9 Ways to Outwit Writer’s Block
*Or get out of a rut
1. Read a chapter of your WIP aloud to someone other than your cat. Invite feedback, if you’re brave. But mostly, just listen as you read. Do the words flow easily, roll nicely off the tongue? Do you stumble anywhere? Anything sound awkward? How’s the dialogue? Option: Record yourself reading it aloud, then listen to the recording.
2. Write a short story featuring one of your characters, something taking place outside the scope of your book. What did you learn about that character?
3. Go out for some people-watching. Listen closely to conversations of those around you, observe details of body language and facial expressions. Keep a notebook or Word file of your observations.
4. Imagine your main characters in dramatic situations and see what they would do. Your character is on an airplane that has just lost both engines and is plummeting toward the earth; a gun-wielding madman bursts into your character’s home during a family game night; an alien spacecraft lands in the character’s back yard. How do they respond? Do you know how your characters tick? Write it down.
5. Guess what? All your major characters just got laid off and need to look for new jobs. Create resumes for each of them. What kind of jobs might they look for? Are they ready for a career change?
6. Go to one of your favorite places – Starbucks, a ski slope, the gym, your couch – and have an imaginary conversation with your main character. Would they like it here? What would they want to talk about?
7. Record a conversation with a friend or spouse or child. Transcribe that conversation exactly as-is. Then rewrite the conversation so it sounds good on the page. What kinds of things do you have to cut, add, or revise to make it work?
8. Change your writing routine. If you usually write on your computer, grab a pen and notebook for a day. If you usually sit in your den, go out to a coffee shop. If you usually write in the morning, try a midnight writing spree. Forcing your brain to work differently can sometimes spark a new way of thinking.
9. Write a review of your book. Pretend you’re working for Publisher’s Weekly or Booklist or the New York Times and write as honest a review as you can about your WIP. Then heed your own advice to fix the things you noted that were weak.
What’s your secret for getting back in the writing groove when the words aren’t flowing?
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I really like this post! So much, I was inspired to write a post on academic writer’s block. You can find it here:
[…] circulated blog on how fiction writers can jar themselves out of writer’s block. You can find it here. Unfortunately, most of her ideas are not applicable to academic writing, so I thought I’d offer […]
[…] Rachelle Gardner has 9 ways to outwit Writer’s Block. Also: what if my agent doesn’t like my second […]
[…] Rachelle Gardner 9 Ways to Outwit Writer’s Block […]
These suggestions are terrific, and creative.
For me, I like going to a cafe, eavesdropping on conversations for ideas. I take a snippet of interesting dialogue and see where my imagination takes me.
I live in a tiny village in the middle of a forest and cutting right through it is a beautiful river. I like to sit on a log and dream up characters as I watch the wildlife around me.
While walking the bush tracks I’ve come across old cars, foxes, and derelict cottages. Some of the old houses still contain furniture and as I always carry my camera, I photograph potential settings for my stories. A bush walk works every time for me, however so far all of my books are set in a forest.
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I love these suggestions.
Sometimes when I’m blocked on a book or short story, I put it down and write a press release about the piece. I find that helps me focus on the most interesting parts. Usually when I get blocked it’s because I allowed myself to get bogged down in bits that wouldn’t be relevant to my readers. By shifting into “PR mode,” I remind myself of the value of teasing the reader into turning the page.
[…] the dreaded writer’s block. James Moran explains his writing process; Rachelle Gardner lists 9 ways to beat writer’s block; and Leo Valiquette shares how he learned to stop worrying and love the blank […]
When I was writing my 3rd novel, Brother Wind, I got into the middle of the book and realized I had deviated so far from the outline (The first and last book I ever outlined.) that I couldn’t figure out how I’d ever get back on track and find my way to the ending that I envisioned.
I sat down one afternoon and just began writing a fun gutsy little book for middle readers. I worked on it for 3 days or so and then was able to go back & finish Brother Wind.
My husband read the partial ms of the middle reader’s book – SISU – and told me I had to finish it. I did. Wm Morrow made an offer on it, but we decided it would have a longer run with a smaller press, so went with a little commercial press in Michigan. SISU did pretty well, and after 15 years is still in print, also is one of the books in the National Accelerated Readers program.
So that’s my happy little writer’s block success story!
Truthfully? I stare out the window and daydream.
Of course, in my head, I’m going back and reliving the most exciting scenes all over again.
And if that doesn’t work, I go take a walk. Somehow, taking a walk gets the creative juices flowing, and I usually come back recharged and ready to write!
