Blast Through Writers Block: Create a Sensory Collage

Here’s a good exercise to try if you’re stuck, blocked or ready to start a new piece but don’t know what to write:

Take a walk, and bring a notebook. Jot down things you see, hear, smell, feel, touch and experience. Use all your senses.

Include everything:

  • bits of conversation—not just the words but also the tone of the language and the postures of the speakers
  • neighborhood signs—their messages and their visual style
  • changing cloud formations and the things they bring to mind for you
  • the exact color of the sky
  • a crying or laughing baby—how it sounds and how it makes you feel
  • the scent, texture and color of blooming flowers
  • dogs checking each other out or chasing squirrels
  • traffic—the sound, smell and look of it
  • the sights, sounds and smells of trees you encounter
  • the color and texture of the hair of anyone you pass
  • the items people are holding or carrying

These are just a few ideas—be sure to include everything that catches your attention. And pay attention to everything around you as you walk.

Then find a place to sit such as a park bench, cafe, picnic table, the ground, your car…whatever works for you.

Now combine several of the sensory images you’ve gathered and use them to create a story, essay, poem or any other piece of writing. Play around with the images and try different things, just as you would if you were making a collage. If one combination doesn’t work, try something else. Write something silly or dark or absurd or uncharacteristic of you. Have fun as you fit the puzzle pieces together in different ways.

I like this exercise because it combines the physical activity of walking with the mental and emotional experience of collecting bits of what you experience. It gets you away from staring at a blank piece of paper. And combining things in new ways always engages the muse.

Let me know how you like this exercise, or share your creations!

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World,


13 Responses to “Blast Through Writers Block: Create a Sensory Collage”

  1. 1 K a b l o o e y April 20, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    This sounds like a really fun exercise. I’m under the weather right now, but will bookmark this idea.

  2. 2 Barbara Barth April 20, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Love this exercise. I actually just went through a notebook my mother kept when she wrote children’s stories when I was a kid. She did exactly what you suggested. Wrote down details, feelings, smells, descriptions in a notebook. Two times now in less than a week this message has come to me. I am getting a notebook and heading out to jot down life’s notes. Thanks for such a great suggestion. PS, I am on SheWrites and you just replied to my friend invite. Going to check out more of your blog. Barbara

  3. 3 stranglingmymuse April 21, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Kablooey, I’m happy this sounds fun to you, especially because creativity should be fun! I’m sad to hear you’re under the weather. Feel better soon!

    Barbara, I’m glad this exercise speaks to you. Thanks for telling me the story about your mother and how this idea has come to you twice this week. That made my day!


  4. 4 Kristina April 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Very nice post, indeed. I loved these exercises when I was younger (my mother was/is a writer then, and always prompted me to carry around a notebook with me). People always thought I was a bit off for walking around alone all the time in the corn fields behind our house, but I knew better. 10 years later, I’m an English graduate 🙂

    Thanks for the post! I write about writing on my blog too, so I always appreciate inspiration for my own creative endeavors. (I don’t mean that to come off as “I shall take your post.”) 🙂

    • 5 stranglingmymuse April 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      I checked out your blog, Kristina — nice! I was a pre-med major before I settled on English. I have a scientist father and a writer mother, so both have always interested me. I see lots of overlap between the two, especially a deep curiosity about life and the way things work. Good luck with your writing!


      • 6 Kristina April 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm

        Thanks so much, Sandy! I started out as a Organic Chem major, myself. I loved it and was doing well before I was lured over to the dark side of the English department 🙂 I’m very glad I did, now that I found a way to bridge the two loves of my life.

        Writing will always be first and foremost, I think. And I’ve come to terms with that. But I’m very thankful for blogs like yours, ones that not only help me along in my own writing process, but also validate what I once thought was a hopeless love 🙂

        I shall be back here often.

        • 7 stranglingmymuse April 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm

          One thing I’ve learned in life is that no passionate love is ever hopeless…even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. And the ones you don’t pursue at first often come back around later.

          It sounds like you’ve made a good choice for yourself, Kristina!


  5. 8 Denny McCorkle April 22, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Sandy, once again, you inspire my thinking and writing! Thanks. @TweetRightBrain

    • 9 stranglingmymuse April 22, 2010 at 11:01 pm

      I’m happy to inspire you, Denny, especially since you often inspire me! Thanks for stopping by and letting me know.


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