One Foolproof Trick to Blast
Writer’s Block

image of buckminster fuller quote

As bloggers, we all occasionally run out of gas when it comes to new content. We’ve been writing about the same topic, some of us on a daily basis — how are we supposed to find something new to say?

The trick is in finding a new way to tell an old story — and when it comes to finding new ways to say the same things, I find it’s best to defer to the experts.

And by “the experts,” I mean “people who were insightful enough for their words to be quoted to this day.”

That’s right, you want to break out that dusty copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, people. Great quotations are the richest goldmine for blog post ideas you’ll ever have. (Wikiquote works just as well, but it’s hard to “break out” Wikiquotes unless you’re willing to sacrifice your computer screen to your cause.)

No, I haven’t gone all sensitive arteeste on you. You’re not looking for literary gems, you’re looking for a good practical technique to get that blog post written.

Allow me to demonstrate

Let’s say you want to write a blog post about, oh, success. Faulkner says:

Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

What do you think about that? Can you create a blog post about success from that idea? Can you talk about how you’ve spent time trying to be better than this blogger or that blogger, but that you should really just try to be better than you were six months ago?

What about this one?

I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.
~ Jonathan Winters

Agree or disagree, that’s a pretty profound idea. Keep moving forward even though you’re not a success? Does that mean you attain success only when you stop pursuing it? What does it mean?

Whatever pops to mind when you think of that quote, go write about it.

Great quotes will crush writer’s block no matter what the topic. Let’s say you blog about movies.

Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second. ~ Jean-Luc Godard

If you can’t get a blog post out of that statement, refuting it or agreeing with it or just getting your own take on it, then something is seriously wrong.

Don’t limit yourself to quotes about your specific topic

If you write about blogging, for example, you’re not going to find a ton of quotes on that topic, for the simple reason that it hasn’t been around all that long.

That doesn’t mean quotes can’t help you burst through writer’s block, though. You just have to apply some universal concepts to your topic.

Try this as an exercise: Below are five quotes about topics general to the human experience. Whatever you blog about, no matter how obscure, see if you can’t apply at least one of those quotes and get a blog post out of it.

I bet you will. What’s more, I’ll bet you’ll be back to Wikiquote next week looking for new sources of inspiration. And you’ll find them, too. All those quotes were written down because the people who heard them knew they would continue to inspire thought, debate, and new wisdom for future generations.

Five to get you started

So here are your quotes. May you get at least three blog posts out of every one.

  1. The funniest things are the forbidden. ~ Mark Twain
  2. The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps. ~ Robert Benchley
  3. Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does. ~ Jane Austen
  4. The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. ~ Dorothy Parker
  5. Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best. ~ Oscar Wilde

And to give your fellow bloggers even more to work with, how about sharing your most bloggable quotes with us in the comments?

About the Author: For more excellent cures for boredom, head on over to James Chartrand’s blog at Men with Pens, where no one shoots pianists but where everyone gets a shot at reaching better freelance success. Or, you can grab the RSS feed here.

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Reader Comments (98)

  1. says

    Well, my favorite quote is “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” From Poor Richards Almanick by Benjamin Franklin. I don’t really know why I like it; it just seems appealing to me. Definitely I could use it to blog about if you’re moving around with different writing projects (my blog is about reading and writing action/adventure), you won’t get anywhere. However, if you stick with one, you’ll go far. Thanks so much for giving me a great topic to blog about, you’re definitely right that it’s so hard to think of new ideas to write about; I’m sure we all constantly fight that struggle. I’m sure I can find many more posts from thinking of quotes, but that’s the one that comes to mind now. I’m going to start writing it. Thanks again!

  2. says

    Thanks for the new tool in the writing toolbox. For whatever reason, I never thought about doing this.

    I looked at the picture of this post and realized I just read a post this morning by @seanplatt’s wife Cindy. The 1st line of it read:

    “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” ~ Richard Bach

    I likey!

  3. says

    “Business, you know, may bring money, but friendship hardly ever does. ~ Jane Austen”

    That’s crying out for a post on the importance of building a good social network.

  4. says

    Great advice, I often find myself with writer’s block and it sucks.

    I use to do just what the article says, look out for quotes that inspire me a post.

