How to Create Your Own Blackout Poem

Push the limits of your creativity and make a frame-worthy piece of art by creating a blackout poem. Blackout poetry is a great exercise for writers, as it asks us to focus on selecting a limited number of words to create new meanings. The idea of the blackout poem is attributed to artist and bestselling author Austin Kleon, who used this activity to help him through severe writer’s block. Kleon usually used newspaper for his blackout poems, but you can use whatever print media you like.

1. choose a canvas.

The first step, and probably the hardest, is to choose a piece of print media to transform. It can be an old book, a newspaper clipping, an advertisement, or any other piece of paper with words on it. If you’re incredibly attached to a piece of text but still want to make a poem out of it, don’t fret—you can make a photocopy.

2. look over the page.

Don’t worry about reading it too closely. Just glance at it to let a few phrases or ideas jump out at you. The poem you make in the end doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with what the original text was about. Think of it as a treasure hunt: you’re looking for the most valuable words in a sea of text. Lightly underline your favorite words or phrases with a pencil.

3. choose one or two anchor words.

Choose a few key words or phrases to “anchor” your poem. Choose words or phrases that strike a chord with you emotionally, intellectually, or philosophically. You don’t necessarily even need to know why these words resonate with you, but they will eventually capture the main idea or feeling of your blackout poem. Lightly box your anchor words in.

4. choose some connecting words.

Feel free to jump around, but go through and mark words that you think tie in with, flow well with, or relate to your anchor words. You may want to hang on to a few transition words and prepositions to help you create complete sentences (though complete sentences aren’t required for a blackout poem). Box those connecting phrases. You can be liberal here and box in as many words as you like. You can always cross out more words later.

5. make your mark.

Now it’s time for the blackout part that of blackout poetry. Use a black marker to redact, cross out, or cover up any words you don’t need. For added flair, you can draw doodles, lines, or even paint over the redacted text instead.

6. go back to step four.

Are you happy with the words you kept? Feel free to refine your blackout poem as much as you’d like by continuing to remove words that don’t fit. Some people like to cross out words in a fury, while others like to move slowly and meticulously. No matter your process, be sure you are eliminating at least half of the words on the page to dodge any possible plagiarism issues. It may help to think of your redactions as part of a distillation process—the more you boil away the excess, the more powerful your finished product will become.

Don’t be afraid of surprises, and know that it’s okay not to have strong end goal in mind. Just let the creativity flow, and don’t hold back. Once you’ve crossed out everything you want to, step back and look at how your blackout poem has taken shape. What has the narrative become? How does it inspire you?