Stuck for a new poem idea? Desperate to get words onto the page? Or maybe you need a fun exercise to refresh your writing routine? 

Below, poet and visual artist Helen Ivory offers a taster exercise on how to use play in your writing to develop new material.


When I sit down to write a poem, I will already have a scrap of something that might grow up to be a poem in my head or notebook. I think this instinct for what is poem-worthy develops over time – the more you write, the more you see the world you inhabit, with magpie eyes. Once you start thinking of yourself as a poet, events and images and snips of conversation become more significant; it’s material for you to play with and to make something from.

As adults we do not often get a chance to play, yet I believe that all creative endeavours must have play at their heart. At play we have a chance to try things out: what if what if what if? And how do you know what you are going to write if you don’t what it down and see what you’ve written? Often writing is like that – you surprise yourself – where did that come from? Poems are very much like dreams in that respect.

all creative endeavours must have play at their heart

Try this: write a list of sentences beginning with the word ‘Because’ – be as literal or as imaginative as you want to be in those sentences. Set a timer, and write for ten minutes. Giving yourself finite time often makes you more productive and stops you thinking too carefully, which is an enemy of the initial creative process.

Now read back. Does any scrap here grab your magpie eye that you can develop?  Perhaps your list of Becauses stands on its own? Have you written something that has taken you by surprise? Perhaps you might consider taking one of our poetry writing courses, which are chock-full with writing exercises to unearth more materials for writing poems from, and tips and hints to take your writing in exciting and unexpected directions. We can also help you shape your poems in ways that make them interesting and readable.  

Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist with over 15 years teaching experience at all levels, including for The Poetry School, The Arvon Foundation and The Poetry Society. She joins other expert tutors from UEA for our Creative Writing Online Autumn semester, where she will deliver level 1 and level 2 courses on how to get the best out of your writing.  Apply now - deadline 11 September. 

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