Yep, it’s a thing.
You get to your computer, fire it up, fingers hovering over the keyboard and then…
The mind draws blank and the words do not come. You sit, ready and waiting for inspiration, but there is a chasm between your thoughts and the amazing writing you normally see pouring out.
You stare at the blank white page. The blank white page stares back at you. It seems to shrug. “I’ve got no ideas either”, it says.
This can be particularly frustrating when you’re in the middle of a really long story or article. You’ve got so much developed already, but then everything seems to stop. There seems to be no end to your tale, no punch line to the joke, no focus or resolution to your problem.
So what can you do about it?
Well, it can be difficult to navigate out of writer’s block, but don’t fret. There are a few things you can do to get the creative juices flowing again.
Just a word of warning before we get into the nitty gritty of it all…
Writer’s block is simply a lack of motivation or direction in your writing. This comes and goes from time to time, but it’s not something that can be cured. After all, it’s not a disease. It’s just a temporary slump and most writers go through this at some stage or another.
How to cure writer’s block…
1. Play word games
One great thing to do is simply play with language.
Here’s one idea:
Create a list of similar words to ones you are using in your writing. Perhaps there’s a spooky house you are trying to describe and it’s just not working. You feel blocked.
Take the word: Spooky
Let’s get some other similar words (synonyms) and then some opposite words too (antonyms). The opposite words will help later on when describing other characters or places which contrast the spooky house.
What about some colors -words:
From here, we’ve got so many options to work with.
See if you can describe another element of the house with some of these other words. Perhaps focus on small details and create a vivid image of the house.
Add adjectives until it’s overloaded and it’s actually sounding really bad. Then remove the words which don’t sound right.
Here’s an example for a creepy house in a children’s picture book:
The weird creepy blackened opening of the doorway opened like a creepy mouth with a grey-white mist seeping out.
The description above has way too much going on. It’s really clunky, but that’s fine because we now go in and edit to clean it up. Remember to focus on the parts which are most important. Don’t describe obscure sections or give them too much focus in the sentence.
Let’s go back to our example and fine it:
weird creepy blackened opening of the doorway opened gaped like a creepy mouth with an eerie grey- white mist seeping out.
Notice how I’ve deleted much of the clunky phrasing from above? I’ve edited it so that it has focus and doesn’t burden the reader with too much “guff”.
Take a look:
The blackened opening of the doorway gaped like a mouth, an eerie grey mist seeping out.
See if you can improve the above sentence. Perhaps add a description of the doorway seeming like it will eat the character looking at it. Or perhaps the mist seeming like it is coming towards the viewer.
These two ideas seek to make the house come alive, as though it is sinister or dangerous, rather than just creepy.
Here are some other word games to try.
2. Write short stories
Sometimes, to defeat writer’s block, you’ve got to take a break from your main project and try some smaller, fun writing ideas.
Maybe you need to focus on a tiny story, like a fable or a vignette.
These are really effective as they focus your attention on writing for specific qualities in story.
• Focus on plot – orientation, problem and resolution
• Characters – stereotypes of animals, personification (being made to resemble humans)
• Simple settings – farms, fields, woods
Here’s an example of a fable:
The Lion and the Mouse
A Lion lay asleep in the forest, his great head resting on his paws. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran across the Lion’s nose. Roused from his nap, the Lion laid his huge paw angrily on the tiny creature to kill her.
“Spare me!” begged the poor Mouse. “Please let me go and some day I will surely repay you.”
The Lion was much amused to think that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was generous and finally let the Mouse go.
Some days later, while stalking his prey in the forest, the Lion was caught in the toils of a hunter’s net. Unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring. The Mouse knew the voice and quickly found the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it until it parted, and soon the Lion was free.
“You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the Mouse. “Now you see that even a Mouse can help a Lion.”
A kindness is never wasted.
Writing a vignette can be supper fun and rewarding too.
A vignette is like a memoir or short autobiography. You can select a moment from your life and describe it in vivid detail.
