8 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

Nat RussoHow-To, Idea Net, Lists, Process, Writing 9 Comments

[Updated September 20, 2018]

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a writer quite like these two words: Writer’s Block. Whether you’ve been writing for 20 days or 20 years, you’re likely to find yourself staring blankly at the computer screen eventually. But, what’s the solution?

Writer's block is a figment of your...uh...

In my writing journey, I’ve come across at least 8 things you can do right now to break through that feeling of emptiness and helplessness.

1. Find A Picture

Until I tried it, I never would have believed how helpful the visual arts could be in stimulating my writing. A year or two ago, I entered a flash fiction contest at the behest of a friend. The contest rules were simple: using a picture as inspiration (provided by the contest), craft a story in 250 words or less. The result was a story titled The Cascade of Talandri (it’s a little on the dark side…just FYI). I didn’t win the contest that year, but I learned an invaluable lesson. Now, when I’m stuck in a particular place in my work-in-progress, I’ll often search for images that evoke the mood or tone I’m trying to set. It doesn’t take long for the creative juices to start flowing again.

2. Free Write

You’ve probably heard this one before, but have you tried it? It can be awkward at first, I know. Just open up a blank document or grab a pen and some paper and just start writing about anything that comes to mind. If nothing’s coming to mind, start describing the objects around you. Attributes are fine, but dig deeper. Describe how the items make you feel. Do the objects spark any memories from your past? Do they remind you of people or places? Where did you get them? Were you with friends or family when you bought them?

The deeper you dig, the more you’ll tap into that creative portion of your mind that allows you to write in the first place. Some aren’t aware of this, but the human memory doesn’t work like a recording device. It’s a creative instrument. When you “recollect” something from your past, you’re actually recreating the memory through association as it comes to you. This is one of the reasons, by the way, that memory isn’t so reliable, but that’s a different story.

3. Skip Ahead

Have you stopped to consider that maybe the problem isn’t that you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write this thing you’re currently writing? Let me explain.

Writer’s minds are rarely linear in nature. Creativity in general is rarely linear. We’re all over the place! Think about it. How many times have you been working on a story, when out of the blue an idea pops into your mind for either a totally different story, or a totally different section of the story you’re currently working on? I’ll bet it happens somewhat frequently. 

And that’s OK.

Is there a scene that you’re absolutely dying to write? Give yourself permission to write it. The “block” may be nothing more than your subconscious telling you to deal with something else instead.

4. Ask “What If?”

Those of you who have followed me for a while will remember me talking about this in the past. “What if” is the most powerful tool in our writer’s toolbox. I wrote an article on a technique called The Idea Net that I think you’ll find helpful. By asking “what if”, you can take an ordinary event that 99% of people encounter on their drive to work, and turn it into an epic fantasy with complex religions and magic systems. I know. I did…in that article I just linked. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) 🙂

5. Brainstorm

Make a list of general concepts or objects. Keep writing down items/concepts as fast as your mind will throw them out. Don’t edit yourself! And don’t judge the words that are coming into your mind! Just keep dutifully recording them, like a court recorder, and get every word down as if someone’s life or freedom depends on it! Do this for about 10 or 15 minutes. When you’re finished, go over the list and see if anything on it sparks your creativity. Here’s the interesting thing: the farther down the list you go, the further into your subconscious you’re digging. It’s possible that the idea isn’t going to come from a single word, but perhaps from a combination of words. The subconscious is a mysterious and powerful thing. Listen to it. Trust it.

6. Step Away

Say what?

You heard me. Sometimes the best way to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem is to step away from it for a time. Remember that “mysterious and powerful” subconscious thingy I was talking about in the previous section? It never rests. It doesn’t need to rest. But you need to rest, because you’re getting in its way! When I was writing Necromancer Awakening, I reached a point where I knew I had to cut about 60k words from the project. For many of you, that may be the length of an entire book! No matter how much I stared at the story, I just couldn’t do it. After two and a half years of working on the project, I simply couldn’t see how I could cut anything else and have the same story I originally wrote. So I stepped away for an extended period of time. When I finally came back to the keyboard, the solution was right in front of me. I wrote an article about the experience.




7. Give Yourself Permission to Suck

It doesn’t matter right now if what you’re writing is good. It matters that you’re writing. When you feel “blocked”, you’re not going to be happy with anything you’re producing. It’s going to be a depressing experience. Just embrace the fact right now that you’re going to suck, and give yourself permission to do so. It’s a freeing experience, trust me. And the more you free yourself from some of those arbitrary psychological shackles we all create for ourselves, the less and less you’ll feel blocked.

8. Write

Uhh…yeah dumbass, that’s what I’m having a hard time doing right now!

Don’t give me any lip. Just do it. The one activity that is absolutely guaranteed to defeat writer’s block is writing. Don’t believe me? Listen to some of these folks. You may have heard of a few of them.

“Don’t be a writer; be writing.” – William Faulkner

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” – Terry Pratchett

“If your wife locks you out of the house, you don’t have a problem with your door.” – Anne Lamott

“I haven’t had writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly.” – Jennifer Egan

“The only reason you can’t write is because you don’t.” – A.A. Patawaran

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain

“My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline.” – Mary Garden

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 9

  1. When I started writing (not that long ago) I thought there was a specific order to it. You know, start at the beginning and don’t stop until the end, that sort of thing. Through listening to other helpful authors, I have discovered a brand new work ethic and it is rejuvenating!
    Basically I have learned that there are no rules. You can write any way you like, and that can be traditional or wacky, last chapter first or any variation that seems right and more importantly, anything that works for you.
    I am extremely grateful for all the advice, and I know I will be a better writer because of all of you..
    Thank you…

    1. Post

      You’re very welcome! Writers minds rarely think in a linear way. Sometimes it can be a great help to write out of sequence!

  2. Love it! I do and suggest all these things. I don’t believe in writer’s block or the muse! It’s an excuse and/or a self-fulfilling prophecy. Keep telling yourself you’re “blocked” and see how far that gets you.

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      I was just listening to “Writing Excuses” podcast today (I’m a few episodes behind), and they covered this very topic! Many times it’s a motivation issue.

  3. Personally, I’m with Julie Ann Dawson, who said, “I’ve always said “Writer’s Block” is a myth. There is no such thing as writer’s block, only writers trying to force something that isn’t ready yet. Sometimes I don’t write for weeks. And then all of the sudden I’ll get a rush of inspiration and you can’t drag me away from my notebook. But I don’t stress out if I don’t hit some arbitrary word count each day or if I go a few days without writing something.”

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      That’s exactly how I approach it. I’ve never set a word count quota for myself. I often go days, sometimes as much as two weeks, without writing a single word of fiction. Then, out of nowhere, 3000 words will pour out of me in a single sitting. I’ve learned not to question it (or worry about it).

  4. that’s very true. The most two effective points are 2. Free Write and 8. Write, I think. the quotes you shared at the end are very nice too, think I’m going to share this with friends. 🙂

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  5. Pingback: Five Links Friday 5/22/15 | Write Good Books

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