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5 Best Ways to beat writer’s block

Writer’s block doesn’t have to stop you…

Writer’s Block.

Yep, it’s a thing.

You get to your computer, fire it up, fingers hovering over the keyboard and then…
nothing.

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…

Crush Writer’s block with these ideas…

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.

Spooky

Synonyms/ Antonyms
chilling earthly
creepy natural
eerie normal
ghostly usual
mysterious obvious
ominous
scary
supernatural
uncanny
weird
spine-chilling
unearthly

What about some colors -words:
Black/blackened
Grey
Misty
White
Crimson

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:
The 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.

The blackened opening of the doorway gaped like a mouth, an eerie grey mist seeping out.

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.

Fables

• 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.

If you want to learn more about writing fables, click here for a full explanation.

Vignettes

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.

You can check out more details about how to write a vignette by clicking 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.

Writer's block doesn't have to be such a problem. The most effective way to move on with your writing is...

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.

In summary

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!


Blogs about writing

5 Easiest Steps to Writing Fables

Want to learn how to write great fables?

Fables have been used for hundreds of years to entertain and to educate. Within these fun stories lie truths about how humans should live and important lessons on how we should behave. Fables rarely have characters which are human. Instead, the authors rely on animals who speak and interact much like humans do. This has a fancy word for it, called “anthropomorphism” – in short, making animals more like people.

Before we get into writing our own, let’s take a look at a couple of famous fables.

The Tortoise and the Hare

In the field, the Hare was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.”

The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.”

“That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.”

“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?”

So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race.

Moral of the story – Plodding wins the race.

Aesop (1867) Aesop’s Fables

The Frogs and the Ox

An Ox came down to a reedy pool to drink. As he splashed heavily into the water, he crushed a young Frog into the mud.

The old Frog soon missed the little one and asked his brothers and sisters what had become of him.

“A great big monster,” said one of them, “stepped on little brother with one of his huge feet!”

“Big, was he!” said the old Frog, puffing herself up. “Was he as big as this?”

“Oh, much bigger!” they cried.

The Frog puffed up still more.

“He could not have been bigger than this,” she said. But the little Frogs all declared that the monster was much, much bigger and the old Frog kept puffing herself out more and more until, all at once, she burst.

Moral of the story – Do not attempt the impossible.

Aesop (1867) Aesop’s Fables

If you’re super keen to read more fables, check out Aesop’s Fables.


So how do we write a fable?

1. Decide on a moral.

Notice how at the end of each fable there is a moral or a lesson listed? This is because the writer of the fable is seeking to use the story to illustrate an important lesson which he wants the reader to learn.

Often these stories are told to children and have some kind of basic lesson. But they also speak of how people should relate to each other, or even ideas such as what is good or valued in society.

Choose a moral to write about, then that will help you to choose characters, setting and plots to explore.

Here are some intersting morals to teach:

  • Don’t mess with snakes
  • Never trust strangers
  • Keep your friends close
  • Bullying leads to more bullying
  • Or even something as simple as: Don’t stay out past sun down

2. Choose characters which suit your moral.

Now that you know what you want to write about, you need characters to help illustrate your important lesson.

Choosing the right animals is key in fables. You’ll notice that each animal has certain characteristics which are used as a stereotype. Basically, the bad animals are mostly the carnivorous ones, and the herbivores are saved for the more upright and ‘good’ characters.

For example:

  • Fox – cunning and clever, but always trying to trick other animals. They generally want to eat other animals or use them for his own advantage.
  • Pig – messy and greedy, pigs are generally interested in themselves and being lazy.
  • Frog – frogs are generally ‘good’ characters, because they are innocent and only eat insects, something which annoys humans. They are also prey for foxes or cats.
  • Cat – lazy and sleepy, they like to chase mice and rabbits to eat them, or just for fun. They are sneaky and care only for themselves.
  • Donkey – trust-worthy and honest, donkeys might not be the prettiest animal going around, but they are true-hearted and their humility often wins out. Read The Silver Donkey, by Sonya Hartnett. A beautiful tale of trust and honesty.
  • Mouse – shy and poor, mice are generally mistreated by other animals and not viewed as very important. They often save the day due to their small size or cleverness.
  • And so on…

Notice how these animals are all common animals found around the farmyard or home?

You need to choose a protagonist, or hero, character, then choose a villain. These two characters will help you to develop the plot.

You may also decide later that you need another character or two. But be careful, fables generally have very few characters, so keep it to a minimum.

Check out a great list of amazing fables here.

3. Plan your plot

Now’s the time when you start to create a setting and storyline for your characters to follow.

Rather than just beginning to write, good writers generally have a plan of how the story is going to turn out before they begin writing. That way, they can know where they’re heading in their first paragraph and add little hints and clues as to how it might turn out. This is called “foreshadowing”.

Once you decide your hero, you need to put them in their setting. Having a mouse in a field or in a house is typical, and this works well. As soon as you put an animal in a different setting to the one they normally live in, you probably need to explain why, and this can detract from your original message.

After you put your hero in their setting, let’s focus on the villain.

You need your villain to behave as that animal would normally do in the wild. A fox will try to catch the mouse in order to eat it. Once you have your villain, you know what the problem will be.

For example:

  • mouse lives in a hole in the field
  • Fox wants to catch the mouse and eat it for dinner

Now if your moral is to warn against being out after sun down because it is dangerous, you need the sun to go down in your story, and for a negative consequence to happen to the mouse.

