Got Writers' Block? Time to PLAY

We writers put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We worry over word counts and writing goals and book sales. We want to Achieve! Produce! Succeed! And sometimes all this pressure can separate us from THE thing that drew us to this word-work in the first place: the joy of playing with words.

As a poet, word-play is part of the job description. Every poem is like a playground complete with swing and see-saw and slide. We can move words from line to line, divide lines into stanzas, make-up and replace words with other (better!) words. Well, guess what? Prose writers can – and should – do the same thing. It's not all about plot and character development. It's about PLAY.

Here are a few ways to incorporate play into your writing life:

Take a Dictionary Hike. Go to a dictionary page, close your eyes, and point. Incorporate into a sentence whatever word your finger lands on. In 2012 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater did this for National Poetry Month.

Play Wreck That Cliche. Take any cliché – “it's raining cats and dogs,” for instance – and wreck it. Make it your own! It's pouring chainsaws and hammers... boots and umbrellas... leaves and acorns (actually, it really IS raining leaves and acorns outside my window today. See? PLAY.)

Gender Bender. Change the gender of your main character.

Plot Twist. Wherever you are in your story, see what happens if your main character comes into some unexpected money.

Name Game. Write a story about a character whose name is a vegetable... what adventures would Zucchini Smith have?

Free Write. This is not a new idea, but it's always a good one. Just WRITE. Without thinking. Without goal. Without destination. Let your brain onto the playground!

Write Backwards. Start your story at THE END and see what happens!

The Purple Horse Poetry Studio
 and Music Room
Walk/Play an Instrument/Vacuum/Insert Your Hobby Here. One of the ways I play as a writer is to go spend some quality time with my cello. As my body moves to produce music, I am released from all that expectation. It's like being at the tip-top of the swing when the chain has that moment of “give.” It's why my studio is also a music room.

Happy Playing!
IreneLatham is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming poetry, fiction and picture books for children and adults, including Leaving Gee's Bend, 2011 ALLA Children's Book of the Year and her latest Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship (co-written with Charles Waters). Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her family where she does her best to “live her poem” every single day by laughing, playing the cello, and walking in the woods.


  1. This is great! Thanks for these. I'm always looking for other playful methods to incorporate, for myself and for workshops.

  2. Play is the best way I know of to channel the inner child. It taps into a different part of the brain and often lets me find something about story/ character I didn't know. Thanks for these great playtime prompts.

  3. Thanks for these playful tips. They would be good for writers workshop with kids, too. I want to try the kill the cliche one soon. My students need this!

  4. Such great ideas, Irene--thanks!


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