Do You Metaphor?

The other night, my seven-year-old son Jack came home with an ELA assignment to write a poem. “Try to use a metaphor,” the directions said.

“What’s a metaphor?” he asked me.

Apparently, he had zoned off during that classroom discussion.

“Well, what do you want to write about?” I asked him.

He said, “I want to do a poem about the fish in the sea.”

“Great,” I said. “And what colors are the fish?”

“Red, blue, green, yellow and orange,” he said.

“A red fish, wow!” I said. “What do you think that red fish might look like?”

Confused, my son said, “It looks like a red fish.”

I smiled. “But does it remind you of anything else?” I asked.

“Yes, it reminds me of a red fish,” he said.

Eventually, I managed to get my son to think of his fish as soda cans, soccer balls and other things, but all along there was a little voice inside me that kept saying, “Yeah, I’m with you, kid. A fish is a fish. Leave me alone.”

Metaphors don’t come easy to me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a more comfortable and confident writer, but to this day when I’m writing a sentence and feel the need for a metaphor coming on, my mind freezes, particularly in a first draft. I’ll think, “What am I trying to say here? What does this remind me of?” And, more often than not, I won’t be able to think of a damn thing.

But I’ve learned to let it go and that if I have to think too hard about creating a metaphor, it wasn’t meant to be. Generally, my metaphors — and similes and all those colorful techniques of grammar —  are created in the revision stage, when I’m reading over my work, and relaxed, and an interesting or more lively way of saying something suddenly hits me.

Otherwise, I tend to let a fish be a fish.

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One thought on “Do You Metaphor?

  1. I totally agree with you. While I often admire writing that is chock full of literary devices, it’s not my style unless I force it. Though it can be a great writing exercise to change up styles, I think ultimately it’s the writer’s own voice that will come shining through and be what speaks to readers.

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