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Listen to music that transports me to my story worlds. Right now that’s the soundtrack to Ken Burns’ Lewis & Clark, or The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack.
Don’t you just love “the Promontory”? Last of the Mohicans has one of the best sound tracks. And bad guys! Hooooly smokes Wes Studi still makes me nervous!
Sometimes reading doesn’t help because I get word envy over others’ pretty sentences, but watching a TV show or movie with a plot I find really awesome usually does. It gets me pumped and makes me want to get back to my own story!
Thanks for the help!
When I get stuck, I go back and read my chapter outline so I can re-orient myself to where I am in the story. I’m also the kind of writer who needs to take a mind-break every half-hour or so. A quick glimpse at FB or my mailbox, maybe a hand of Freecell and I’m back at it.
I stop doubting myself and trust the process – so far, it has not let me down.
Ask your twitter followers for ideas!
For me, what I notice when the words aren’t flowing, is that the words have stopped because I’ve been in such a writing or revising flurry that I’ve exhausted that creative part of my brain. So I take a break. Read a book, watch TV, catch up on blog reading, etcetera. If the words are trickling or stuck all together, it’s a sign to me that the battery is running low on power and needs a recharge.
Off the wall quirky, but take a nap. Some of my very best story lines have come from adaptations of dreams. Sounds goofy, I know but sometimes my subconscious mind works better than the conscious one
This is going to sound silly, but if the words aren’t coming, I stick in a Gilmore Girls dvd. A) I love Luke. B) The dialogue is really quick and quirky, and somehow, that combination always gets my brain going.
These are awesome! I like to journal as my character–sort of a “free-association” Freudian therapy kind of thing. Just let it come out as if the character were there, freeing his or her mind.You never know what they will say until they say it.
My only question is, what if Fluffy WANTS to hear the chapter? Why can’t we read it to him? … Don’t answer that. I know ;o).
Especially if Fluffy only got to the cliffhanger!
Poor Fluffy :o(
Thanks for the tips, keep ’em comin’
In the folder with my WIP I have a file titled ‘Scribble Page’. If the problem I’m having is minor, like some confusion on a plot point or something, I just open my Scribble Page up and do something very similar to what Ruth Taylor mentioned. If the writer’s block is bad, though, as in ‘I can’t even think anymore and I don’t even remember what this story is about’, I’ve found that it’s best to just get completely away from the computer for a while. So I usually go walk the dog, vacuum, fold laundry, or do dishes for a while – something that involves physical activity without requiring brain power. It does wonders for resetting the creative side of my brain. Listening to some good music (without lyrics) while I work helps too.
These ideas are fun, though, and I think I’ll definitely be trying some of them next time I get stuck. Thanks, Rachelle!
I’ll go for a run or a walk or do something else creative that’s not writing — I like to take pictures.
I also find doing something boring and repetitive, like weeding or painting a wall (I just did my hallway), frees up the creative energy again.
I like these. I think it’s important to do something that keeps you thinking, keeps you writing. Whatever that entails, I say go for it. For me, that tends to be working on a short story, getting my hands dirty in the yard, or just doing my job. Amazing how much inspiration can come from something you do everyday.
A variation on #2 – since I write non-fiction, and my blogs relate to my larger projects – is to write a blog post. This year, at least a third of those posts have ended up incorporated (usually with significant modification) into the bigger history project one way or another, and all of a sudden I have 6,000 more words. But it works well to get me going even if the blog topic stands alone.
[…] This is a lot of great advice. Some highlights of the ones I particularly liked. […]
I need to stop worrying about money. It is such a buzz kill.
I’m with you, Joan! Too bad it has to be an issue.
Good list! I sometimes do a variation on your #4 – I imagine my characters in the mundane everyday situations I’m facing. Like sitting in traffic or making dinner. What would my characters’ reactions be? What would motivate them? It helps me get the nuances down and is a great way to mentally “escape” for a while too. 🙂
Something that helps me all around is having
someone read it out loud so I can just listen. I catch things I wouldn’t ordinarily,
and it’s fresh.
I am going to try that. I’ll need to find a willing vict…helper.
I use music. When I’m stuck on a scene and struggle to find the energy to plow through, I find a song that fits the mood. Usually that’s all it takes. Thanks for the extra ideas.
I am inspired to write again when an idea for a new picture book pops into my head. I can never predict when it will happen, but when it does, I’d better write it down quickly! Thanks for your post, Rachelle…I will bookmark and tweet it immediately…
I find the best thing for me to do when I can’t write is read!
