Don’t Stop Because You’ve Hit a Block: Unconventional Techniques to Spark Writing Inspiration

by Stephanie Gemmell

While all writers struggle to find inspiration from time to time, grappling with bouts of writers’ block can seriously shake your confidence as a writer. Many writers tend to think of their craft as an aspect of their identity, so facing writers’ block for an extended period of time can easily seep into other facets of life, causing self-doubt or artistic insecurity.

Gathered based on experience and other writers’ recommendations, these 15 techniques include suggestions for how to make authentic progress in your creative process and ultimately overcome writers’ block. While no individual writing approach or activity offers a universal remedy, these methods offer a variety of options to address possible root causes of writers’ block and foster inspiration.


Use the “Cut-Up Technique”

Popularized by William S. Borroughs and subsequently used by artists like David Bowie, this technique can provide writers with a hands-on, creative approach to finding inspiration. By cutting up an existing piece of writing and rearranging words and phrases to create something new, you may be able to spark unique and unorthodox ideas to use in your writing. The physical elements of practicing this technique can also enable your mind to naturally wander, further aiding the creative process.

Try a Guided Writing Journal

Guided journals can be useful to ensure that you dedicate some time to your craft each day, but they can also contribute to ideas for larger projects or creative endeavors. Trying a guided journal that focuses on your home genre or different genres that you want to experiment with can bring some form and structure into the writing process, helping you find a sense of direction as you explore new artistic territory. Another writer recommended Noor Unnahar’s Find Your Voice: A Guided Poetry Journal for Your Heart and Your Art, and it has been a simple, valuable resource to try new approaches in my writing.

Visit a New Place that Stimulates Your Senses

Traveling to new places, even within your local area, can be an incredibly valuable source of inspiration. Encountering new environments provides opportunities for descriptive writing involving all of the senses, and experiencing a place for the first time brings your mind into a greater awareness of your surroundings.

Change Your Daily Routine

Try changing your routine in the morning or evening and see how these shifts impact your mindset throughout the day. If you have a morning commute, consider changing your route or method of transportation for a day and see how this difference in your movement might differently inform your awareness of spaces around you.

Change Your Writing Routine or Environment

Having a consistent, familiar process and environment for writing can feel comfortable and reassuring, especially when embarking on a new creative project. But when you find yourself struggling with writers’ block or grasping for new sources of inspiration, writing in the same environment each day can seem to make your creative mentality stagnate as well. Writing in a coffee shop, outside in a park, or even in your backyard or balcony might open your mind to different ways of thinking and writing. Trying to write at a different time of day than you usually do could also trigger a rewarding shift in your artistic mindset.

Create Blackout Poetry

Similar to the cut-up method, erasure techniques allow you to seek external inspiration in other writers’ words. Blackout poetry can stand alone as an art form, but the process of creating erasure poetry can also be a source of inspiration for other genres of writing or art. In particular, if you don’t consider yourself to be a writer of poetry, this technique can showcase your own capacity to create in a new genre or provide you with distinctive phrases to carry into your other work.

Read Part of a Book You Wouldn’t Normally Choose

Visit a library or bookstore and choose a book off of the shelf that you have little or no interest in. Reading a chapter or even just a few pages could pique your interest, teach you something new, or introduce you to a topic or subculture that you had never considered exploring previously.

Write an Ekphrastic Poem or Narrative

Visual art can hold a powerful capacity to awaken latent creativity by engaging writers’ senses and imaginations. Writing a piece based on a work of visual art could provide you with a new way of approaching your work or introduce you to ideas to explore further in longform writing. Writing based on abstract art in particular can pose a unique challenge to open your mind to idiosyncratic ideas and unconventional ways of thinking.

Write to a Rhythm (Or Don’t)

Songwriters and poets who prefer to write in form often approach their writing with an acute awareness of prosody and the rhythm of language. But being attentive to rhythm in prose can also valuably alter the way writers engage with their work on the sentence level, offering an opportunity to uniquely engage the reader, sharpen dialogue, or diversify your writing style. As Truman Capote explained, “the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make.”

Conversely, if you frequently write using rhythm as a formal device, consider subverting your usual rhythmic techniques to write freely or bring greater acoustic complexity into your writing.

Force Yourself (Allow Yourself) to Free Write

Being a common exercise in workshops and classroom settings, free writing may be intimidating or uncomfortable for some writers. But seeking to write in an uninhibited way can directly demonstrate the power of vulnerability in your writing. Writing down your fleeting thoughts and ideas can enable you to more clearly see both their rawness and their value, allowing you to more effectively assess what ideas you want to expand and explore moving forward. If you already find yourself actively working on a project but feel stuck, free writing could enable you to get “words on the page” to revise and refine later.

Create Visual Art (Even if You’re the Only One Who Ever Sees It)

If you write and create visual art as well, these two artistic processes can overlap or naturally contribute to each other. But if you consider writing to be your exclusive creative pursuit, trying your hand at drawing or painting could serve as a source of inspiration that enables you to approach your writing from a different perspective.

