Friday, June 1, 2012

Writer's Block? Take a Break

In the last two weeks, I've talked about ways to overcome writer's block. Many of these tricks require thinking first, before you start writing. You might find it easier to do that away from your desk. If the computer is starting to feel like an enemy, step away from it for awhile.

Try jotting your notes longhand on a piece of paper or think about your story while you fold laundry or ride your exercise bike. (Make sure you do keep thinking about the story though, and don't get distracted by other things. For me, this works best with mindless tasks such as a loading the dishwasher.) 

I find that taking a walk helps me sort out my thoughts. I often take a tape recorder along and dictate into it, but even just thinking about the problem can help. I give myself a couple of minutes to work through all the other garbage in my brain. Then I try to focus on the story. Sometimes I won't let myself turn around until I've gotten a good start. This means either I make progress on the story, or get lots of exercise!

You may need to experiment to find your own techniques for overcoming writer’s block. Some writers go to a library, cafĂ© or park to write. Some find that ideas come to them in the shower (pick up some kids' shower crayons so you can make notes on the walls). Or perhaps if you fall asleep thinking about a story problem, you’ll have the answer in the morning (though this has never happened to me). 

Maybe you need to talk about the problem with a friend. Even people who don’t write can have fun brainstorming story ideas. When my mystery heroes had to escape from their trap, I asked a dozen people - including an engineer and a former military commando - for ideas. They came up with an amazing variety of possibilities. I didn’t wind up using any of them, but they got my own mind thinking creatively and I did come up with a solution.

So is there a cure for writer’s block? Not a cure, perhaps, but a variety of treatments. Try these suggestions, and experiment to find new tricks that work for you. You may still get stuck, but hopefully you’ll get those fingers flying soon, and fill up that blank white page with nice black words.

You can find lots of advice on handling writing challenges in Advanced Plotting:


  1. Good advice. What has helped me most with writer's block is the suggestion to lower my standards and just write. : )

  2. Funny you should mention it, but I often solve lots of story problems in that "twilight phase" right before one nods off to sleep. Sometimes I'll dream solutions, other times I'll have ideas when I'm angry at my alarm clock for interrupting me. Unfortunately, sometimes I can't remember exactly the ideas I had before falling asleep (I just remember my brain noted I had solved the problem and promptly fell asleep... useless brain).

    I'll have to use people around me more often. I do find they tend to give me ideas (through me directly asking for help or just offhand comments). I will definitely have to try the other ideas! I have a feeling delving into a mindless task will also help... though I find I tend to get more new ideas rather than solutions to old problems when I do something like that.

    Thanks again for sharing your ideas! I love this site!

  3. Great point, Beth -- if you think the pressure to write well is holding you back, remind yourself that first drafts can be terrible and just get something down, even if you are convinced it's going to be garbage.

    Remmy, I'm glad you're enjoying the site. I keep a notebook and pen by my bed so I can jot down ideas that come to me during the night. Once in a while I think, "I'll remember that," and of course I never do. But at least I know that the answer is somewhere in my brain. Even if I can't access it directly, at least I know there is an answer, so it gives me confidence that I may find an answer again.