Writing Tools: The Oblique Strategies

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing tools lately. There’s something about the pressure to produce and post every day that can make you feel like a wrung out dishrag, hung out to dry on the towel bar until every idea you ever had is as desiccated and crusty as yesterday’s used washcloth. What’s a writer to do to keep the ideas coming?

One technique I learned about back in the mid-1990s is the Oblique Strategies. The Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas as an object is a deck of cards written by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt that was first published in 1975.

The Oblique Strategies

The Oblique Strategies, 2013 edition. Photo by Cory Doctorow and released under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Each card has a bit of advice printed on it. The idea is that as you are working on your art, if you come to a point where you feel as creatively parched as that dried out rag, you can then draw a card and take the advice it gives you to get your ideas flowing again.

The advice includes things like:

“Allow an easement. (An easement is the abandonment of a stricture.)”


“What else is this like?”


“A very small object. Its center.”

These phrases are deliberately, well, oblique. But if you look at the words and apply them to your situation the best way you know how, it can end your creative drought so you can keep working on your piece.

The deck has been reprinted with additions several times over the years and used decks can cost a fortune. Thankfully, the Strategies are also available online on a couple of different websites (including the first Oblique Strategies site I ever saw), and there are also apps for both Android (including apps by plural and Shaun Church) and iOS (iOblique).

For more information about the history of the Oblique Strategies, check out Gregory Taylor’s Oblique Strategies site.

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