• Focus on vivid description
• Feelings and emotion are highlighted
• Personal reaction to memories – introspection
Christmas Day – 1991
I slipped on my dressing gown and tiptoed down the hall, following my elder brother, in the pale dawn light. The clock must have just ticked 6am, but the heat of the day was already permeating the house.
Thick pine scents wafted from the living room as we crept slowly, delicately twisting the door knob to our sister’s room. She was still fast asleep and hadn’t yet felt the urge to see what had been left for us in the living room. Dan gave her a poke in the arm and she stirred. Sensing our excitement, a smile of recognition lit her face and she threw off her doona and jumped to the floor.
We three, barefooted and messy-haired, scampered to…
To read the rest of this vignette, click here.
3. Edit your previous couple of pages
Here’s an idea which keeps you focused on the larger work at hand.
If you’re struggling with writer’s block, going back over your work and reading it again can help you to get back in the groove.
You may tweak your phrasing here and there, as well as adding bits and pieces too.
Pick a particular focus for your editing like:
- Making sure your narrator’s “voice” is consistent throughout. If your narrator is first person, ensure that the character’s likes/dislikes, attitude and personality come through.
- Tenses – if you’ve set your story in the past, make sure the narrator uses past tenses. The same goes for present or future tenses. You don’t want your reader becoming confused due to mistakes around whether he “jumped over the wall” or whether he “jumps over the wall”.
It doesn’t matter which you choose, just remember to be consistent.
- Inserting and refining dialogue.
This can be really tricky to make it sound “right” but keep working at it. Maybe get a friend to say one character’s lines with you out aloud.
Perhaps there’s a point in a scene which needs some dialogue, even just one or two lines.
- Avoiding certain bland words or phrases which do very little.
4. Chat it out
Chat to a fellow writer or person you trust.
If the problem with your writer’s block is more ideas-based, then it might be time to let someone read your work.
This can be a super scary thing to do because you might feel like they will judge you or not appreciate your work the same way that you do.
But as writers, we need to make sure that we are connecting our work with a real-life audience from time to time. And writer’s block is a great place to start.
Choose someone you know well, a parent or friend, and let them read your work. Asking someone who also writes is a great option too, as they know just how you are feeling.
They may give you some ideas, or you might simply work out where to go next.
Remember, ask them to comment on specific things, rather than relying on them to come up with feedback.
If you want to know about whether your writing makes sense, ask them about specific things like: punctuation, descriptions of characters/places/scenes, narrator’s “voice” or perhaps whether the dialogue flows well.
Here are some sample questions to ask before they read:
- Does the punctuation help to make my meaning clear?
- How can I make the character seem nicer, meaner, ruder, more aggressive?
- Where do you think the story is set? How can I make the scenery more beautiful/ugly?
- Can you describe the conversation between the two characters?
This will mean that the feedback you get will help you with the specific parts of your writing which might be tripping you up.
5. Write garbage
This sounds like super bad advice, but it’s not.
One way to combat writer’s block is to simply write a scene or paragraph which you know is not your best work.
Give yourself the freedom to not write perfectly all the time and just get the ideas or a whole scene down on the page.
By the end of a 20-minute garbage writing session, you’ll have quite a lot which you will discard, but a whole heap which you will need to edit. And as we’ve seen above, editing your work is simply another step in moving through writer’s block.
While writer’s block can feel real in the sense that it stops you from writing, it is actually just stopping you from writing what you know is “good” or your best writing. There’s nothing wrong with writing some work which you know is not your best.
You can them go over it and make it better.
I often give this advice to people who find it so hard to start writing. The blank page is just too intimidating. It’s as though perfectionism stops some people from even starting.
Well, here’s your free license.
You have permission to write garbage!
You then have some great fodder to work with and edit to make it better.
Writer’s block can feel impossible to overcome, but you have some really great tools to break through this mental stop-sign and get writing again. Just get back on the horse and get writing again!
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