First of all let me start off by saying writer’s block is the #1 reason behind the lack of productivity of a writer. Thus if you cure writer’s block, or what I prefer: prevent it all together, then you can truly maximize your writing potential.
Also of note: writer’s block cures depend on the reason behind them. This list won’t work for everyone so make sure to do your research and try different things until you’re able to press forever. Don’t ever limit yourself to one source!
That being said I return to my original statement that writer’s block is 100% preventable if you follow three simple steps:
- Do an Outline! – Some writers are driven to write as the information comes to them and that’s great! Yet when the story doesn’t flow in your head halfway through 80,000 words the way it did in the beginning you run into writer’s block.So, if you have a great idea, takes notes for sure!
Write down scenes or images that play out in your mind. Once that’s out of your system go back and make an outline. It’s imperative for a serious author to cover their bases: describe your setting, establish your characters (personalities, pasts, ect), and clearly state their goals: physical and emotional.
- Create Well-Rounded Characters – I mentioned this one above but it’s important enough to expand upon. Some writer’s blocks can be drawn back to characters that have holes in their personality. You write a scene and come to a situation where you don’t know what to write. As an author you want to be able to know innately what the character will do at any particular moment, how they will react to the problems you present them.
Creating a character isn’t as simple as coming up with a gender, name, and what you want that person to accomplish. In order to properly write an intriguing story the author must know their characters inside and out. As part of your outline your characters’ profile should be written.
I’ll list a few of the things you should consider jotting down during the planning stages of your novel:
- What members of their family are there?
- Are any of them dead?
- Were they close or did the family have a distant, unemotional attachment to each other? Does your character have any habits? Bad or good?
- Maybe they always have to tell the truth or perhaps they can’t stand by when someone is being injured or bullied before them?
- Did they suffer any trauma growing up?
- What would the psychological consequences be for such a thing? (Do you research!)
- Do they have any scars from past significant battles?
I can go on but you get the idea. If you know enough about your character, you won’t suffer writer’s block by writing them into a pit of no return.
- Plot Devices: A few techniques I like to use when writing is to include some hidden plot devices. The definition of a plot device is anything that keeps the story moving which is exactly what you want when you have writers’ block. Some are obvious: MacGuffin, the Shoulder Angel, Deathtraps, Red Herrings, or Plot Vouchers.
Plot Vouchers are my favorite. It’s a tiny detail (a memory, an item, ect) that allows the character to get out of what would normally be a hopeless situation. It gives them the solution that one page prior didn’t occur to them (Or, in some cases, a solution that didn’t occur to the author either.) These are nice because they can be written in last minute without too much rewriting.
There, so assuming you’ve taken care of #1-3, writers’ block is pretty preventable. In the event that it isn’t and you are several thousand words into a story and don’t know what to write next, here are some exercises that can get the creative juices flowing:
- Have a Soundboard: It’s hard to find a person to agree to be this resource but if you can find the right person it can be indispensable. A soundboard, as I deemed it, is someone you can talk to about different aspects of your story. They follow along and give you ideas, some relevant, some not. Even those ideas that don’t work right away can come back to you and help in ways you weren’t expecting. I should note this doesn’t apply only to story writing, any work you need help with is great to run off somebody.
- “Free write”: I’ve seen this listed often for cures to writers’ block and unfortunately I don’t think free write is enough of a guide to help someone actually overcome it. It doesn’t have to mean just picking up a pen and a paper, or more likely a keyboard, and writing down some randomness. Everything a writer does should have a purpose. Here are some things you can do as free writing:
A) Write for a prompt: Writing prompts are created by various people/companies and can be found online for free. Writing prompts are story or situation ideas that can be expanded upon.
For example: You’re walking down the street and stop at a red light. Suddenly a fancy black car pulls up and a man steps out. He takes off his sunglasses and looks very seriously at you, “We’re running out of time. You need to come with me if you want to live.” Okay a cliché example but such prompts can get to you write where once you were completely stumped.
Another good idea when writing prompts is to choose situations that might be out of your regular genre. Maybe you write romance? Try a horror. If you write adventure stories, attempt a mystery. Mostly the word count is low so it won’t take too much of your time. (Writer’s Digest, a great resource for several things, has prompts you can use here.)
B) Write for a contest: There are lots of companies that like to hold writing contests with various categories and often with zero or low entry fees. The reward is nice but what’s also beneficial is using the prompt or category as a challenge to write something new.
Typically writing contests also include a free editor’s commentary which I’ve personally have found more valuable than the cash reward. The editors who look at the entries are experienced and the starting rate for editing is $4 per page so take advantage when you can! Fiction 500 is a great website to get started with smaller contests. Writer’s Digest has larger one with bigger prizes but also bigger fees.
C) Write for a blog/diary: Blogs are great for keeping current with those who might be following you. A diary can be the same thing if you feel a little shy or disconnected from your fan base. A blog can be short or long and pretty much be about whatever you want. An interesting idea would be to have a blog that perhaps covers as your dream journal. I can’t count how many off the wall dreams (typically because I had caffeine after 5pm) I’ve woken up from and immediately wrote down for use later.
D) Have Multiple Stories in the Works: For your story and book writers out there I want to mention a little trick I use if I get stuck on a story. I NEVER write just one story. I usually have two or three I’m working through at the same time. This is great if I get stuck on one, I put it down for a while, maybe a week or a month, and I go to another story.
- Listen to music: Classical music is the usual go to style for getting the blood pumping for writing but don’t think you have to select slow, Bach or Beethoven. Snore! There are many artists out there trying to make a name for themselves and they are creating a selection of royalty free music snippets that can be used for a variety of reasons. These songs don’t have words, which categorizes them as classical, but they can be dark and mysterious, fast and exciting, or silly sounding. Think about what you’re trying to write, what kind of scene, and pick music that will help your imagination keep your story/work going. Also nice about these artists is as long as you credit them, the music can be used to create book trailers, which is a rising trend in the profession, and a great way to market when your story is completed and polished! Kevin Macleod is a known composer who creates music for free use.
- Think About it Right Before Bed: The journey from waking sleep to REM is longer than some people think. You can go to bed thinking about what you’re trying to write and your dreams will often reflect your desire and come up with a solution. Just remember to keep a pad of paper or phone on your bed stand to write down what you dream up!
- Watch Related Movies or TV Shows: This is a tricky solution as some will worry about copying the ideas directly from something that’s already been done. This isn’t always the case. The same as using a person as a sounding board for ideas, you won’t always use the exact ideas but it could get you thinking in a different direction.
- Take a Walk: A classic cure for writers block is to go out for a walk. I raise my nose at this solution mainly because yes it’s true removing yourself from your environment can help you think but you can also go to the grocery store or be at work when an idea comes to you. The trick is to keep thinking about your problem no matter what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be in the forefront of your mind but your brain will continue to work on the problem in the back of your mind and eventually come up with a solution.
- Change Your Delivery Method: Lastly, a lot of times people are used to typing on a computer and the words appear as quickly as they scroll across your mind. Slow down, get a pad of paper and pen or pencil, and trying hand writing your next scene. This will force you to take more time and analyze what you’re writing down. Getting a lot of words out quickly is great but one can go too fast and you could focus on action where perhaps more detail is required.
These are just a few of the things to help one overcome the invisible enemy of all authors: writer’s block, however these methods are also great for optimizing the amount of writing you produce daily as well as the quality. Good luck and may the creativity goddess be ever generous!