How to Steal from French Magazines for Writing Inspiration

Writing poetry in the style of a ransom note

Olivia Walters

This week I wrote French poetry by snipping words from travel magazines I stole at the Charles de Gaulle airport. The exercise got me thinking about fresh ideas for my creative work, but as I began stringing words together, making word associations, and elaborating new syntax from magazine copy, I stumbled upon a nugget of insight.

It’s okay to borrow another writer’s words!

Do not overthink

Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, shares the same idea. As creatives, we recycle other artists’ work, all while forming a landscape for innovation and collaboration.

My poem reads:

This simplicity

of writing

A memory is born

Who experiences the magic

at the heart of fleeting conversations?

To finally taste the garden’s delicious strawberries

You all said “Begin

like an irresistible pearl”

Hit the road between the beatniks

and the timeless sound  


evokes music

[in French]

Cette simplicité

de l’écriture  

La naissance d’un souvenir

Qui ressent la magie

au coeur des conversations éphémères ?

Enfin goûter les délicieuses fraise du jardin

Vous avez dit “Commencez

comme une perle irrésistible”

Mordre le bitume entre les beatniks et

le bruit intemporelle

Tout le monde

évoque la musique

What I wanted to do was run with my subconscious, not put too much thought into subject, theme, or rhetorical devices. But in working with words I cut out simply because I like the way they sounded, I realized that a theme formed on its own accord. The lesson here is to not overthink writing. Cohesion and significance will unveil themselves without you even realizing.

The act of deconstructing published travel articles put me in tangible contact with words. I felt new meaning come to these dissected phrases. For instance, the snippets “hit the road-mordre le bitume” joined with “les beatniks,” each formed a complementary image of escape and rebellion, although they originally stood on their own in separate articles.

I feel like transgressing rules learned during college about writing, in the hope of settling upon my own style and voice. This exercise pushed me out of a spell of writer’s block, not to forget continued practice with translation. I advise other writers to connect with words through alternative mediums.

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