    I write about Internet Marketing, SEO and SEM and I use a lot of analogies between search engines and natural selection/ evolution :)

    One of my articles was called: “What can we learn from dinosaurs” pretty lame for seo purposes but my readers loved it

  5. says

    This is very timely for me as I included two quotes in my last blog post. While the entire post was not concevied around them, they neverless gave the whole thing some backbone. I was talking about male space (man caves) and referred to Virginia Woolf’s need for ‘A room of one’s own’ as an example of female space. I went on to say that we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of gender at all because after all it is the kids or ‘The pram in the hall’ (Sylvia Plath) that puts paid to creativity whetehr you are a man or a woman.
    So I do agree that the words of great writers can really inspire you and help you shape your thoughts.

  6. says

    *Smacks Head* Your absolutly right. Just reading those quotes at the end there instantly gave me a few ideas. I’ve been looking for an easy way combat writer’s block, this is going to work great! Thanks James.

  7. says

    I’m not as big of fan for quotes as I am for lyrics but each does quell this fire from deep down to inspire and guide my train of thought.

    One particular lyric I like to think is from the band The MC5’s – “It’s time to … Kick out the jams motha****ers!”.

    I know it may not be the best example but for me, it gets my pumped up. It makes me not worry about what I’m currently working on because it is easy to get caught in doubts of “will they like this?” “is there enough info?” and the countless other questions you have to yourself.

    If all you do is spend your day trying to perfect something, you’ll never get anything done. I like to at least make it the best I can and move on this way I can learn as I go instead of trying to learn everything upfront.

    You write something and publish it. You write the next piece and it will be better. On and on. If you don’t continue to move forward you’ll be stuck in an endless struggle with trying to fix up an old idea.

  8. says

    One of my favorite quotes is actually one of my own that was a response to one of my regular commenters. She was giving me a hard time about using a high powered reciprocal saw to cut off the windowsills in my office without any real forethought. My response to her is now on my blog header:

    “The creative spirit cannot be enslaved by the oppressive chains of reason and logical thinking.” ~ katdish

  9. says

    Comedy is not Pretty — Steve Martin.

    Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers, that smell bad. — Spock.

    There is no writer’s block, only over intellectualization. — Lynn Mamet.

    One of mine, that I tweet on an occasional basis: If you don’t want robots to takeover the world, don’t program them to takeover the world!!!

  10. says

    “There is no spoon” – Keanu Reeves from the Matrix. Say what you will about the movie or his acting but this line is great. It basically forces you to rethink the reality you have created and break out of what you hold to be utterly true and factual and take a chance.

    Another spin on this that an old boss at Lilypons Water Gardens used to tell me all the time… “everything you know is wrong”. I love that. It forces you out of your comfort zone and really gets you thinking.

  11. says

    Another excellent post, James! Thanks for the fodder – I’m still new to blogging, and writer’s block has been on my mind lately. Well timed, very helpful.

  12. says

    Great post and a great idea for curing writers block. One of my favorite quotes is from David Ogilvy, “Bear in mind that the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.”

  13. says

    I haven’t reached that point where I’ve got writers block but I did take the time to bookmark this post just incase it does happen :)

    thanks for the info, I’m sure I’ll refer to it sooner than later.

  14. Sonia Simone says

    Ooh, Ogilvy quotes, that always makes me happy.

    One favorite of mine about money and mindset is “I hate most rich people but I think I’d be darling at it” (Dorothy Parker).

    And here’s a favorite on creating (not just for painters) by Georges Braque: “The white canvas—it’s like a layer of dust that covers up the real painting. It’s just a matter of cleaning it. I have a little brush to clear away the blue, another for the red, and another brush for the green. And when I’ve finished cleaning, the picture is all there.”

  15. says

    I didn’t even realise that wikiquote existed! That’s awesome.

    This is exactly what I needed to read tonight. Now I just need to figure out how to apply these quotes to snowboard instructing. hmmm…


  16. says

    I believe some writers/bloggers are afraid to take the creative tangents these types of quotes inspire, fearing they will be too far off-topic from the themes of their blogs. I think many readers will appreciate these types of musings and they may even increase readership. Going in these directions might give ailing blogs a real shot-in-the-arm.

  17. says

    Never did think about this. Now I know what my “go-to” will be when I am staring at the laptop wishing that the words would appear magically.

    Excellent tip that is now in my memory bank! Thanks so much.

  18. says

    My favorite quote is “Luck is the residue of design.” Baseball executive Branch Rickey used is so often that it is often attributed to him – but it originated with John Milton.

