Trying to break out of a creative writing rut?

Today is the day. Years in the future, one of your loyal fans will edit your Wikipedia page to indicate that on this very date you began the short story, the memoir, or the poem that launched your wildly successful writing career. You’ve locked yourself in your room with a composition notebook and a pot of coffee; your pen is poised over the page. You begin to write.

But your ideas are mediocre, washed out, your sentence structure not reflective of the Pulitzer-worthy ideas floating in your brain. As time drags on, pages of the notebook are ripped out, your coffee grows cold, Reddit starts calling. You begin to consider dropping this whole writing thing and taking up underwater basket weaving as a hobby.



Before ditching your notebook or deleting the nonsensical Word document before you, take some time to regroup and conjure up some new inspiration. The blank page or unsatisfactory draft can be frustrating, but you can easily overcome them with a few strategies:

Get some sensory stimulation.
Sensory exploration can trigger memories or new ideas as well as help you to practice conveying sensory elements, so unlock that dorm room door and go exploring. Spend some time perusing the aisles of you’re a local grocery store or farmer’s market for interesting scents. Head to an antique mall and look at old postcards. Listen to music that is unfamiliar to you.

Imitate writing that you like.
When a passage really strikes you in a book or magazine, copy it down. Figure out how it works. Why do you like it? Is it the enjambment in your favorite poem, the series of clipped sentences in that New Yorker profile? Understanding what you appreciate about the writing of others will help to hone your own style and voice.

Also, keep in mind that even your favorite writers struggle with getting writing on the page. Check out Dave Eggers and Jonah Lehrer talking about the trope of the tortured writer and the concept of grit.

Make writing your habit.
How many days could you go without brushing your teeth? Try to make that how many days you would go without writing, i.e., none. There’s no need to fill an entire notebook each night, but getting something down on the page everyday will help to form discipline. The more you practice, the less often you’ll experience the dread of writer’s block.

Find a community of writers.
While creative writing is often deeply personal, meeting other writers can lead to an environment where you feel comfortable with exploring new ideas and getting feedback.
Here at McDaniel, you can connect with other writers through Contrast Literary Magazine. During the fall semester, we conduct bimonthly writing workshops so that our writers can gain inspiration for their submissions to the magazine, which is published each spring.

Workshop dates include:
October 10, 24
November 7, 21
December 5

Other dates to keep in mind:

Friday, October 25- Halloween-themed open mic night and s’mores from 8-10 in Ensor Lounge! Bring your favorite Poe poem or whatever you’ve been working on lately to read to an audience.

Sunday, October 27- Deadline for Contrast’s fall writing contest! We accept poetry and prose.
Prompt- The first line must be a question; the last line must be the answer.
Email submissions to

Interested in staying up to date with Contrast? Like our Facebook page:

Amber, peer tutor

Boys and Girls Club Writing Workshop

Wednesday, February 27 marked the start of our second annual writing workshop with our local Boys and Girls Club. For four weeks, about a dozen middle school students will be meeting with us on Wednesday afternoons for fun activities and writing practice.

The workshop this year will focus on three types of writing: true stories, fiction, and poetry. At the end, to celebrate our time together and the writing our students have produced, there will be a special event at which students will read share their masterpieces.

Yesterday’s workshop was about getting to know each other and beginning our work with true stories. To break the ice, each student told a fake story and a true story, and the rest of the class had to guess which had actually happened. We immediately saw that our students have a creative streak, because they came up with some excellent lies!

Next, our students became artists. Each student thought of an interesting or outrageous thing that had happened to them and conveyed it in comic form. The next step will be for them to put the events they drew into words.

Finally, we played a game called Accordion Writing. To start, each student wrote one sentence on a blank sheet of paper. Then, they passed the paper to the student on the right, who drew a picture to accompany the sentence. Here, the game got tricky. Before passing to the right again, the students folded their paper so that the next student could only see the picture, not the original sentence. The student who received the paper had to create a new sentence based on just the picture. Then they folded again so just their sentence was visible and passed once again, charging the next student with drawing a picture solely based upon the sentence they saw.

After five rounds of this, we unfolded the papers so that all the pictures and sentences were visible. Much like the product of a game of Telephone, the original sentence had been completely distorted as the paper was passed, producing some hilarious results.

Our group this year is an engaged, enthusiastic, and creative bunch. We are really excited to see the writing that they produce in the month to come. Stay tuned for updates on our workshop!

-Amber, peer tutor

You have the right to free speech, so use it (wisely)!

Whether you were running around campus celebrating or pouting in your room by the end of the night on November 6th, you probably turned to the Internet to say something about how you felt. And even if you didn’t say anything, you certainly read what someone else said!

As our newsfeeds filled with rants, memes, and threats to move to Canada when Obama’s electoral votes tipped over 270 (enjoy the healthcare system up there, you guys!) many vowed that they were signing off for the rest of the night because they were feeling like this:

But the conversations that occur online are an example of one of our beautiful rights and privileges as citizens of the United States: free speech.

Obama acknowledged our right to argue, discuss, and disagree in his acceptance speech:

These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

Watch the whole speech:

So even if you cringe when you log on to Facebook or Twitter within the next few days, just remember how exciting it is that we are able to express ourselves freely through the First Amendment.

That being said, it’s also important to remember your audience, especially when you’re posting online. Who is your audience, you may ask? Everyone. Before unleashing your next blog post, tweet, or status on the world, pause long enough to take these tips into account:

1. Know what you’re talking about. Especially in the realm of hot issues like the election, be sure that you research before signing onto Tumblr and discussing your personal feelings about the DREAM Act. You’re joining into a much larger conversation and people will be eager to argue with you. Back yourself up with the research you’ve done beforehand.

2. Be willing to talk. Some people seem to get rattled or confused when they post something personal or argumentative and people respond. The Internet is not your diary, so only post when you’re willing to elaborate.

3. Be respectful. The Internet is a great forum for igniting conversation and spreading your message, but be aware that sometimes it may be more appropriate to share your thoughts in a different manner; for example, over coffee with friends.

Also remember that as soon as people stop arguing over the election, there will be a new issue to spar over, and that’s dandy. Just remember that each time you speak, type or post, you are enjoying the privilege of free speech, so use it with care.

Amber, peer tutor