Friday, February 19, 2010

Kicking Writer's Block! (Or a Few Laughs from Authors Who Fight It!)

By: Christina Berry, author of The Familiar Stranger

During your writing journey along Lonely-Misunderstood Highway—commonly known to be paved with rejection—your focus is on reaching its intersection with Published Avenue. Occasionally, however, you must pass through the maligned neighborhood of Writers’ Block. In this section of town, people wander aimlessly, circling, blank or frustrated looks on their face.

You might hit this detour at the start of your journey, though most trips start off with great excitement. A full tank of gas, goodie bag, sweet tunes on the radio, and the open road ahead—writing is good!

We’re not yet sick of our traveling companions (characters), the scenery (setting), the purpose of the trip (theme), and we’re not discouraged by how far there is still to go (word count).

Imagine this: you’re cruising along at just over the speed limit, impressed with what good time you’re making, when a pendulous, glaring, red eye of a stoplight appears over the roadway.


Suddenly your companions have gone silent, the setting is stagnant, you’re not sure why or where you are headed where you are, and wherever it is … it’s too far away.

U-turn and go back to your existence as a happy non-writer, clueless as to the pain of Writers’ Block, untouched by literary angst? Never! Try some of these things to get, in the timeless words of Willie Nelson, on the road again.

1)      Pray! This is the answer to everything, so a great place to start, no doubt. 

2)      Play a game with yourself. Sometimes I make a list of my chores, and a list of my word count in 100-word increments. After crossing off a chunk of words, I can start a load of laundry or shower or grab a handful of M&Ms.

3)      Read a great book to inspire you, or a horrible book to remind you that even bad books get finished eventually. Some even are published.

4)      Take a walk. The exercise will stimulate the blood flow to your brain, creating instant genius fixes to whatever plagues your manuscript.

5)       Open up a new document or grab a notebook and let your mind go in a stream of consciousness monologue from one of your characters. After ten minutes, reread what poured on to the screen/page. Is there a new conflict you didn’t even know about before that can be explored? What worries does your character reveal?

6)      Vent. Call a friend.  If you call a fellow writer, you might get a bit of sympathy, but she won’t let you whine for long. Choose a non-writer. You’ll have an aura of mystic creativity, which allows for a longer whine.

7)      I know I already mentioned M&Ms, but snacking is always a good thing. Just make wise choices. Carrots, raisins, and a cup of dry Cinnamon Life might allow you to maintain a better lap for your laptop to rest upon than chocolate, ice cream, and cappuccinos.

8)      Have your character do a normal thing, but with a crazy twist. I thought my daughter was building a snowman after the last good accumulation of white stuff. She called me out a few hours later to show off her snowseal, complete with ball on its nose. Those little details, if you’ve stuck in a needed scene that’s been done too many times before, could get your story moving again.

9)  Grab the newspaper. Find the craziest story, then work some aspect of it into your novel. The fresh direction should give you a “novel” wind.

10)   Introduce a new character and see how the dynamic of the novel shifts.

11)  Skip ahead a few chapters, see what’s going on, then go back and connect the dots.

12)  Ask yourself, “If I don’t want to write this, is it because it’s boring and I know nobody wants to read it?” Maybe it’s a scene that can be cut.

(These final two are courtesy of Stephen Bly’s keynotes during the 2008 OCW Summer Conference)

13)  Put some characters together and write only the conversation. NO actions, or dialogue tags, or description—only conversation. Go back and fill in the blanks.

14)   My favorite piece of Steve’s advice? If the scene is dragging, or you seem to be riding a dead horse, shoot somebody. This is especially plot-changing in gentle women’s fiction and Amish.

I hope these strategies work for you. Do me a favor, will you? Give me a little wave when you zoom past and I’m still stuck wandering the block?

Read more from Christina and her fiction novel, The Familiar Stranger, at her blog,


  1. Great tips! Favorite one is the one about the M&M's:) Okay, so will keep it healthy with just a sprinkling of chocolate.
    Happy weekend!

  2. Great tips! I especially liked the "let your character do something normal with a twist." Now I have to go and write something--thanks for the spark of inspiration!

  3. You had me chuckling. I liked number 6. Call a non-writing friend to whine to, getting more mileage out of it.
    I also loved the snow seal. :)

  4. Great! My newest trick is to write on my phone/PDA thingy. It feels like texting, not writing, and is therefore easier. Weird huh, but it's working - I had a short story published this month, and three others completed :)

  5. Thanks for sharing all your ideas! Here's one I have tried: buy an old typewriter at a yardsale. It gives me a change of pace that sometimes sparks me to write better. :)

  6. Thank you for this humorous look at a non-humorous subject. While I'm not in full-fledged writer's block, my engine is sputtering. I've been applying idea #1 and plan to put several others in motion. :)



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