    I put it in my email signature at work. It can’t hurt to have my boss associate the quote with me when it comes time for a performance review.

    A friend of mine has a counter quote, though – “With proper design, there is no residue.” :)

  19. says

    When I shifted my newsletter format last year from a irregular weekly long format to a 5 days a week short format, my big fear was coming up with content ideas. So since I always start with a quote, I thought I’d just go through the quote library, pick a good one and riff on it.
    Seems to work great, and there’s times I’m amazed at what comes out! Good feedback from readers, too. Best cure for writer’s block ever.

  20. says

    The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. ~ Dorothy Parker
    Awesome….posting now!
    thanks, James!

  21. says

    Oh man, I couldn’t agree with this more! I love getting started with quotes.

    The first three I thought of after this post:

    “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” ~E.L. Doctorow

    “A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.”
    ~Charles Peguy

    “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”
    ~Elmore Leonard

    LOL, okay, one more:

    “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
    ~Mark Twain

    P.S. @Sonia – I LOVE that Dorothy Parker quote.
    P.P.S “Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.” ~Sharon O’Brien


  22. says

    Quotes and music always help me to write. They stimulate thought. Sometimes the hardest part is that initial opening paragraph, but once you get going…

  23. Tisha Gay Reed says

    I usually post a quote per month on my wall calendar. The way the quote finds me is very happen stance, some might say divine. I prefer to think I just read too much. This one came my way via the monthly newsletter from my local library. “What other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart? What jailor so inexorable as one’s self?” Nathaniel Hawthorne. What is writer’s block other than the terror that what you write will be insignificant?

  24. says

    I recently guest posted on one of my favorite blogs, Skimbaco Lifestyle. The theme of SL is living life to the fullest. I based my post on this quote, which I adore and life by:

    “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

  25. says

    Playing off of Sonia’s quote, only I see this one as being gold for editors. “The statue is already in the marble. All I do is remove the extra bits.” Michelangelo

    I also love “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.” I first heard this in the movie The Princess Diaries though I’m sure it must have come from somewhere else.

    Awesome Post! Very helpful. :)

  26. says

    @Murlu – I hear you on the lyrics. This very morning, I was thinking of a great lyric to work into a post idea after hearing it on the radio. “You never met a mother***cker quite like me.”

    Buuuuut I think my blog isn’t ready for that kind of inspiration yet. 😉

  27. says

    Perfect timing James; I’ve been raring to go since the start of the year and do not want writer’s block to get in the way.

    When it does though, here’s what I use to get myself through it:

    “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club” – Jack London

    Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best. ~ Oscar Wilde
    There’s my post, and you’re right. The words are flowing..

    As far as favorite quotes go, mine would be
    “They build low, those who build beneath the skies” -Anonymous

    I have a blog about making money online and I find I do aim higher each time I read this and it gets me focused. The sky is NOT the limit, there’s much higher to go.

  28. says

    The amount of advice that I receive on Copyblogger never ceases to amaze me. First I was inspired by all of the headline posts, and now this. This is absolutely one of the greatest ideas I’ve seen for inspiration.

    “Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try” – Yoda

  29. says

    I have two favorite quotes about writing.

    The first quote is from Thomas Mann:

    “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

    Explaining my fondest for the second quote, from Douglas Adams:

    “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

  30. says

    This is a great tool for writer’s block. I have used it many times. I have a document on my desktop for quotes I’ve collected. Here are a few of my favorites:

    “Don’t sleep counting sheep. Count blessings then sleep.”

    “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

    “Joy is the essence of success”

    And my all-time favorite: “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied by many.”

  31. says

    I never thought of looking at quotes for inspiration, so count me as one who learned something today. Thanks, James.

    And may we never forget that a quote can be a great way to open a blog post, too.

  32. says

    There are days when writers block is a physical thing for me. Having had Parkinson’s disease for nearly 10 years, there are days when I find myself staring at a computer screen without a thought in my mind. Usually I can jar something loose by scanning through some of my favorite websites. But a casual glance at my site would serve as a good indication to the casual observer of which days are good days for me and which are — not so good.

  33. says

    The challenge we often face, as a gift basket business, is in writing compelling product descriptions. We might know the quality and taste of our products, or their presentation value and the value to the recipient, but communicating that with a wide enough array of words can be a challenge, especially as customers are often jumping from product to product in your online catalog and you don’t want them to see all of your descriptions as similar – or do you? I’m wondering if every description should just be a standard description of the ingredients, or have a unique feel with unique descriptions (this is where the copywriting challenge comes in).