Change Writing Formats or Mediums

Similar to creating in a brand new visual medium, experimenting with a new genre or format of writing could engage your creative mind in different ways. You could try writing descriptive poetry to incorporate into your fiction, or experiment with writing prose to later refine into poetry. If you write fiction that includes dialogue, try formatting conversations in a script or screenplay style to shift your perspective of the interplay between your characters’ voices.

Make a Collage

Collaging can be a relaxing method to open your mind to visual sources or inspiration—and an affordable way to create distinctive, personalized decor. Being attentive to the colors, textures, and words or phrases that speak to you can provide you with a greater awareness of your mental landscape or state of mind. Creating a collage can also be a useful way to create a hands-on representation of physical settings or emotional undertones that you want your writing to convey.

Seek out the Stories of Your Family and Friends

Talking to relatives and friends often opens new possibilities for both nonfiction and fiction writing. Older relatives in particular may have valuable stories to share about their past experiences, and these can provide you with inspiration while also offering an opportunity to document family history. Giving your friends an opportunity to share their stories or talk about their interests or goals can provide them with a platform for their voice and allow you to get to know each other better. If you plan to use these discussions to inform your writing in a direct way, it is always vital to be upfront about how you would like to utilize the content of your conversations.

Give Yourself (and Your Writing) Some Space

If you find yourself feeling uninspired or feel especially depleted in your writing, taking a break from writing for a few days could be what you really need to get back on track. While giving yourself some space from writing may feel unproductive, it could actually be what your mind needs to come up with new ideas in an organic, unforced way. You may return to your writing feeling renewed and naturally inspired, or you could be able to approach a different technique with greater mental openness. Either way, providing yourself with an opportunity to decompress creatively can jumpstart your artistic process in the long run and allow your writing to flow more freely.


STEPHANIE GEMMELL is a writer and composer currently living in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been featured in Just Place ChapbookCapitol LettersThe Ekphrastic ReviewThe Rival GW, and in the poetry anthology Falling Leaves published by Day Eight. She also attended the 2021 Glen Workshop as a poetry and songwriting fellow. She recently graduated summa cum laude from George Washington University with a BA in Religious Studies and minors in Journalism and Psychology. Her work is motivated by the unique power of art to ask meaningful questions and inspire authenticity.

Untitled I Mum Cuts Apples

mum cuts apples in mid-air into juicy crescents

I watch light slice through pale flesh with the softest crunch

sharp as steel

pips scatter carelessly

out of character

she’ll swipe them off the tabletop once she’d finished

sticky sweetness washed off calloused fingers

but for now there’s hope in each of them

shiny brown and full of hidden life that’ll never blossom

I smile to the child in our rented kitchen

letting little moons slip from my hands

for her to run away with

for me to never leave


MON MALANOVICH-GALLAGHER (they/them) is a non-binary queer poet, inclusion speaker and mental health activist. Their work appeared in a variety of chapbooks, anthologies and magazines including Queer Writing for the Brave New World, Beyond Words, Aurora and is forthcoming in a number of other publications, both online and in print. You can connect with Mon on Instagram: @mxmongmg

City Life


JESSICA HERON’s work appears or is forthcoming in The Horror Zine, Hole In the Head Review, Angel Rust Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. She is a poetry reader for Catatonic Daughters. You can find out more about her including a full list of publications at jessicaheronpoetry.com.

epicurean ethics


i. don’t fear god

atop the waterfall, champasak province,

wild coffee growing bloodclot-red,

banana shade at each side of the river,

ai Lon and Athith wet-to-their-knees,

heavy-wide sun cooking us brown

as the rainsoaked earth, i considered

how quick the jump would kill me.

the mist at the bottom obscured rocks

brutal and civil as rows of daggers. 

ii. what is good is easy to get

the mango, a lump of dripped dawn.

the mosquito net, a holey shield against night.

the sticky rice, pearls of sugar pulled from mud.

the men asleep beside me, beautiful snoresong. 

the wet heat, it is breath. it is all things.

the palms, arms overwhelmed with coconuts.

iii. don’t worry about death

ai Lon died two years ago, four years after the month we lived together, rose early, drank coffee, drained beerlao in the hotel’s shiny lobby, hauled plastic bags of mangosteen and longan to temples. we hadn’t talked in a while, and then he was gone. i don’t know how to be funny when my friends die. not yet, at least. i remember my uncle joked about the corpse of my grandmother as we carried her casket to the altar. i laughed, because what else?

iv. what is terrible is easy to endure

when i left laos, i cried every day.

i cried over the same two poems.

i looked at pictures and cried.

i stood in walmart and cried.

i rented an apartment, got a nice job,

reunited with a woman i loved, and cried.

autumn descended, a season missed

like a lost appendage, and i cried.

winter was a brick through the window:

cried. cried in phoenix, new york,

new haven, minneapolis, cried on pizza

and into beer, good beer, beer i’d craved!

one june day, i drove up to maine

in my cousin’s car. ate lobster rolls,

bowled, laughed. peeped lighthouses

hammered into the jagged stone coast.

took a candid photo on the beach, sand whipped

my winterwhite face pink. gulls squealed

sharp into a preposterous distance.


