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Unblocking Writer's Block

Question of the day: How do you deal with writer's block?

If I'm struggling to write something, it's almost inevitably for one of two reasons: one) I'm totally burnt (burned?) out, and I can't bring myself to stomach writing and being creative, or two) I haven't given my characters enough to do.

Two very different situations, and two different solutions. For the first, I step away from writing and the computer as much as possible. I know myself well-enough to know that I have a decent work ethic, and if I truly cannot bring myself to get excited and/or motivated to write, I probably need to give myself a break. The slippery part of this is that you have to know yourself too: you have to know that this is just a temporary breather in which you recharge your batteries...not an unending time period in which your motivation dwindles even further. (And I think the latter happens more often than not for a lot of writers.)

For the second, this is more of a craft issue, and for me, it's a fairly easy fix. Books and characters (and writers and their writing) thrive on conflict. Without conflict, a book is (usually) exposition and prose, and whenever I find my manuscript flagging, I find that the best kick in the pants is to throw a major obstacle at my characters. A break-up, a job loss, some sort of emotionally devastating event, etc. If you write this, you are thus forced to write MORE because you have to figure out a way to resolve the problem: how does your character deal with the break-up, what does he or she do, how is his will tested, how does he react, what does he do next? Throwing obstacles at your characters FORCES you out of writer's block because you simply HAVE to put words on the page. And then once you get into the groove, it's much easier to keep capitalizing on that momentum and keep going.

So those are my two tricks. But what about you guys? How do you cope when the big blank void strikes?

Reader Comments (8)

Hi Alison,

I just want to say how much I appreciate your consistency in posting. I know you mentioned that you try to write a few posts in one sitting to stay ahead of the game and I think that takes a great amount of dedication. For what it's worth, I just wanted to let you know that I really find your comments an inspiration and they help me keep focussed and inspire me to keep making time to write. I've enjoyed your previous books and look forward to the one coming out in 2012!


October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJody Madala

Because I'm more of a planner than a panster, rarely is my problem that I don't know what comes next. Instead it's usually lack of focus. Which usually means I need to turn off the internet and/or change my scenery (coffee shop, library, different room in the house).

This might be helpful too:

October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

I find it helps to take a step back and ask: what's not working? Is it a character? Is it the plot? Do I need a bridge to get from here to there? Taking a walk or going for a run can unblock the mind. If writer's block continues for a prolonged period of time, it's time to assess whether to pull the plug and start on something new.

October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCG Blake

For short term problems, the best medicine for me is to take a walk. I think a lot of people find that when they're away from their desk and probably away even from pencil and paper, that's when they start to get ideas. I find a little extra circulation really helps, although that's less the case if my walk involves dodging traffic and generally trying not to fall or be run over. So the country or a large park is better than the street.

For long-term problems, I can't do much better than Allison's advice. Conflict is what makes stories move and gives them bite. Ideally those conflicts should be inherent to the story, and if so it might just be a question of drawing them out.

Most writers find the middle of a book the hardest to get through. The end is not yet in sight and the freshness of a new beginning is gone. Not surprisingly it's often where readers struggle too, for much the same reason. The key to tackling that problem very often lies in the structure of your story. That's when, typically, the main character undergoes the greatest transformation, giving you, in effect, a new beginning of sorts. (A very big generalization, I know...)

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Sington

Just two weeks ago, I had problem #1, burn out. I gave myself a few days off, and was energized enough to get right down to work again.

Thanks for sharing your problem #2. Throwing something in the way of your characters is a wonderful idea. I'll keep that one in mind for future.

I'd like to suggest that there is yet another kind of problem, when you can't think of an idea to write about. I found that James Scott Bell has some wonderful suggestion for that problem in his book, Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure. Scott writes about the top twenty ways to get hundreds of plot ideas. The one that sparked the idea for the mystery I'm now writing was "Issues." He says outrage is a great emotion for a writer. I thought about a particular thing that makes me feel outraged and that idea is what drives the plot in my novel.

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJudy G. Burford

The above are all great ideas and would like to add one of my own, namely flicking through some books by writers you admire and reading their prose. I don't quite know why but it always inspires me to get going with my own writing again!

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

I believe it was Hemingway who said he would stop either mid-sentence or mid-paragraph when he was writing so when he sat down the next time he would know exactly how to start back up. Easier said than done.

October 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTurney Duff

that is a very nice post! i really liked it! think the style you used is very approrpiate! thank you for your efforts!

October 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteressay help
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