One Way to Get Past Writer’s Block

Back in the days when I had to write poems every week, I came up with some “tricks.” I am revisiting one of my favorite ways to cut through writer’s block, and will share my technique with you.

You will need need: various books, a brain, paper, and pen. Or you could use your computer in lieu of paper and pen.

Gather an odd number of random books. I am selecting five. Don’t have books? Use whatever written materials you have on hand (takeout menus, cereal boxes, phone book, magazine that fell behind the sofa, etc.). 

I am selecting books whose titles are written in ALL CAPS — there’s no reason for this. I just want a quick, random selection.

I chose:

  • A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War
  • Stealing God’s Thunder: Benjamin Franklin’s Lightning Rod and the Invention of America
  • Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
  • The Complete Poems of Hart Crane
  • Hellhound on His Trail: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History

I  write down a phrase or sentence from page 125 (page number I randomly selected) of each book:

  • But why not cut out the middleman?
  • Key West
  • America’s first museum of fossils and paleontological curiosities, including mastodon relics
  • He could not support President Johnson for reelection
  • The forlorn figure walked up and down the platform, poking his head into each train carriage

And I keep going, picking random phrases from each book, until I’m happy with my selections.

I edit, cut, paste, add, subtract, play around with this word salad until I am happy.

I come up with:

He had to act.

Altering the laws of nature?

He could not.

His forlorn figure

abandoned on enemy ground

walked up and down the platform 

poked his head into each train carriage.

He had to act.


The museum:


paleontological curiosities

mastodon relics.

The long voyage

to the island:

Key West.

The odd way the blood got there.

“Did they betray me?”

He had to act

to ensure his survival.

This may or may not end up a poem or the beginning of a short story or scene. It is something to work with. I have the shape of some kind of narrative and a glance at a character(s). Less than an hour ago, I had absolutely nothing, an empty brain. 

This technique is not original to me; it’s a combination of a lot of little writing tricks I picked up over the years. Hopefully, it may be of use to someone else. 

This post was inspired by today’s Daily Prompt: Teach Your (Bloggers) Well.


3 thoughts on “One Way to Get Past Writer’s Block

  1. Pingback: Daily Prompt: Teach Your (Bloggers) Well | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss

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