An Exercise For Pre-Project Writers’ Block


Disclaimer: I don’t know where I read this (seven words I use for too often), but it has, regardless, helped me overcome writers’ block and I hope it will help you do the same. If you know the origins of this idea, please do let me know!

With Camp NaNoWriMo just around the corner, many of you will be starting to think of starting new novels, projects and stories you could embark on. For some, there’s an odd thrill in the blank page, for others, such as myself, it brings nothing but terror and expectation (but the latter may just be the perfectionist in me).

Personally, the blank of the page often transmutes to a blank of the mind; perfect for the practice of meditation or mindfulness, but terrible for writing.

Times like these test us; can we come up with a good idea? Where do we get our ideas from anyway? Why is it that whenever we’re ears-deep in a project, inspiration and ideas are abundant but the moment we’re outside that sphere they evade us?

So here’s an exercise to help you unblock yourself; find your favourite book, poem or short story, randomly select a line and write it down. I chose a poem entitled ‘At East River’ by May Swenson and the line, ‘A Plane: Turns on its elegant heel: / a spark, a click / of steel on blue,’. The next step is pretty straight forward; just go with it.

The line you chose hopefully evoked some emotion or distant memory, so before you overthink it get writing; write down the first thing that comes to mind regarding the sentence or following the sentence and don’t stop.

Just keep writing.

The author of the article, as I vaguely do remember it, wrote that they would use sentences they liked from various novels that were ambiguous enough to be reinterpreted (nothing with names) and run with it, creating something completely original in the process.

I remember likening the process to stealing someone’s rose bush; you can’t grab the whole thing (unless you’re creative about it and willing to risk it) so you take a snippet of it and plant it as your own. This is essentially what you’re doing with the writing.

Give it a go if you’re truly stuck; it might get you somewhere! 

Good luck!


The lovely photo I use above is by Toshihiro Gamo!


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