  34. says

    “a mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

    I love posts like this because every blogging boy(me) and man hits the ‘block’ eventually. Then the quest starts for inspiration.

    This post will be one of my secret weapons when ‘the block’ occurs again.
    Thanks for the help here.

  35. says

    “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity” D. Adams.

    A useful reminder when you work in a service industry like hospitality, eg weddings

  36. says

    Great post! Writers block is the worst. The content writers here at the John R. Carlisle Institute play Wii bowling to get over writers block! Hey everyone has their thing right?

    John R. Carlisle

  37. says

    Thanks for this post. I posted my favorite quotes on my blog yesterday morning. Glad to know I was on time with the quotes, and am convinced that I am now thinking like the cool kids! Lol!

  38. says

    Thanks for the great trick. Wikiquote gave me a great idea for a blog post. Plus I have a big book of quotes. I should never run out of post ideas now! :-)

  39. says

    Thanks for the blog it becomes increasingly hard to blog about SEO when all you need to do is use the search engines to gather information.

  40. says

    Fantastic idea, don’t know why I have not seen this before. I often think of a blog post then see it has been done over and over and decide not to do it.

    This has given me new ideas already so thank you for sharing this.

    I can see a blog post coming soon with this one.

    Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.
    Dale Carnegie



  41. Kathie Martin says

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder that we’re not in this alone–we have a world of mentors who have left gifts for us along the way.

    A quote is a wonderful tool to get the creative juices flowing, whether you’re writing a blog, a media release or a speech. I keep a file on my computer of quotes I like and the special ones decorate a bulletin board in my office. As I run across something especially nice, I add it to the list. A few I particularly like:

    “Do not take life too seriously. You will not get out of it alive.” – Elbert Hubbard, publisher

    “Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but rather the moments that take your breath away.” – Unknown

    “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you CAN do.” – John Wooden

    “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

    “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde

  42. says

    “Balance due by February 3, 2010″

    Lines like that one always seem to inspire me!

    Seriously, the quotation inspiration system isn’t a bad idea. I’m partial to “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

  43. says

    “A witty quotation proves nothing.”

    The downside to this idea is that the internet is filled with junk quotes out there. People seem to think if a famous/respected person said something, it makes it true. But then BS quotes fill the internet, things people never said. So, research!

  44. says

    The quotes you listed, as well as the commenters, gave me tons of ideas for new blog posts. Thanks for helping me with my writer’s block!

  45. says

    I’m glad I stopped by and read this post. Thanks for priming my pump in a new way. Excited about doing my next post using a quote as the starting point.

  46. says

    And once again, you come through with a great idea, something that seems like it should be well-known and overused but isn’t.

  47. says

    Here’s another cure for writer’s block.

    If we have writer’s block, stop writing.

    Grab a break, take a nap, eat an orange, play with your kids, do fun things with that special someone, walk on the beach, sing along with the radio, tap dance on the kitchen tile, walk the dog, get off the #$%#! internet.

    We shouldn’t be writing, just to be writing. When we have something worth saying, the words will come.

    If the words won’t come, there’s a good reason, we need a break. The break is every bit as much a part of our writing as the typing.

    It’s interesting to note that while we exercise and work out, muscle tissue is being destroyed. It’s after we exercise, while we’re resting, that the new muscle tissue is created.

  48. says

    Since I’ve followed your work, none of the post that made me bored. Especially this one, It was create a new inspiration in my head how to make a blog to be interesting.

  49. says

    This has given me quite a bit of ideas on creating blog posts. I especially like the one by Jane Austen since I’m in the IM niche. That right there just put the whole post into perspective for me.

    Speaking of quotes, I normally find people who just post quotes alone on Twitter very annoying, but now I see some use to having a couple of these guys in my Twitter stream because now I can see the value with my new shades on.

    Thank you.

  50. says

    Fabulous idea James!

    @Phil, I agree with your suggestion to take a break from writing when the words just aren’t producing themselves freely. I always tell others to never force the words because it will undoubtedly show in their writing.

    Here ‘s one of my favourite quotes for everyone from Shakespeare: “This above all, to thine ownself be true.”

    Happy Writing!