I study other children’s authors and try to learn from their style and advice. My favorites, Roald Dahl, Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, and Nancy Rue, my current mentor….and believe me they have written a ton of books!! I spend a lot of time at the library. I always have a dozen or so books at a time. I order them online, and go pick them up when they are ready. (Gives me more time to read and less time searching.)
I love these tips, especially #2. Then if I really liked the short story, I could rewrite it as a scene or chapter for the novel.
I read somewhere that one way to overcome writer’s block is to do something that’s not related to writing – go to a museum, watch a play, take a walk in your favorite neighborhood. That usually helps me, because often I’ll see or hear something that sounds interesting; then I’ll take that and put it into the story.
Right now I’m enjoying writing my characters backstory more than the book. I wonder if that means I’m writing the wrong story?
What’s really got me stuck is figuring out how much historical accuracy I need. Since it’s based on real events, how many need to be included? Maybe that’s why I’m enjoying the backstory, nobody will read and critique those, and it really fleshes out my characters for me.
Do you mean historical accuracy in the MS, or for the backstory itself? If it’s for the MS, I’d include a few to provide a stepping off point for the story to orient the reader. I did a huge amount of research for very minor things in the MS, but I needed to have a basic structure for the storyline to work. Anything else can be solved by a preface stating that the author has taken liberties with certain things. Some readers get hung up on things like whether or not the Colt was a Pathfinder or a Lightning.
If the backstory flows into the main story, then you’re good to go.
few **details… sorry.
Thanks Jennifer! That helps quite a bit and was something I was stressing over. Because I’m a scientist I tend to research things to death and insist on complete accuracy. It’s good to know when to let go.
My husband is a scientist as well. Do I ever understand what you’re saying about research and accuracy! But even if the writer is not a scientist, accuracy in the story speaks volumes about the quality of the writing, don’t you think?
LOL! I really do. My husband refuses to watch CSI, or any show if it involves science except Big Bang Theory, with me. When they get it wrong it really pulls me from the story. The same is true for anything, it loses credibility, even for fiction.
A friend of ours is a nuclear (say it everyone…noo-clee-ur) physicist. Watching Star Trek with him is PAINFUL. Imagine a deep , scoffing voice…
“You know, speaking as a physicist, warp drive is entirely implausible.”
So many good ideas!
My approach to writer’s block is along the lines of Connie’s. I freewrite. I’m convinced that writer’s block is, at least in part, due to something in us that is afraid to mess up the pretty white paper or computer screen with the wrong words. So I purposefully mess up the paper. I’ll set a time of ten minutes or so and just start writing whatever comes to mind. No concerns about grammar or the right word or perfect sentence structure. I just write and don’t stop until the time is up. This may start out with “I can’t think of anything to write. I am so frustrated. Lalalala. No nothing is coming yet. Why is there a fly in here? Ugh! More frustration. How am I supposed to write with a fly buzzing around my head.” And so on. Before the time is up, usually, head, hand and creativity have started flowing. Sometimes I’ll even suddenly get an Aha! moment about the book or a character. If nothing else, the page is now messed up and I can feel free to put imperfect words on it and revise them later. I know it sounds crazy, but it works. I’ve even taught it to students, who were skeptical at first, but it has worked for them too.
Sorry, Jennifer. I don’t know why my comment ended up as a reply to your last comment. I guess my brain isn’t working right today. I was going to suggest that you introduce your nuclear physicist friend to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, then I had changed my mind. I guess my subconscious really wanted to suggest it to you.
“New-cue-ler!” Wait…doggone it!
And next time your friend says that when Star Trek is on, just tell him that warp drive is only an engineering problem away…tell him to go back and figure out what all that mess is inside atomic nuclei and let the theoreticians alone to do their dreaming 😉
Or….I could tell him to put a sock in it and let me enjoy watching the poor fool in the red uniform get smoked.
I love all the ideas you shared. Most I’d never thought to try. For me, brainstorming with a friend helps give me fresh perspectives and ideas for my wip.
I have tried writing a scene from the eyes of a non-POV character. This gave me insight into my main character, as well as how this other character would act in the scene.
Sometimes, taking a walk helps. I bring my cell phone and record any ideas that come to mind for upcoming scenes.
Good idea bringing a recorder along. Just don’t do it with a bluetooth or people will see you talking to yourself and you’ll wind up a character in their books! 🙂
Just like others end up as characters in mine? 🙂 You got a chuckle out of me, PJ.
