5 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

This title is a little misleading because I don’t actually believe in writer’s block. Oh, the words don’t always flow from my pen like the rush of the rapids or even the trickle of a mountain stream. I just object to the word “block” because it sounds too much like an outside force that’s acting upon the writer, rather than something we do to ourselves.

It’s not a block like an insurmountable brick wall, it’s more like “writers stuck,” to put it inelegantly. That may be a better way to approach the situation.

Ever get stuck in mud or snow? You didn’t just sit in your car and do nothing, did you? No. You tried a few different options — rocking back and forth, adding traction under the tires or asking a friend to push you out of trouble.

It’s the same with writing. You were sailing along and for whatever reason, it all comes to a screeching halt.

But what can you do about it?

Consider these 5 ideas to overcome writer’s block:

Write garbage. Stop overthinking and just write anything. One of two things will happen. You’ll get into your groove or you’ll get at least something on the page that you can edit into shape. If you’re really in rough shape, just free write your frustrations. Write about the corner you’ve written yourself into. Brainstorm solutions, no matter how crazy. Some of the best ideas come when you stop censoring yourself and give yourself permission to go way outside the box.

Retroactively outline. You’re stuck for some reason. Sometimes there’s a plot hole you can’t write your way out of. If you are a plotter by nature, reexamine your outline to see where you may have gone off the rails. If you are a panster, make a loose outline. It doesn’t have to be detailed or follow traditional outline form, just jot down what you’ve covered so far and what you still need to cover. Jot plot points down on index cards and shuffle them around to see if you can make the story flow better.

Draw a picture. Take a break from words and just draw to activate a different part of your creative mind. Make a roadmap that outlines your plot, or a mindmap to help you do some problem-solving. Sketch your main characters as you see them in your mind. Draw a floorplan of the buildings in your story or a map of the town. Craft a vision board or collage of your story. Each of these ideas will give you a break from the grind while still keeping you immersed in your book.

Jump around. There’s no law that says you have to write your book in order. Sure, following the narrative thread might keep things flowing naturally, but if you’ve already come to a screeching halt, why not write that fight scene in Chapter 7 that’s been simmering in the back of your mind now, even though you’re still hung up in Chapter 3. This is where plotters have the advantage. They know what chapters and scenes are still to be written. If you’re stuck and you haven’t outlined, at least make a list of scenes and write the ones that are the most appealing to you even if they are not in order. It just might clarify the route you need to take to get from here to there.

Cut the noise. You may have trouble finding your voice because you are too busy listening to others. If there is one thing there is no shortage of in today’s world, it’s input. Press pause on Netflix, ditch the podcasts, consider a social media sabbatical. Put yourself in a situation where you have time to listen to your muse, your inner storyteller, whatever you like to call the wellspring that your inspiration flows from. Be alone with your thoughts, don’t drown them out with the thoughts of others. Try meditation. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Find a quiet, comfortable place where you won’t be interrupted. Close your eyes and breathe deeply while you think about your story.

Did any of these ideas help break through your block? Let me know. If you have other ideas, share those in the comments too!

For additional reading on getting unstuck, check out the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He tackles the topic pretty thoroughly.


My Top 12 Writing Resources

This is a picture of a fraction of my books on writing, but it really does represent a good cross-section of my collection. I think they’re a little something for everyone here. Some of them are older, but I linked them to the closest matches I could find.

In no particular order:

  1. Writers Digest Crime Reference
  2. Writing Down the Bones
  3. On Writing
  4. 10,000 Baby Names
  5. Walking on Alligators
  6. The Playwrights Handbook
  7. The Copywriter’s Handbook 
  8. Bird by Bird
  9. Starting from Scratch
  10. How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author
  11. Writing in an Age of Silence
  12. Save the Cat

Share your favorites in the comments if you like. I’d love to hear what other writers rely on.