  51. says

    @Simren, you wisely added, “never force the words because it will undoubtedly show in our writing.”

    We might go on to propose that just about everything will undoubtedly show in our writing, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not.

    Maybe one of the bigger mistakes we can make as sales writers is to dramatically underestimate the ability all of us have to read between the lines, to harvest the real meaning hiding in the subtext. Body language is as real a factor in print as it is in person.

    Much of copywriting ideology seems to be infected with a self congratulating notion that through our great cleverness we can cook up some secret persuasion strategy that only our fellow sellers will be savvy enough to detect.

    These strategies aren’t so clever when they create a perceptible gap between the words on the page, and who we really are, and where we’re really coming from, which is what they usually do.

    Where I’m really coming from most of the time when I write is jumping up and down trying to get the world to notice what an entirely clever fellow I think I am. I started blurting this obvious fact out, racing to catch up, once I finally realized that everybody but me already saw my motivations.

    Erasing the boundaries between writer and readers is what good writing, and good selling, is all about and we’ll do a much better job of it, if as you say…

    “This above all, to thine ownself be true.”

    Buyers want to trust us. We can help them do what they want to do, if we give our cleverness a rest, and reach for the courage to be real.

  52. says

    Wow….that was really good info. I’ve never thought about that but it makes total sense. Usually the reason quotes are great are because they have value and meaning behind them….what a great concept. Thanks for that insight!


  53. says

    Thanks James, you got me thinking outside the box.
    I can see that with a bit of creativity, many old quotes can be twisted into modern day situations. I also just enjoyed a visit to your own blog. Excellent stuff! Got you bookmarked.

  54. says

    I’m very angry at you. I already have so many blog post ideas rolling around in my head. And now I have even more. There aren’t enough lifetimes to post them all.


    Thanks for the great post!

  55. says

    “More of you doesn’t mean less of me”
    A person grows bigger and better when they spend time helping those people that need it.

  56. says

    Great insight into sparking the creative mind. The thought of connecting a famous quote with daily content writing is good fodder for blogging!
    Thanks for sharing!


  57. says

    Like many of the fellow lads who commented before, I too had never thought of this before. In fact I always thought of quotes to be… overated. If there is something I hate, is when I’m opening myself to someone, whether about work or personal stuff, and they simply quote someone. It drives me nuts, that’s why I never actually took particular interested in them.

    Turns out, I’ve been dealing with the wrong kind of quotes, and the wrong way too. Simply by reading a few you posted, you’ve certainly inspired me a little bit. I guess humans always tend to relate to some kind of hope in words. And that’s perfectly ok if it inspires you to do something for yourself, I realize that now. So thanks for the tip!

    PS: That doesn’t mean it’s ok to quote someone everytime I rant about something 😛

  58. says

    Writing is a window to who we are. The world is a village, relationships are possible globally through the presentation of ourselves via written word.

    Whether our writing becomes a record of our journey through life; a means of education; rallying people around a cause,marketing… words connect us to others.

    Sometimes as you point out, words fail to stumble forth. I think thats ok as long as your intention is always to give value in your communication.

  59. says

    Nice quotes! but wait… please do not shoot the pianist ….he is doing his best ~ Oscar Wilde. In my opinion, the pianist must have sucked, or he wasn’t expected to do well. Or may be it means something else i’m missing, somebody please explain.

    Thanks for the wonderful post James. I don’t usually blog but I will remember these quotes in my future writings.

  60. says

    Well, there may be no cure for curiosity, but is there one for fatigue? Writing is a process for me, and coming up with a good idea is sometimes the most taxing piece of the puzzle. Your post is refreshing, I can’t wait to try it out when I find the end of my rope… Which will probably be this evening after I get my boy to bed. Thanks!

  61. says

    Writer’s block is a bummer, thanks for the sound advice about getting through it. I think this can work for non-blog efforts as well. I’m wondering, did you follow your own advice in creating this post? :)

  62. Ylva says

    Question addressed to Sonia Simone or anybody who knows the answer. From where is the quotaion by Braque? I heard it before and I love it but I couldn’t find the source.

  63. says

    I am a writer but my favorites quotes about writers are somewhat mocking:

    “If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing” by Kingsley Amis.

    and this one is damn of all 😉

    “Whenever I am asked what kind of writing is the most lucrative, I have to say, a ransom note” by H.N. Swanson.

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