Fantastic post, Rachelle. I find when I have writer’s block, it means there is a problem with the story or one or more of the characters. I like to take a step back from my work, go for a run or a long walk, and then conduct a candid assessment of my work. Once I’ve identified the problem I do some creative brainstorming to come up with solutions. Another strategy is to re-read a novel you admire and pay attention to how the author developed the story, Thanks again, Rachelle.
I find the best thing to do when I’m struggling to write, is to write. Usually, if I force myself to put words on paper, I very soon WANT to put words on paper.
Haahaaa, mine is to open the WIP. Once I do that, I’m usually good to go. lol
Love the idea of resumes and gun toting madmen. I talk to my characters in the shower. I create dialogue out loud. no one hears me in there. While I vacuum I go over a scene in my head. Ironing is also a good opportunity to work out an idea in my head. Yes, if I am on a writing roll housework does not get done.
I work on my dining room table (actually, in my other obsession, I did work on the table, the top alone took 4 DAYS with a palm sander!! Sapele is quite porous and held the paint, UGH!) and find that if I watch the wildlife in the back yonder, I can usually float away for a while.
I’ve use real life conversations in my MS, but I just edit them for time sensitivity. I used my own riding accident, someone else’s sour attitude…but to really kick the juices into a torrent, I walk through the mall. The combination of watching the body language of one group and giving them the conversations of another group makes for some interesting dialogue. Youtube travel clips are good for location scouting.
I like these. Some good ways to get to know your characters better too.
Like a few others have said, I find my best way out of writer’s block is often to just write, whether the muse shows up for duty or not. The flow usually unclogs after a bit of plodding. (Apologies for mixed metaphor.)
LOVE #5 – Create a resume for you characters. This could be fun!
I like to get art and photography books from the library. I always keep some on hand. Flipping through the pages always brings new ideas.
One of my favorite books is an artist guide FACIAL EXPRESSIONS by Gary Faigin. It is full of sketches of emotional responses on faces. I got it out of our library so many times I finally bought one of my own.
Hmmm, I’m going to look through it now for some inspiration.
Thanks for the tip, Sharon! I’ll have to check that out.
I’ve found moving locations works best for me.
Thanks for these other great ideas.
Super ideas, Rachelle! I’m giving #6 a try the next time I’m alone in the house. My family already thinks I’m quirky – an imaginary conversation would only fuel the fire.:-)
Lots of block focused blog posts this week; I wonder if time of year/season has anything to do with the common thread? Maybe Spring Fever has the creative juices running off in other directions? Gardens, outdoor activities, sports? And there goes my quirky mind again….
I agree with your theory of Spring Fever sending the creative juices off in other directions. I was hoping to get the bulk of my MS polishing done before the gardens called my name. Thankfully, once the sun is down I can return to writing. It’s hard to weed in the dark.
All good things to do and I’ve probably done most of them. I don’t believe in writer’s block, but sometimes I need to recharge the juices. A change of scenery is always stimulating for me as is the purchase of a new journal or pen. But one thing often works for me when I’m starting a new scene, chapter or article: I sharpen half a dozen No. 2 pencils, grab a legal pad and head for the couch. For some reason this old-fashioned way of writing does it for me every time. I usually only write a page or two this way before heading back to the computer, but at least when I open Word, I have something to start putting down on the blank page.
Thanks for the reminder Rachelle that even when we are not creating words on the page, we can enrich our writing life.
My personal favorite is to read/edit the last thing I wrote
Ummmm. #6, that’s not out loud, right? Cuz I’m fairly sure that at least one ex-boyfriend might still be doing that. In a lock-up.
I think *I* would consider my couch to be the only place I’d have an imaginary chat.
Nah, go to the supermarket and chat with the asparagus. You get to observe a lot of people’s reactions that way.
I practice my sermons to the frozen food section to prepare me for the sleepy Sundays. 😛
Hahahaha!! Are you saying your congregation is populated by those deeply involved in cryogenics? PJ, time to open the doors and let the heat in. Although…perhaps not.
Ha! I love this P.J. — although I don’t think I’m brave enough to try it in the market. Maybe I’ll talk the frozen corn in my freezer.
There are two things I do:
I write as one of my characters in first person to get to know the character better.
And I just force myself to write anything. Even if I throw it out later, it can get me out of my slump.
#8 has always worked really well for me. Simply changing venue or writing medium has a way of opening things up nicely.
