staying inspired

writer's block flash cards

Some days you begin to write and you feel as if you could write the Great American Novel in a matter of hours. This post is not about those days. It's about those other days. The days when you question your talent and your purpose. When every self-sabotaging thought pops into your head and won't clear out, no matter how hard you try. It's for all the NaNoWriPro writers, all the bloggers, all the poets, all the copywriters who are struggling to put something (anything!) on the page.

 I made these cards last month, specifically for the days when I have writer's block.

the method

I started with 3 packs of blank index cards, and labeled three cards  "place", "thing"" and "person". I put "place" and "thing" aside for a moment, and started with "person".

I grabbed a Sharpie and a stack of blank index cards, then set the timer for 8 minutes. For my purpose "person" meant human or animal with whom I could have a natural interaction. After a slow start, I ended up with a pile of cards with words like "nana" "dad" and "Piper" (my dog) and "Snowbird", my first parakeet.

I did the same process for "place" and "thing", specifically listing places I could visit. I came up a range of everything from the general (attic, basement) to the specific (the funicular at Capri, the physics library at Indiana Univeristy). If you are a blogger or entrepreneur, it  would be easy to make keywords relating to your topic or your audience. A fashion blog? The "people" could be your reader and all the people she has in her life; the things could be all of the articles of clothing she owns (or wants to own) and the  "where" could be the places she frequents, or hopes to visit someday.

the "things" cards

the "things" cards

Because I'm an overachiever, but also because I didn't want the cards to get mixed up, I painted the edges with watercolors. Places are green, things are blue, and people are purple.

the process

Trying out the cards last week, I dealt one from each stack.

the first cards

the first cards


The cards were: "mom", "Waldorf Astoria bathroom" and lunchbox. I could be 100% literal, if I wanted. Since I write poems and creative non-fiction, I might write a poem about how being in the Waldorf Astoria bathroom was such an awkward moment, I felt like a little girl whose mom had packed her the wrong lunch. Or I could use only some of the words. Let's say I am an entrepreneur writing a blog post or sales description about a product or service I offer. I could compare the care I put into my product with the care a mom takes in packing her kindergartner's lunch on his first day of school.

2015-11-09 10.57.16 1.jpg

extra credit

By this point, at had used up two and a half packages of index cards (and most of the afternoon). So, I decided to keep going. I made a set for adjectives and another with just pronouns.

The idea is to pull cards from just a couple of stacks at a time. Taking cards from the "adjective" and "place" piles got me:

  • crazy milk
  • daring list
  • fresh peonies
  • arctic basement

Taking cards from the "pronouns" and "adjectives" produced:

  • delightful yours
  • she blushing
  • fortunate whoever
  • i bitter

the breakdown

I noticed my piles for "place" and "person" are skimpier than the other piles. Probably because I did those first, and wasn't quite in a groove yet. My plan is to revisit the cards in the next month to cull the cards which are no longer of use. Then, I'll repeat the steps above for each category. 

But first was to actually use the index cards in practice. I've used them so far in  my series, A Poem Before Breakfast, and several times for another secret-for-now project I'm working on. They've worked so well for me, I wanted to share the process and, hopefully, inspire other people.

Try it out, and let me know how it works for you. I'm on Twitter and Instagram  at @ericagmason.