Finding inspiration in strange places

Writing rule: you need to find inspiration inside yourself and be completely original

Nope, not true! You can find inspiration in all kinds of places and writing can come from anywhere! You might start by using the work of others or finding words from unlikely sources.

Taking an experimental approach in finding inspiration or reusing existing material can be a great way to beat writer’s block!

Think of how photographers take photos of things that exist in the real world, how musicians use instruments or how a painter finds paint and mixes them together: all artists borrow, reuse, remix and play with what’s gone before. 

When it comes to originality, no one is completely original - so many stories have already been told. That said, where you can be unique and original is in how you choose to tell your story or write your poems. No one looks at the world exactly the same way as you, especially if you try writing strangely! 

William Burroughs was a writer who used all kinds of experimental techniques to create new and often very weird works! 

One of the techniques he used was the cut up machine, where he took existing works and cut them up with scissors before putting them back together.

Let’s use a web based version of the cut up machine with some existing work to see what weird and strange things come out!

Exercise #10:

  1. First, go to the cut up machine page here:
  2. Find a poem you like on - use the poem of the day or find a random poem that speaks to you. Copy and paste the poem into the cut up machine box!
  3. Go to The Guardian website and click on the first news story you find interesting. Copy and paste that text into the box too!
  4. Finally, copy and paste some of the work you’ve written earlier and paste that into the box and hit ‘cut it up!’
  5. Read through the mixed together lines and see what phrases stand out or that you like, there will some strange phrases and weird things that come out of the mixing of these texts! Aim to write down at least ten phrases or sentences from the cut up text.
  6. Let’s create a poem or short story using those cut up sentences you pick out. You might free write using them as inspiration or get a new idea because of what the sentences mean to you. You could even write a nonsense poem with these lines to get you started!

Write for up to ten minutes! Remember that these cut up sentences are a great starting block and a way to make strange language - you might use this technique to get ideas, or to add some weird language to existing pieces!

If you want to try cutting up something else, go right ahead! Maybe try cutting up just one piece of work (longer the better) and see what pops out!

Complete and continue