Monday, November 19

Vanquishing Writer's Block

Vanquishing Writer's Block

Anyone who has gone through NaNoWriMo knows, at least a little bit, what its like to be a professional writer.

You can't get writer's block.

Well, you can, but that would mean not reaching your writing goal and that would be bad.

Very bad.

So, what's the solution?

Become a muse whisperer. That's right, muse whisperer. How does that work? I'm glad you asked.

1) Just Write

Here are some writing exercises that have helped me get back in touch with my muse in the past:

a) Timer method

Set a timer for 5 minutes (or however many you'd like). Write until the timer goes off, even if it's your name or "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". It's up to you, but try and stay away from knives if it's the latter.

b) Page method

Write until you have filled 2 pages. Again, since the idea is to defeat writer's block, write anything. Don't edit yourself, don't filter. Just write.

c) Variations on (a) and (b)

Thank your computer, tell it that it's wonderful, then turn it off and pick up a notebook--one made out of paper--rummage around for a pen or pencil, then sit down and do (a) or (b).

I had a horrible case of writer's block after my father passed away and it was putting pen to pater that got me through it. After one 10 minute session of just writing, the dam inside me broke and I had the glorious experience of having WORDS tumble out of me.

2) Just Talk

Instead of trying to write a story, talk it.

I have a Sony digital recorder that I love, but sometimes I feel like I should be talking faster, or getting to the point quicker, so Dragon Naturally Speaking is easier for me to use, although one benefit of using a digital recorder is being able to get up from my desk and walk around.

You can feed the sound file from your recorder to Dragon and the program will transcribe your mutterings for you. I should add that this works best after you've trained Dragon up a bit, otherwise it might give you back word spaghetti.

3) Just Imagine

I do a variation of this sometimes when I want to generate ideas. If it seems silly to you, that's cool, just skip this point. :)

Go somewhere that doesn't have a recording devise of any kind. You don't want to be tempted to record these ideas while they're occurring to you because that can interfere with the process. At least, that's what I've found, but your mileage may vary.

Make sure you won't be disturbed for, say, 15 minutes. Oh, and if your imaginings take off go with that and don't worry about finishing the exercise.
Imagine a place. It could be outdoors, or indoors, underwater or even in the cold expanse of outer space.

What does your place look like?

Are you warm? Cold? Hungry? Frightened? Curious?

Is anyone with you?

You notice something about your place. There is one part of it that seems different from every other. Investigate. How is this part different?

As you investigate you realize what you are looking at is a portal. If you step through (you may have to open it first) you will be taken somewhere dangerous.

There is a sound behind you. Your heart jumps as you whirl around.

A living being stands before you. Their appearance is terrifying and they hold an object, it is something dear to you. It is the thing you value most in life.

What is the being holding? Take a moment to examine it.

The being moves quickly toward the portal and plunges through, taking with them the thing you hold most dear.

You follow them.

What is it like to go through the portal? What sort of feelings did you experience before entering?

Describe your first glimpse of the world at the other end of the portal. Is the being there? Do you see the thing you hold most dear?

I'm not saying any of these methods will work for you, but they are something to try. The more one tries the greater the chance of success. At least that's how I look at it. :)

4) Make Writing Habitual: Schedule It

I was going to title this point, "Your muse and you: developing a sustainable relationship" but I figured "make writing habitual" was more descriptive. But, really, what I'm talking about IS building a relationship with your muse.

We, our bodies, are used to patterns. When we get used to a pattern (for example, coffee in the morning, lunch with co-workers), when something becomes habitual, we miss it when it doesn't occur.

It becomes natural. In fact not doing it just doesn't feel right. It seems as though something is missing.

Here are a few ways to help develop the habit of writing:

a) Write in the same place each time

I'm not saying this will work for everyone, or that it's a bad thing to have several places to write in. Actually, several places could work, but I think it's important that they be, more or less, the same places.

You could have an office at home, or a corner, or a corner of the kitchen table, or you could write at a coffee shop, at the mall, on the bus, and so on. The where doesn't matter, as long as it the same place (or places).

b) Write at the same time of day

For instance, Stephen King writes in the mornings. Other folks, Amanda Hocking for instance, write at night (though few people are nocturnal). (See: Amanda Hocking's Unusual Writing Schedule)

Again, it doesn't matter what time you choose--you could even split your writing time between morning, evening and night--what matters is that it's the same time, or times, because that's how you develop a pattern. Your mind and body need to learn to anticipate that at certain times you'll be writing.

c) Write every day

I snuck this one in at the bottom because it's not strictly true. You don't have to write every day to develop a pattern that becomes a habit. But it helps.

If you only write once a month it'll take years for that to become habitual. On the other hand, if you write every day, it'll take maybe a month or two, depending on the person.


I hope you've found something helpful. If you are experiencing writer's block you have my sincere condolences. If nothing I've talked about in this post works for you try talking with someone who has had writers block in the past. Sometimes just talking about it helps. If you don't know anyone who has had writer's block, please feel free to contact me. :)

I would like to add that if you've found something, a way of writing, that works for you and flies in the face of everything I've said about developing a habit, great! If you've found something that works for you, then go with it. (See: Henry Miller's 11 Writing Commandments)

Do you have a writing routine/schedule? If so, please do let us know what it is in the comments. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales
- The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself
- Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care

Photo credit: "The brick wall (free wallpaper)" by under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Suddenly, I feel completely not-guilty about spacing out and daydreaming at random points during the day. It's honestly where 90% of my stories come from.

    1. Me too!

      I've found I have to be careful. I'll be in the middle of editing one story when I'll get a great idea for my next one and all I'll want to do is write it. It doesn't help that editing can be a painful process ... well, painful and boring, if that makes any sense!


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