writing prompt - vintage inspiration - using old postcards to jump-start your stories

Even the most prolific writer sometimes struggles with what to write next.

Oh, sure, you might have notebooks full of story ideas, characters demanding to be brought to life, and plot points that simply have to be explored, but even then, paralysis can set in.

There’s just so much to write about! How do you choose where to go next?

Whether you’re writing flash fiction, short stories, novels, or narrative nonfiction, there will come a moment when you’re stuck about what comes next.

When that happens, consider taking a break and getting some inspiration from an unlikely source: your local antique shop or flea market.

For one, getting out and about can refresh your mind, allowing your creativity to flow more freely and helping you focus better.

For another, these are great places to find a bottomless source of inspiration: vintage postcards.

These little slices of history give you two different ways to get inspired.

First, the images themselves are often stories in waiting—the detailed scenes, with or without people in them, are a fertile starting ground for plotting out a new creation.

Second, you can draw on the messages on the back to craft new dialogue, scenarios, and adventures.

New York Times bestseller Ransom Riggs used this technique to help create Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, using his own collection of creepy vintage photographs along with others gathered by fellow collectors.

Head out to your local flea market or antique shop and look for boxes upon boxes of postcards, often filed by location or topic. You’ll find everything from vintage travel postcards from around the world to cards highlighting certain products and services.

The inspirational possibilities are endless!

Don’t have a flea market nearby? Click over to eBay or Etsy and search for “vintage postcard.”

We’ve rounded up some fantastic vintage postcards to help get you started.

Here’s a challenge: Pick one and write a flash fiction piece, then share it in the comments!


visual writing prompts - surrealist postcard

Surrealist postcard


visual writing prompts - Amish schoolchildren

Amish schoolchildren


visual writing prompts - Rockaway Beach

Far Rockaway Beach [Source: Lisa Jacobs]

visual writing prompts - Congress Street

Congress Street at Night, Portland, Maine, 1914. [Source: Maine State Archive]

visual writing prompts - girl at the left

What caught the attention of the girl at left?


visual writing prompts - Atlantic City, New Jersey

Atlantic City, New Jersey [Source: Digital Collections at the University of Maryland]

visual writing prompts - changed magician

A chained magician or strongman


visual writing prompts - nurse


visual writing prompts - woman


visual writing prompts - San Francisco earthquake

San Francisco earthquake commemorative postcard


visual writing prompts - vintage airline postcard

Vintage airline postcard


visual writing prompts - proud woman


visual writing prompts - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina [Source: 1950sUnlimited]

visual writing prompts - New Orleans 1939

A restaurant in New Orleans around 1939


visual writing prompts - vintage french postcard

Hand-colored French postcard


visual writing prompts - old Nagoya Japan

Nagoya, Japan [Source: CardCow]

Looking for more vintage postcard inspiration? Check out these sites:

  • VintagePostcards.com: A huge collection, organized by topic
  • CardCow: Lots of images, often from the late 1800s and early 1900s, organized by topic
  • The Postcard Shoppe: A little more complicated to search, but lots of beautiful painted images and unusual cards
  • Mary L. Martin: If you’re on your way to becoming an avid deltiologist (that is, postcard collector), you’ll find plenty of resources on this website, which includes a huge shop, plus event listings for collectors, though it isn’t as easy to search as some other sites
  • VintagePostcards.org: Another huge collection of cards, searchable by topic


Vintage postcards and found photos are a great way to get inspired to write.

For more writing inspiration, read on: