Writing Tip #17: Overcoming Writer's Block

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Writer’s block comes in all shapes and sizes, in my experience. You might just not feel like writing. Sometimes, it might seem like you just don't have any stories inside you right now. Or you find yourself staring at a blank page wondering what to put on it. Finally, you might sit down at your desk, and whatever you try to write just seems awful, so you stop.

Any of those things can keep you from being in stride with your writing, and feeling like the words will flow when you need them to.

The good news is that there are many things you can do to break through the block!

Overcoming Writer's Block

The following is a list of ideas for moving past writer’s block. You will find some additional resources at the end of this post.

1. Freewrite

Freewriting is a way to move past that inner editor that may start talking in your ear when you sit down to write. The editor might say things like “that’s not the right word,” or “this is dumb.” You can turn that voice off by setting a timer, nudging yourself to start writing and don’t allow yourself to stop for five full minutes. If you’re not familiar with @mariannewest’s Freewrite House, it’s a great resource. There’s a whole freewrite community on the block chain.

2. Start In the Middle

This strategy is about moving your writing along without getting stuck on the all-important opening lines and story set-up. When you think about it, the beginning of a story is a little bit like a paint job on a car. The paint is the first thing a potential buyer will see when they go to buy a car, so it’s really important to get it right. But maybe it’s important to get the mechanical part done first.

3. Read

This is one of the best strategies, in my humble opinion. I find it especially useful once I have already started working on a story and I feel kind of stuck. What happens when I take a break to read is that a part of my mind keeps working on my story while reading another writer’s work. Also, the rhythm of prose, the methods other writers use to introduce characters or create scene changes, and other mechanisms of storytelling come to life in fiction, and can provide great inspiration.

4. Put Your Subconscious to Work

Reading is one way of doing this, as I described above. But there are others too. For example, you can step away from your story and let it gestate for a while. You can also consciously put a thought in your head about what you want to solve, right before you go to sleep at night. And then see if your subconscious provides an answer by the time you wake up.

5. Write On a Schedule

This recommendation would seem to be similar to freewriting, at first blush. But it’s really about conditioning. Like any habit you might create for yourself, such as working out, eating a hearty breakfast or brushing your teeth before bed, setting up a writing routine helps you to create an effective habit. Instead of having to warm up to the idea each time you sit down to write, you can launch right in because “it’s time.”

6. Jot Notes

Ideas may come your way in the course of a day that simply flit through your consciousness like a butterfly and are then gone. If you get into the habit of capturing them somehow, then you have all kinds of ideas to work with. Not only that, but a part of your mind is always working on how to fictionalize the experiences around you, even when you don’t have time to sit down and work with them. And then you have these great resources to work with when you do.

I personally keep notes in Google docs, as it is a free, cloud-based app and I can access it from my computer or phone. If an idea for a scene or some dialog pops into my head while I’m walking, I can voice-text them into my notes file.

7. Write Loglines

Log lines are one-line story summaries. Like item 6, the idea behind writing loglines is to make sure you capture plenty of ideas and have great stuff to work with when you sit down to write. But in this case, you’re jotting down whole story lines.

To write a logline, come up with the main character, the character's goal or desire, and something they have to overcome to reach it. For example: Young Priscilla seeks to become a medical doctor, but she is so stunningly pretty that no one will ever take her seriously, making it almost impossible for her to succeed.

What if you wrote a certain number of loglines every single day - like 5 or 10? You would always have something to work with.

8. Keep a Swipe File

Like keeping notes and writing loglines, this idea is about collecting things that you can use later. But in the case of a swipe file, it’s not just storyline ideas and scenes, it’s everything that can inspire you - from headlines to overheard conversations, to bits of history, and real life stories that you want to fictionalize. When you think about it, almost anything can be turned into a story as long as it has those three key elements we talked about in loglines above: a character, a goal or desire, and a roadblock to getting it.

I hope this has given you plenty of ideas! The following are some additional resources for further reading.

Resources

How to Overcome Writer’s Block - Reedsy: https://blog.reedsy.com/writers-block/
10 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block - Penguin Random House Author News https://authornews.penguinrandomhouse.com/10-ways-to-beat-writers-block/
Irresistible Logline Examples - Your Dictionary.com https://examples.yourdictionary.com/irresistible-logline-examples-for-tv-film-and-books.html
How to Beat Writer’s Block: 36 Surefire Strategies - Become a Writer Todayhttps://becomeawritertoday.com/writers-block/

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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If you're looking to up your fiction game and reach that next level, check out my past writing tips linked below.

Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt

Writing Tip #2: Adding Conflict

Writing Tip #3: Writing What You Know

Writing Tip #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

Writing Tip #5: Is ‘Show Don’t Tell’ a Writing Rule?

Writing Tip #6: How Fiction Writing Is Like Weaving

Writing Tip #7: Put It On the Page

Writing Tip #8: What Is a Story Arc?

Writing Tip #9: Should You Plot Your Story?

Writing Tip #10: Don’t Start a Story This Way!

Writing Tip #11: What Is “Writing Voice”?

Writing Tip #12: Reveal Everything and Nothing

Writing Tip #13: Character Types in Fiction

Writing Tip #14: Clichés - Avoid the Conspiratorial Wink

Writing Tip #15: Developing Memorable Characters

Writing Tip #16: Writing Character Descriptions

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