BRENDAN WALSH has lived and taught in South Korea, Laos, and South Florida. His work has appeared in RattleGlass PoetryAmerican Literary ReviewMaine ReviewThe American Journal of Poetry, and other journals. He is the author of 6 collections, including Buddha vs. Bonobo (Sutra Press) and fort lauderdale (Grey Book Press). His latest collection, concussion fragment, winner of the 2020 elsewhere chapbook contest, was released in February 2022. He is co-host of the Fat Guy, Jacked Guy podcast with Stef Rubino.

The world is too much


The littlest parts of May

are petals and the ants

that crawl among them,

but to each other,

they are the measure

of the mean, the jay’s sky

too far away to matter,

my shadow as irrelevant

as my body; a purpose

unfathomable to me

drives them, triptych ants,

the disassembled flowers:

endless more. Never,

in the full face of misery,

the breaking and the equivocal

dewdrop moment before

of dread, would they turn away,

having had enough.


DAISY BASSEN is a poet and community child psychiatrist who graduated from Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and completed her medical training at The University of Rochester and Brown. Her work has been published in Salamander, McSweeney’s, Smartish Pace, and [PANK] among other journals. She was the winner of the So to Speak 2019 Poetry Contest, the 2019 ILDS White Mice Contest, the 2020 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, and the 2021 Erskine J Poetry Prize. She lives in Rhode Island with her family.

Golden Light


There’s a time of day

to witness nature’s crown in the sky.

One can say with some honesty

that customary mornings 

oftentimes

make the magic of incantatory forms

dissipate and not quite appear

as they do around sunset.

That’s the perfect point

to catch golden inflections.

When the curtain of light

opens itself.

When the evening clouds

are in repose

and no longer believe in spreading

their day-long expanse of lucid blue. 

This particular day,

my eyes could see

a final blink from the sun,

appearing without any inhibition,

like melting butter,

as if the ancestors themselves

were purveyors of this beauty. 

**

Such a canvas is somber.

The crows becoming incarnates

of the departed

and those stoic cows are at leisure,

patches of pleasant white and brown

with the green around them,

as I feed them

customary portions of the day’s feast. 

Witnessing all this is the river

around whom a ministry of faith

rings in evening bell tolls

and distant incantations;

a sacred geometry since ancient awakenings. 

This scenery,

the sun soft and dappled with life,

a whole lineage reminisced in prayer,

build up the laws of life

and an almost incantatory mystery

is in all of this,

a mute songcraft only heard by a few.

The rituals of the day

and a reprieve to the soul

always bathed in golden light. 


NOTE: This poem is based on the Hindu/ Indian tradition of Pitrapaksha, in which we pray for departed elders, preparing a vegetarian feast in their name and then offering portions of it to crows and cows, in sacred consonance with them being symbols of the soul, of the mortal world. 


PRITHVIJEET SINHA is from Lucknow, India. He holds an MPhil from the University of Lucknow, having launched his prolific writing career by self publishing on the worldwide community Wattpad since 2015 and on his WordPress blog An Awadh Boy’s Panorama. Besides that, his works have been published in several publications such as Hudson Valley Writers Guild, Piker Press Online, the anthology Pixie Dust and All Things Magical (Authors Press, January 2022), Cafe Dissensus, The Medley, Screen Queens, Confluence- South Asian Perspectives, Reader’s Digest, Borderless Journal, Lothlorien Poetry, LiveWire, Rhetorica Quarterly, Ekphrastic Review, The Quiver Review, Dreich Magazine, Visual Verse and in the children’s anthology Nursery Rhymes and Children’s Poems From Around The World (AuthorsPress, February 2021), among others. His life force resides in writing.

Clink

Carry with you a thousand miles of rusted fence.

Slurry upland and rest

by the prickly

holly nest

grazing on the leeward

of changing hills’

dwindling roots.

It’s shadow, memory,

as shadows are

hiding the face,

avoiding stepdads,

metallic clink,

fork on plate,

amplified in quiet rooms.

In lucid daydreams

the dirty water

fills the potholes

every winter, we

embrace like a

goodnight kiss, saying,

Does it mean anything if

cows are happy

when the veiny storm clouds

settle above in bulbous purple

expanse,

when this town’s muddy ditches

are just one year

deeper?


GREGORY McGREEVY lives and writes poetry in Baltimore, Maryland. His work has previously been featured in West Trade Review, The Finger Literary Journal, Bourgeon Online, and The Northern Virginia Review, among others.