Monday Metaphor Musings #4: Life

“Life is like a doughnut. It can be sweet and tasty, but there’s always a hole in the middle.”

That’s just one of many ways people have tried to capture the essence of human life on planet Earth, with all its many facets.

The challenges of life have been compared to many things: a three-ring circus, a roller coaster, a maze, an elevator, a journey.

These metaphors have led to other metaphors, such as “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

For clarification, I’m using metaphor as an umbrella term for both similes and metaphors. The only difference is that similes use the terms “like” or “as,” while metaphors are implied comparisons.

Time for another word-association exercise. You did this before by brainstorming the word web and by finding the right metaphor to describe yourself. Last time, we clustered the word door.

If you didn’t do the previous exercises, I invite you to go back and try them. Feel free to share in the comments. I’d love to know where your musings led you.

Kids who’ve been untarnished by rigid educational protocols naturally think in terms of similes and metaphors. As I’ve said before, we’re born creative—in God’s image. Imago Dei. If we get to adulthood having “lost” our imagination, we might have to work a little harder to re-discover it. This brainstorming exercise helps us do that.

The rules are simple: start with a word, phrase, or concept in the middle of the page, then write down snippets of whatever comes to mind. Not in a list or outline, but spiraling out from the word like fireworks.

Jot any association of word or image. Keep writing and fill the whole page. Take rabbit trails off new words. No censoring! And don’t worry about spelling, grammar, penmanship, time limits, or any of that left-brained stuff. Just let yourself go.

Why do this?

1) It helps get all the words and images that are stuck in your brain out onto the paper. Those words are your raw materials to build with.

2)  This free association enables you to come up with connections you might not have thought of before. Including really cool similes and metaphors to use in writing.

Join me in clustering right now. Read all the instructions below first.

What image or object comes to mind when you think of LIFE?

If you can’t think of one, cluster the word LIFE first to find an image/object.

Once you’ve chosen your image/object, cluster it by writing it in the middle of your paper. You are going to discover all the connections and similarities between LIFE and your chosen image.

Here are some options, including the ones listed above: a three-ring circus, a roller coaster, carousel, other carnival rides, a maze, an elevator, a journey, road, bagel, grapefruit, banana, other foods, car, ship, other vehicles, game, flower, tree, garden, forest, lake, ocean, mountain, electricity, factory, cafeteria, building . . .

You can also use verbs, like cooking or exploring. This exercise works as long as you choose a real, concrete object or activity for comparing.

By now, you might have already thought of various ways that LIFE is like your chosen image/object. If so, great! Feel free to share in the comments below.

If you want a further challenge, read on.

• Write the words LIFE and your chosen IMAGE/OBJECT in the middle of a blank page and circle them. Add 6 lines (like spokes) going out from those 2 words. Write each of the 6 senses at the end of each spoke and circle those individual words.

Yes, I said 6. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch/feel when you think of that object? Those are the 5 senses. The 6th sense if not extra-sensory perception. It’s kinesthetic. What do you feel on the inside, under your skin? Not emotions, but the result of emotions: your stomach, muscles, joints, nerves, and so on.

• But don’t stop there. Write whatever comes to mind without worrying which sense it goes with. Go from tangible to intangible. From concrete to abstract. Go beyond the obvious.

• Set a timer for 5 minutes and just start writing everything that comes to mind when you think of that image/object in terms of LIFE. Do this without music or distractions. Just focus.

• No censoring! No judging! Nobody’s looking over your shoulder to make you feel foolish. Just write whatever. Keep the pen moving. And don’t watch the clock. Don’t read ahead, either. Feel free to take rabbit trails.

Ready? Start the timer. Five minutes.


What did you discover as you compared LIFE to your chosen image/object? There are no right or wrong answers. Feel free to share in comments below.

What’s the point? The point is that you can make connections and you have something worthwhile to say.

It’s a starting point for creativity. I’ve had students finish brainstorming like this and suddenly want to keep writing, whether a poem or an essay. They narrow their focus, decide on their purpose, and start composing.

If this exercise leads you to write, do it! Get that first sentence on the page and start going. Don’t worry about form, content, order, grammar, etc. Just get your thoughts down. You can revise later, if you want. Or not.

The main thing is to discover connections, metaphors, and irony. Discover that you have something to say, and a unique vehicle (sometimes a metaphor) to say it with. Clustering can take you in directions you may not have considered before. It’s all part of the PROCESS.

It all starts with one little word pair, one little metaphor.

Need more inspiration? Check out Positive Writer.

What metaphor did you discover for LIFE?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


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12 thoughts on “Monday Metaphor Musings #4: Life

  1. I might have to try this with my family on vacation. My youngest and I are always thinking of situations in metaphors and it is how we best explain ourselves. The oldest two maybe do it some, but are more concrete thinkers. Often the metaphors help others to understand a situation or event or emotion or reaction we are experiencing. They serve an amazing purpose, as long as we remember that at some point most of my son’s and my metaphors will break down. Intriguing stuff here! I’d like to also try it with a Sunday School class! (If we do this I will try to remember and tell you what we came up with)

    1. Anita, that reminds me of a book I read a long time ago. I can’t recall the title but it might be by Gary Chapman. Maybe it’s in one of his “Love Language” books. The author shares how images, analogies, and metaphors are often more effective in communicating our feelings than just stating them in words. If you or any readers know which book that is, please let me know!

  2. When I was teaching at the University I had my students write a metaphor for the Teacher. So, in your word choice above, a teacher is life. Or life is a teacher. Wow! I’m almost inspired to go write a nice essay right now!!!

    This is an awesome exercise you have come up with, Laura. I love your creativity!!

    1. Thanks, Brad. If you do go write, let me know how it turns out! It would be interesting to hear how you link the details of teaching/classroom experience with life events.

  3. Life is like dirt . . . And that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

    The greater variety of elements it contains, the more fertile it is. While this may blacken our hands, or cause noxious weeds to grow which require our efforts to eradicate, it is better than the alternative, because cleaning up life too much makes it sterile, and no growth can happen out of that.

    1. I love this, Mark! I’ve never heard life being compared to dirt before. To gardening, yes, but not to dirt. Thanks for your contribution.

  4. I’ve been pondering this metaphor since you wrote it 2.5 years ago! (Yes, a little longer than the five minutes you stated.) And my mind finally settled down enough to pick one.

    Life is a cup of tea: Can be bitter, sweet, or a little bit spicy/ hot, chilly, or just lukewarm / But there’s something about pouring a cup, wrapping your hands around it, and breathing in the aroma, sometimes sipping, sometimes gulping, savoring the moment alone or with friends. Depending on the flavor, it can energize or calm you–but there’s just something that keeps bringing your back to the cup to experience it all over again.

    1. I love it! You’ve captured life’s experiences and emotions with the types of flavors along with our varied responses to them. I especially like “there’s something about pouring a cup, wrapping your hands around it, and breathing in the aroma, sometimes sipping, sometimes gulping, savoring the moment alone or with friends.” Well put!

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