I think something else to consider is to take a reading break. Reading is a great way to help ‘fill the well’, so to speak.
Excellent advice. Number 8 works pretty well for me 🙂
I also find that switching to another project can work too.
I just write to myself.
Ruthie, you’re having a hard time coming up with what’s next.
So and so has already happened, and you know that so and so will happen, but you just don’t know how in the world to join the two together.
I just keep writing as if I were having a conversation with myself. It usually takes me places.
Thankfully, I’m not there now. I’ll keep this post handy in case my mind decides on taking a detour.
Yes, I do this too. Start writing what has to happen until I hear the voices and can write dialogue.
I have also done this. I don’t always keep the result, but at least it gets things moving again.
Yes! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who does this. I mostly write on the computer, but when I hit a snag, I have to use pen and paper.
Actual example of my self-dialog (note- not the Biblical Samson here): Make Samson/Salna/Brant’s adventures more interesting. Start with arriving in Namros? Or keep first bit and change what Brant does. Or make Samson the protag?
This goes on for a page or two, until I work out what I need to do.
Some great tips!
If I’m really struggling I watch a movie or take myself off to buy myself a new pen or notebook, which is Halley followed by a latte in a coffee shop and then of course, I have to use the new notebook and pen 😉
These are great ideas.
One thing that works for me, often, is this: I write out a couple of pages in first person for each main character, having him tell me what he wants and how he sees his part in the story. Each character glosses over his weaknesses and sees himself as the hero.
I get their motivations this way, and it almost always gets me back on track, when I’ve lost my way.
Another thing that works for me sometimes is to see how each main character acts in relation to the theme. If the lesson that the main character is learning were to be foisted upon the supporting characters, how would they react? If they are dealing with the same demons as the main character, how does that play out in their lives?
I like to go to Shockwave and play word games. The random words sometimes spark new ideas.
Words games? You? Naw!
I’ll have to give this one a try. I hadn’t heard about this one yet. 🙂
This could be helpful, P.J. … or addictive in a b-a-d way.
Word games huh? My highest score in Scrabble was 573. How’s that for a challenge Casselman?
Woe! I thought 302 was a good score. Reminder to self, never play scrabble with you.
Just reading everyone’s thoughts here also inspire me. I’m gaining new ideas as I scroll down.
Aw, just when I was feeling good about making the 400s! 🙂
Force it out daily…no matter how much whatever comes out might suck. Eventually it starts to suck less.
I couldn’t agree more! What’s really important is trying. That’s in fact the real problem. Well, at least mine.
But brainstorming helps when you’re stuck and you can’t find a solution to move action forward.
The article is great! It made me realize there’s more that I could do if only I’d try. Thanks, Rachelle
Right! You have to get through all of the fools gold to find the good stuff.
I agree. I just decided not to believe in “writer’s block” and make myself keep showing up– because in my own process, I never know when something good is going to suddenly appear, or when what felt like writing my way through a rut was actually pretty decent. But if I hadn’t shown up, I wouldn’t have gotten there.
There’s no such thing as “writers block”.
Oh, I love how you said “whatever comes out might suck, eventually it will suck less” You just described my rough draft to final copy.
I think that accurately describes many folks draft to final copy process. 😉
Great tips, Rachelle! Thank you!
Thanks for this! I bookmarked it for future perusal, when I’m in an inevitable slump 🙂
Tried and true remedy for writer’s block: Brainstorm with writing comrades. Talk out a scene or a chapter or even the overall plot of a new book. Anything goes! Brainstorming gets my creativity flowing and I can’t wait to sit down and start writing again.
I agree. I’ve been to two brainstorming retreats and both proved helpful and fun.
Brainstorming both with your characters and normal people.
Oh yeah, that’s a definite winner. When I was working on the book I just finished, I sat down with some teenagers, gave them a subject, and played watched them go crazy. It gave me a wellspring of ideas!
If I’ve been writing for a while and suddenly the words stop flowing, I take a mini-vacation on Facebook, Pinterest or blog hopping. I find that turning off the creative part of my brain and just wandering around the internet for a while usually gives me a needed break and I can jump back into my writing feeling refreshed. This also gives me the opportunity to see or read something that may spark an idea I can try to work into my story.
I like to wander too, but sometimes I have to pull away from the computer and wander outside. I think Donald Miller said he likes to take his dog for a walk. This is one of my most wonderful times to get the wheels of my imagination turning.
I find that if I just get up and walk off–to look out a window, or whatever–the words will flow. Of course, I have to have been sitting down in the first place:)