20 Ways to Combat Poetry Writer’s Block

poetry writing

poetry writer's block

Writer’s block is a myth. Do you think chefs have cook’s block? Do you think Rick Bayless wakes up in the morning and thinks to himself, I don’t know what to cook?

Michael Ruhlman probably uttered other statements I jotted down during IACP, but that is the one my mind keeps regurgitating with regularity. Rick Bayless and I took the escalator down afterwards, so I asked if Ruhlman was right. Bayless replied, You cook through it. 

If you’ve ever experienced the sensation of writer’s block, it’s like a blinking cursor on the vast expanse of the blank screen. Do you break out in a sweat? Think you will never be able to string together intelligible words again? It may be a myth but it might also be the cause of a lot of consternation.

Here are 20 ways to kick poetry writer’s block. If you’ve got a tip to add, post it in the comments and I will add it with attribution so we can make this a workable list of ideas.

20 Ways to Combat Poetry Writer’s Block

1//  Give your work a break. Don’t open the document or notebook for a day or two after you’ve written something, so that you can bring fresh eyes to the piece. Open a poem you haven’t revisited in a while and revise with really fresh eyes, even if it means you scrap the bulk of the poem and only keep one line. Use that line as a diving board.

2// Pick up a book like 642 Things to Write.

3// Go to a museum and see if you connect with one of the paintings hanging there- perhaps you will be primed to write an ekphrastic poem.

4// Go to a poetry reading and keep a notebook in hand to write down phrases or lines that catch your attention.

5// Pick up a book of a master poet whose work inspires your own. Steal the syllable count from a poem you think has good flow of theirs. If the finished poem still has the same flow and framework as theirs, credit them in the title.

6// Swipe the rhyming end words from a poem and fashion them into a poem of your own words.

7// Read often.

8// Subscribe to the New York Times (or look elsewhere for large blocks of text to manhandle). Create erasure poems using a thick marker.

9// Learn a new language. Let the sounds creep into your ear and loop around your tongue that you might think about your own language differently.

10// Take a writing class and find peers to workshop your work with you. As you read their work listen for new ways to approach your own work and tics to cut out.

11// Take a sensory walk around your neighborhood. What do you smell? What are the sounds enveloping you? Is the fog thick and damp or sun sticky and hot?

12// Go to work as a barista, a restaurant server, a stay at home mom (or dad), a web designer, advertising executive, marketing professional or cook. Keep a small notebook near you for snippets of poetry that break through everydayness.

13// Begin journaling your days using constraint of only 100 words. Let this force you to be intentional about word choice and be a first draft on hard topics.

14// Write a thank you note. Be specific. Let it serve the purpose of gratitude while being an opportunity to practice concision and description.

15// Read often. Research a subject that interests you. Become an expert. See how it might naturally elbow its way into work that originally has nothing to do with it.

16// Take a photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, cooking or mixed media class. Let the precepts behind one form of creating bleed into your writing.

17// Read a poet’s life work from start to finish. Look for how their voice changed as they aged. What stayed the same? Don’t be hard on yourself. Keep writing.

18// Cobble together a writing tribe for workshop. Listen for comments on your work that line up with the edits you see are needed. Nurture these relationships.

19// Volunteer at a local homeless drop-in center. Eat dinner. Make friends. Listen for the stories you don’t expect to hear. Dedicate yourself to helping a cause you believe in. Let the importance of what it’s seeking to eradicate worm its way into your work. Let your heart expand and your poetry will too.

20// Write one draft. Underline the phrases that are essential. Scrap the rest of it. Write a second draft that largely forgets the first draft, but looks for ways to incorporate those essential phrases. If they don’t work? Scrap them. Keep writing.


  1. LOVE this! I think I will be saying to my 5th graders, “Do you think chefs have cooking block?” Probably engineers don’t have building block (HA HA, unintended pun)!!

    1. Thanks Mary Lee. It was a good thing I was not drinking water when I read your example of building block otherwise I might have spewed it while laughing. I would imagine your fifth graders don’t struggle as much with blockage but just chase the ideas as they come. Perhaps that’s a joy of childhood?

  2. Your analogy regarding cooking is neat but not appropriate – a chef can cook the same recipe a thousand times as too can a builder replicate the same structure – poetry requires new words, new ideas, a never ending exploration of experience – always changing. I don’t know if I have ‘block’ but I seem to have written everything that matters to me. My third book is at present in the printer and it may be that I’ve nothing left to say. Still, ‘joujours gai, mes braves, joujours gai’ 🙂 Rick.’

    1. I suppose you’re right, but I’m reading a book right now that would have me nudge toward the idea I originally suggested. The cookbook author of the book I’m reading is turning some interesting tricks around single recipes and showing the ample ways they can be customized and made new. Give a cook the same ingredients and a pantry full of other ingredients to use (a la Chopped) and chances are so high that they will not create the same exact thing. That is the beauty of creativity. We bring who we are to the process no matter the implements or media.

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