How to Overcome Writers Block

How to Overcome Writers Block

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  1. The insidious fiction writing curse known as writer’s block takes a number of forms. Perhaps you’re staring at a blank screen, wondering where to begin. Or perhaps you’re halfway through a story or novel, only to find you’ve gotten your character into a situation and don’t know how to get her out. Whatever your difficulty, the following techniques can help you combat writer’s block and get your creative juices flowing:

    • Start somewhere.
    • Give yourself some structure.
    • Free associate.
    • Brainstorm.
    • Kill your children (figuratively!)
    • Take a break.
    • Just write!

    Start Somewhere

    Don’t know where to start your story? Start with something – anything – and work your way forward or back from there. Perhaps you’ve had a vision of a character: start by describing her. Perhaps it’s a dramatic situation that sparked your creativity –  a man dangling by his fingertips from a bridge, a factory accident that changes the course of a young woman’s life, etc.

    Take the people, places and events of the story that are most vivid in your mind, and commit them to paper. They will give you something concrete around which to base the rest of your missive. Plus, finishing a unit of work – a chapter, or even a single confrontation – will increase your self-confidence as a writer. Blank page, begone!

    Don’t be afraid to jump around, either. If you know the beginning and end of a story, but not the middle, don’t be afraid to write them while you work out the rest of the tale. Sometimes, writing later parts of the story can even yield insights into what ought to happen earlier.

    Give Yourself Some Structure

    The "start somewhere" approach may not work for you if you’re a person who loves structure. All writers are different. Some can’t help but dive right in to their stories. Others need to draw themselves a road map first. If you find yourself frustrated starting from scratch, back up and create a game plan.

    One time-worn technique is the plot outline. Write down entire scenes in single sentences: "Joe goes to the office, and finds it’s been cleared out, leading him to realize he’s been conned"; "Barbara confronts David about his affair, and shoots off his big toe with his own shotgun." Once you have a full plot outline, begin from the beginning, and keep writing until you hit "The End."

    If a plot outline is too much structure, try starting with character studies. Write down everything about your characters you need to know to make them come alive on the page – looks, hobbies, interests, past relationships, where they grew up, and major life events (to name just a few details). For some authors, knowing where their characters have been helps them deduce where they’re going.

    Another form of structure is a deadline. Rather than plan meticulously in advance, you set a goal of finishing a certain number of works every week, or by the end of the month. The online National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has provided this sort of structure to authors for years, compelling them to finish at least 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November.

    Free Associate

    Perhaps you don’t even have a starting point – nothing, zilch, nada. Start by writing whatever comes into your head. Close your eyes. What do you see? Let your mind wander. Describe the images that float past, no matter how bizarre or outlandish.

    Dreams are a great source of free association. If you find yourself stuck for ideas, start keeping a dream journal, and write down all of your dreams that you can remember upon waking. A lot of what streams forth from your subconscious will be too bizarre to commit to print (unless you’re aiming to be the next William Burroughs). Occasionally, though, your brain, left to its own devices, will give you something – a far-flung imaginary world, an outrageous character – around which you can build a story.


    Now you’ve done it. You’ve written your character into a hopeless situation – backed into a corner, say, surrounded by a gang of Prussian mercenaries and their rabid pet werewolves. And you have no idea how she’s going to get herself out of this mess.

    This might be a good time to step away from your piece and brainstorm a number of possible solutions. The art of brainstorming consists of writing down every possible solution to the situation without censoring yourself. Sure, maybe it’s absurd that your character discovers a trap door in the wall behind her, and falls to safety (or what she thinks is safety) in an underground laboratory. Write it down anyway! Once you have a list of all possible scenarios in front of you, you can consider them more coldly and logically, deciding which amongst your numerous options would work best.

    Kill Your Children (Not Literally)

    Author Ayn Rand once remarked that every author worth her salt has to "kill her children." The people and places of your fictional world are your creative babies; as an author, it’s easily to develop an emotional attachment to them. But sometimes, when you’re stuck, your best option may indeed be to throw your babies out with the bathwater. Consider how your story would change if you eliminated a character, or if your protagonist made a different decision than the one you typed.

    Remember that nothing you write is sacrosanct. Treat everything you write as disposable – because it is. Many an author has rewritten the ending of his stories multiple times, looking for that single course of events that "feels right" for his characters.

    Take a Break

    Of course, your problem may be that you’re working too hard. If you’ve had an incredibly productive run – you’ve been writing pages upon pages for a couple weeks straight – consider walking away from the keyboard and engaging in other pursuits for a while. Play with your children. Draw or play music instead. Have an interesting outdoor adventure. Break time is important for writers, who rely upon their own experiences and observations to make their writing fresh and real.

    Sometimes, your best ideas can occur when you’re not directly thinking about your story. You may find that you resolve that nasty plot problem, not through brainstorming, but in an "A-ha!" moment that strikes you in the shower. Cognitive psychologists call this the "eureka effect." Most experts are convinced that rest and sleep play a big part in fostering such breakthroughs.

    Just Write

    Don’t take too long of a break, though! Ask professional writers what their cure for writer’s block is, and a majority give the same reply: keep writing. Write, no matter how much you may not feel like it. Write, even when it feels arduous.

    Ultimately, there is no definitive "cure" for writer’s block. But you can use one or more of the techniques above to push yourself past your own limitations. Your reward? Fame and money, perhaps. Regardless of your commercial success, though, you’ll have succeeded in committing your artistic vision to paper. And isn’t that why you began this journey?

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