Using Oblique Strategies in writing and creativity

When you get stuck with writing, what strategies do you use? I often find it’s because I need a fresh perspective and some time away. One creative tool that has really helped me over the years is Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. They’re a series of prompts and questions designed to open up creative possibilities, and get you thinking differently. I use the box of cards, but you can also use an online version.

I was reminded of Oblique Strategies again when I saw Moonage Daydream, the wonderful film out about the creative life of David Bowie. I realised that Bowie had used them throughout his extraordinary creative career. Time to give them a go!

Oblique Strategies was created by musician and producer Brian Eno, and artist Peter Schmidt. The original set of cards was printed in 1975, and Eno has added to them over the years. The latest version contains over 200 cards, each with a different prompt or question. The ideas are deliberately open-ended, and can be applied to any creative situation.

How can you use Oblique Strategies in writing?

The cards are a bit like the I Ching, in that they’re quite abstract – sometimes even gnomic – and open to interpretation. So they have an uncanny knack of surfacing aspects of your subconscious. I’ve found them most useful for switching up my process – like putting on a different thinking hat. Or for getting started when I’m feeling resistance.

Just drawing a card now, I’ve come up with ‘Don’t be afraid of things because they’re easy to do’. Classic advice for anyone prone to overthinking! (Dang, how did they do that?!)

Here are some suggestions for when to use Oblique Strategies.

  • When you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start
  • When you’re stuck on how to approach a project
  • When you need some fresh ideas
  • When you want to try a different way of working
  • When you want to view your project from a different angle
  • Just for fun!

Here are a couple more strategies drawn at random:

Don’t stress one thing more than another.
Is it finished?

And the strangely reassuring:
Simply a matter of work.

Oblique Strategies can be a great way to break out of a writing rut, and approach your work with a fresh perspective. So next time you’re feeling stuck, give them a try! They work for other kinds of creative projects, too.

Here’s another article on getting started when you’re facing resistance.

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