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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Don’t Know How to Start Writing or Where to Go Next?


The blank screen or page can be dangerous – stare at it too long and every idea you ever had can be wiped away. Avoiding the blank screen/page until you know exactly what to write is just as dangerous.

Some days you’ll be blessed with ideas and images that inspire your writing and make it easy to get started and keep going. On the days when you’re not blessed, you still need to show up and do something with your writing. In fact, those are the days when you most need to show up and the days when you will grow the most as a writer.

Some days its seems like all you’re doing is shoveling dreck, moving crap from one place to another, but those are the days that clear the cobwebs in your unconscious and make you ready for the days when the ideas and images will spark and the words will flow.

So what do you do when you don’t know where to start or where to go next with a piece you’re working on? Try a random starter. For example, if you visit this site, you’ll see that every day is National Something Day. Today, June 29, is National Camera Day. Use the object referred to, camera in this case, as your inspiration.

7 Ways a Camera Can Inspire Your Writing

  1. Give a camera to your characters/people you’re writing about. What do they see through the camera? What do they miss seeing? What do they focus on? What kind of pictures do they take – landscapes, close-ups of flowers, funny pictures of their pet, pictures of current events? Who is most likely to hide behind a camera? Who wants to be in front of the camera?
  2. Make the camera an object of desire. Is there someone who desperately wants or needs a camera? Why? Is there a particular kind of camera someone wants or needs? What’s the economic, political and emotional value of a camera?
  3. Take a camera from your characters/people. How would your characters react to losing their camera and/or all their photos?
  4. Make a camera a plot point/theme. How could a camera shift the whole plot/focus? What if someone used the camera to commit or record a crime or to hurt someone? Why might someone steal a camera? What’s the history of a particular camera or cameras in general? How could you write an entire blog post about cameras?
  5. Take the camera yourself. Spend 15 to 30 minutes playing around with a camera as your Process practice today. Use one of the photos you take as a launch point. Start by describing what you photographed or why you took that particular picture or what lies outside the frame of that picture.
  6. Take photos of people or animals and write an lol-cat (“I can has cheezburger”) style caption for them.
  7. Randomly select a photo on your camera (or a photo directory) and write about the people or objects or events in the photos.

Respect the Random

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see that I’d missed National Chocolate Pudding Day, which has so much more humor potential. But I knew that if I let myself entertain the possibility of using National Chocolate Pudding Day, I’d open the door to scrolling through the entire list for a “better” inspiration and that this would be a way of delaying and avoiding writing. So I took the topic of today and brainstormed with it.

If some random entry on the list of National Days (or some other random starter) really grabs your attention, by all means, go with it. But resist the temptation to go shopping for a “better” inspiration.

The whole point of this is NOT that you will be crafting the best writing of your life – the point is that you get moving again by writing something.

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