Creative Procrastination Part 1: Guilt-Free Web Surfing that Can Enhance Your Writing

An example of a PicLit

An example of a PicLit.

By Amy Marcott

We may not make a lot of money as writers, but we do trump other careers in one important way: we can justify pretty much any behavior as either research or fodder for our art. This, of course, applies to our online habits, including those hours frittered away reading reviews for the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt or watching the adventures of the honey badger. But that doesn't mean we don't sometimes feel guilty about it.

We know better. We know we should be writing, and yet we still get lured away by the charms of the Interwebs. For those of us who can remember what it was like to have to use actual card catalogs for research—and those drawers were long, am I right?—it is especially tantalizing. Where else but online would I have found seven pictures capturing every angle of the interior of a 1989 Chevy Caprice without which I couldn't have written accurate description for my first novel?

But too often research or a quick break turns into mindless surfing that can get us into trouble. All of a sudden two hours have passed and all we've done is scroll farther down our Facebook page than we have in a long time. And we haven't even considered how to use that honey badger in a story.

Since it's unlikely we'll go off the grid entirely, the key is to focus on sites that might actually provide some inspiration. Remember, if it's for your art, it's not really procrastination, right? Here are some sites to help you feel a little less guilty about surfing the web.

Arresting Images

Some of these are worth 2,000 words, easy. Poets, you might not need that many.

Features bizarre, provocative, and interesting images captured by Google Street View. It's based on an art installation.

Violation Report
Offers modern shaming. Any one of these people would make a good character sketch.

Art Project
Gives you a whole new perspective on famous paintings. Choose one from museums and galleries worldwide and zoom way in.

Think of this site as online Magnetic Poetry, but with pictures as well.

Dear Photograph
Combines the old with the new for a sort of time traveling effect.

I Can Stalk U
This site is meant to raise awareness about online information sharing. View a picture from any number of Tweets and start writing.

Globe Genie
Practice crafting setting details. Choose one or more continents and be "teleported" to a random location that you can then explore using the 360-degree functionality.

Earth cam
Search for live web cams from around the world. Or just skip to the Vegas wedding cam.


One word or phrase can be all the spark you need. And sometimes, the more random the better.

A ranking of the most frequently used English words in order of commonness. Input a number between 1 and 86,800 in the "by rank" box and use the words there in a writing exercise. There are even games made out of this, like the 1970's movie character name game.

Autocomplete Me
Ahh, Google. Take a look at a gallery of funny and weird autocompletes posted by the Fail Blog or go to Google and try it for yourself.

Word of the Day
A lot of places offer these. Bonus points if you use all of them in a single piece of writing.

Shows you the online buzz for a particular word or phrase. Try typing in a random word from a piece you are working on or even a word of the day and see what pops up. I typed in vacuum cleaner and got a line from a Twitter feed: "Can you make popcorn in a vacuum cleaner?" There's a story right there.

Show people how to really write a simile. Or perhaps find something that is just the sort of line one of your characters would utter.

Stay tuned for part two of this article, with sites that offer ideas for dialogue, characters, and scenes.

About the Author See other articles by Amy Marcott
by Amy Marcott


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