

– Kay

Writing bad poetry and listening or creating cheesy hip-pop can unlock your creative flow. I recommend it. Privately. As in, do it but do not share it with us.

Because publicly following up a bombastic poetic claim – ‘if rhymes could kill, I would put you in a coma’ – with the scatting of a string of phonetics is NOT proof of concept.

I could forgive that crap in the midst of a freestyle battle because that verse is getting composed on the spot. But releasing it as a single? That’s the height of your craft?

I despair.

Rappers who are artists craft their rhymes – and not just the ones they record and release. Like poets who perform at poetry slams – and hip hop battles and poetry slams aren’t a whole lot different – rappers prepare for battle. They prepare one-two line combos and even quatrains combining consonance, alliteration, association and rhymes and near-rhymes. In writerly terms, they prepare a swipe file.

The lesson: prose writers (and bloggers, dearest Red Shoe peeps) should create swipe files of words and phrases and insights and descriptions and killed darlings to drop into new works.

Let’s say you’re trying for humour. Transitional phrases can be a way to interject unexpected wit. You transform a pretty standard sentence with an interesting transition and voila! a giggle.

In other news, __________ .

In a related development, ______________.

Not to be outdone, _________________.

Hold on to the furniture, _____________.

So, to create a swipe file of unexpected transitory phrases, what do you do? You read other people’s stuff and when you see a clever intro, you swipe it. You copy and paste it into a document or jot it down in a notebook.

Better yet…you jot down those tidbits and your mental hamster starts a-spinnin’ her wheel. She’ll run up a few inventive phrases that are indisputably yours. And you’ll record those in your swipe file, too, and feel more like a pioneering rodent and less like a copy cat. Though of course, good artists copy. Great artists steal.

(I stole that, too. Picasso said it. But I bet someone else said it to him first.)

You can do this with transitory phrases, descriptions, and even verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Instead of “manipulated”, use “weaseled” or even better, “ferreted”. Put together one-two combos uniting sacred and street language or words with disparate associations and connotations, like “ferocious faith” (Danielle LaPorte) or “frivolous fury” (Rob Brezny).

Caution: really wild and woo word-combinations and metaphors should be be used sparingly. Think of a lone pansy in the middle of a lawn. You see it. But in a meadow of wild flowers and weeds, it disappears. Use your glitterbombs at the dock rather than the disco.

So. Back to rap battles. ‘Cuz that’s how this suburban mama rolls.

(I stole that, too. I asked my five year old if she truly thought that a silk taffeta dress with crinoline, headband with devil’s horns, and knee high rubber boots was an appropriate outfit for school, and she looked me dead in the eye and said, “That’s how I roll”.)

The rappers and freestylers who surprise and delight you by rhyming Italy with diddily and pulling together an unending echo of homophones don’t pull those rhymes out of the air or their asses. They prepare them. The entire battle might not have been pre-scripted – that’s one of the joys of battles, the responsiveness of the two artists to and with each other – but elements of the verses were crafted and practiced in front of the family cat before being presented to all the cool cats in the audience.

And that’s what distinguishes a rapper, performer, poet, writer – you, darling, you – from the dude rhyming “gate” with “late”.


psssst…I’ve got a whole series of writing lessons below, and if you’re interested, I’m teaching an online four-week course called Artful, Heart-full Blogging that starts on Tuesday, October 11.


Sunday School for Sentences will be a sixteen-part series. Missed one? Here they are:

  • Prologue: God, Sex and Dazzling Sentences
    1. Sunday School for Sentences #1: Explain the Expected in Unexpected Ways
    2. Sunday School for Sentences #2: The (Textual) Reverse Cowgirl
    3. Sunday School for Sentences #3: Object Lessons (from Kanye West and JD Salinger)
    4. Sunday School for Sentences #4: How to Give Good Quote
    5. Sunday School For Sentences #5: Why You Should Write Bad Poetry
    6. Sunday School for Sentences #6: Two Damn Fine Writing Tips
    7. Sunday School for Sentences #7: There Are No Magic Words
    8. Sunday School for Sentences #8: How To Execute a Climax or Series of Climaxes. I’m talking About Writing. Mostly.
    9. Sunday School for Sentences #9: Thread the Grommets, Lace the Corset, Feed the Rabbits
    10. Sunday School For Sentences #10 – Work It
    11. Sunday School for Sentences #11: The Pigs In Space Edition
    12. Sunday School for Sentences #12: Screw SEO. I Write (Wackadoo Titles) for PEOPLE, Not Search Engines. And So Should You.
    13. Sunday School for Sentences #13: How to Write an Intimate Cosmology of Cheesecake, Cheesecake Shots (or not) and Shoplifting
    14. Sunday School for Sentences #14: What Picasso And Dave Chappelle Know about Writing. For Realz.

    About the author

    Kelly Diels I'm Kelly Diels. I'm a writer. I've written for Salon, Jezebel, XO Jane, Problogger, Write to Done and more. I'm currently working on a book about The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. Interested? Please subscribe to my newsletter and I'll share more thoughts and chapters with you as I write them. You can also find me on Facebook and yes please, please do.