When Inspiration Doesn’t Strike

We’ve all been there. You sit down at your desk, open up your laptop, place your fingers on the keyboard, and…nothing. Writing when you don’t feel “inspired” is hard. I love the moments when I’m driving home, or shopping at Kroger, and suddenly lines for a poem start falling into my head faster than I can write them on my grocery list. But the reality is that inspiration doesn’t strike as often as I want it or need it to. How then, do you write on days when your brain feels completely zapped? I’ve compiled some of the strategies that work for me, and hopefully they’ll help get your keyboard clicking too.

1. Don’t start with a blank page. That empty document with the cursor blinking at you is just too depressing. It reminds me of all the finals weeks I spent at the library in a caffeine-induced stupor, watching the sun come up, overwhelmed with dread over the paper that was due at 9am that I had yet to write. Instead of starting a fresh page for each poem, I keep a terrifyingly long document that I type all my half-baked ideas and first drafts in. Most of it is crap, but there are usually a few cool lines that are worth salvaging. Those lines can then become the seed of my next poem.

2. Read other poetry. There are some books that I pick up over and over again for inspiration (The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich and Crush by Richard Siken are two examples), but reading something new is sometimes the best way to shock my creativity awake. The Academy of American Poets does a great poem-a-day email, which you can subscribe to here. I also recommend following Poets House on Twitter for their 140-characters-or-less poem excerpts. Sometimes reading a great line is all you need to get your juices flowing.

3. Listen to music. My go-to artist when I’m suffering from writer’s block is Bob Dylan, especially his lyrically dense or surrealist songs. (Think “Desolation Row” or “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”) I’ve long been jealous of the way Dylan can conjure an image or turn a phrase. If the Nobel Prize committee says lyrics are literature, who am I to disagree? Time to open Spotify and get writing.

4. Listen to other people’s conversations. I know this sounds creepy, but if you can go to a public place and casually eavesdrop, you’d be amazed the kind of crazy stuff people let slip while waiting in line at Panera. Dialogue is fascinating. People are fascinating. If you think your life is boring, go get inspired by someone else’s.

5. Read or listen to an interview with a writer you admire. Poet Rachel Zucker has a great podcast called “Commonplace” that features conversations with poets and artists. There’s a good chance one of your favorite contemporary poets has been interviewed by Zucker. When I’m feeling frustrated by writing, it helps to hear from people who have overcome enormous odds to become successful poets. It’s nice to be reminded that I belong to a community of writers, and we are all working and struggling and creating together. It may sound cheesy, but it’s usually enough to get me to pick up my pen. I hope it works for you too.


Sarah Hansen is a first year poet at Virginia Tech. She reads both fiction and poetry for the minnesota review.


2 thoughts on “When Inspiration Doesn’t Strike

  1. Pingback: Poem Prompts From the Vault | The Minnesota Review


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