  • mouse forgot to pick up some ants for his stew, so he goes out in search of some after sunset
  • the fox, seeing the mouse out late collecting ants, knows that mice don’t see well in the dark and waits for him outside the mouse’s hole in the field

Maybe you can see where this tale is headed already?

Surely the mouse will be caught by the fox because he can’t see well at night. Or maybe the mouse escapes in a dramatic chase. Either way, the lesson is still the same: being out after dark is dangerous.

4. Write the first line

Once you have a first line, the rest flows on from there, but that doesn’t mean that the first line is easy. In fact, writing the first line can be the hardest bit.

Fables have a very simple style, not too much flair with language, and quite straight to the point.

For your first line, put your protagonist in their environment, and have them doing some kind of action. Take a look at the examples above. The animal is named, then the environment is stated, and then they are either talking or getting ready to drink.

For example: The toad croaked loudly in his pond. Or, the horse trotted happily in its paddock.

5. Finish the first draft

Once the first line is written, hopefully the story unfolds for you.

You’ll need to set the scene a bit further and introduce the problem. Once this is established, you need to resolve the problem for your protagonist.

Be careful to give enough detail that the reader can see the scene that you are describing, but not too much that you lose what action is taking place.

Send your fable in to Word-smiths and have it published in our magazine! Click here to email it in!

Here’s a fable I wrote about swimming in icy water. Enjoy!

The Little Turtle

There was once a little turtle who thought he knew everything. His class was out on an excursion to the forest when they came upon a stream.

“Don’t jump into the stream,” Teacher Turtle said. “You’ll likely drown.”

The little turtle was hot and bothered from the summer heat and wanted to swim. He was sure that he could slip away when the class walked on and come and sit in the shaded water for a while to cool down.

The class walked on and the little turtle slunk away while his teacher was not looking and went back to the stream. The water was cold and wonderful at first, but before the turtle could get used to it, his legs and arms cramped from the extreme cold.

As the little turtle felt that he would breathe his last and his head went underwater, a loud splash erupted next to him. Teacher Turtle had come back to see where the little turtle had got to. He promptly grabbed hold of the little turtle and pulled him out onto the bank.

Moral: Don’t swim in icy cold water.

by Mike Symons, 2021

That’s it! Now you know the secrets to writing great fables.

Check out how to write vignette’s here!

Blogs about writing

Top 7 Words to avoid in your writing

There are some words which should be used only sometimes, or sometimes not at all. No, I’m not talking about swear words, I mean words that bore the reader to tears!

stop written with straws
Stop using these words!

If you’re looking to add detail and engage your readers, make sure to avoid the following words.

Good and bad

‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ are two of the most boring words one can use. They are also very vague and do not describe very accurately. Actually, there are so many meanings for these words that they’re rarely used for accuracy at all.

‘Your essay was good’ – was it in an battle of good versus evil? An epic struggle like Star Wars? Or are you asking whether it behaved itself?

 ‘He is a bad kid’ – is that the boy’s nature? Was he created incorrectly? No, this is just a lazy way to describe the kid’s actions or motives. Instead, try to describe the exact things that the kid has done or what they think which is bad.

Look at the title of this post – I could have easily used the word ‘bad’ to describe the types of words I am talking about. Instead, I used the verb ‘avoid’. This carries all of the connotation of the inferior and vague language I go on to describe.

So, kick this lazy habit and avoid ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in your work.

Got/Gotten/Get

This is clearly breaking the rules of interesting writing. Put simply, got/gotten/get offer very little description of the action taking place in your story.

Take the following examples…

  • “Did you get given your spelling words?”
    Instead, substitute: ‘receive’ for ‘get given’. Did you receive your spellings word?

    Ah, much better.
  • “I got given a spade.”
    This one is just pure yukky. Substitute: ‘was’ for ‘got’. I was given a spade.
  • “Have you gotten a ticket to the concert?”
    You see how vague this is? How was the ticket obtained? Magic? No.
    Substitute: ‘bought’ for ‘gotten’. Have you bought your ticket?

Weird

What do you mean by ‘weird’?

1. The thing is strange to me. I am not used to it.

2. The thing is unacceptable, non-standard.

3. The thing is eerie or supernatural or extra-terrestrial.

Clearly, this word is used in too many ways. You can’t just leave this word dangling and rely on your reader understanding what you mean.

Focus on the features of the thing which make it unusual. Describe these and use key adjectives to show the reader that the thing is weird.

For example:
The creature shifted sideways, it’s legs a tangle, knees buckling unnaturally, its eyes gleaming.

In the above example, I could have said that “the creature looked weird”, but this would be doing an injustice to how horrific and disturbing the creature really is. I picked a couple of key features (legs/knees and eyes) and described its movement. These are the things which make my creature “weird”.

Things

Now here’s one we use all the time. I’ve even used it in this post (see above). So am I breaking my own rules? Maybe.

Let’s check it out.

“The author does some things which are harmful to their case”.

“Things are tough right now.”

The examples above rely on the author going on to describe what they mean by “things”. If the author just leaves it as it is, then it is far too vague.

“Things” is often used to give a general answer without revealing detail. This is handy at times, but you need to be careful about this one in your writing.

In creative writing, and especially for students doing their school work, you should aim for clear description.

Remember: be specific, be accurate.

So, hopefully you have “gotten” some “good” rules for avoiding “bad” language in your “weird” writing and “things”.

Learn how to write a short autobiographical story here… How to Write a Vignette

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