17 Cures for Writer’s Block

Writer’s block has various causes, and it
can be helpful to self-diagnose the root of the problem. Do you have perfection paralysis, where you
worry about how much your first draft sucks or about ruining a good idea? Or do you suffer from foggy vision, in that
you’re uncertain what happens next in the story, or how in the world it’s all going
to fit together in the end? Maybe the problem is simply boredom—you’ve
lost that passion, that spark you once felt, and now the project feels like a chore. Whatever the cause, you can attempt to cure
yourself of writer’s block by trying out different antidotes. One: Read other people’s stuff. Go out and get your hands on a book or short
story you’ve been dying to consume, especially if it’s by an author you admire. Pick up childhood favorites you haven’t
read in decades. Spend time browsing books, and read first
pages until one snags your attention, then gobble the whole thing down in a week or less. If you’re looking for an ego boost, choose
an easy read that you know is going to be a completely cliché, cookie cutter book;
these are the types of stories that will make you go, “Hey, I can do better than that.” You might also explore non-fiction books—psychology,
science, history, memoir. Once you’ve chosen your reading material,
highlight or take pictures of quotes that stand out to you. Then, after you arrive at the last page, write
a review for yourself. With fiction, think about what the writer
did well and what they didn’t, and list examples from the book to prove your point. If it was a bad book, how would you make it a good one? What strategies will you pursue or avoid in
your own writing based on what this particular novel has taught you? With nonfiction, you can list facts you learned
or muse about the questions the book raised. How might you incorporate those types of ideas
into your work in progress? Reading is the ultimate panacea because it
provides guidance and inspiration. Two: Read your own stuff. Look at an early chapter of your novel or
a draft of a short story that you’re proud of. Read it slow. Soak it in. Fall in love with yourself. Afterwards, give yourself a pat on the back
and say, “Dang, look how much I’ve already written. If my past self can do it, then my present
self can too.” If the writing sucks and you hate it, think
about how you could improve that particular scene or story. Save the old draft, make a new copy, and revise
it in one sitting or just add detailed notes for future revision. Then move on to write a paragraph of new material,
using the confidence you’ve gained from your past self. Three: Imitate your heroes. Read a few pages from a writer whose work
is similar to yours. If you’re struggling to write an action
sequence, find one in their books. Analyze how they structure the scene. Then, write an action scene for your story
as if you are that author. Wear their style like a well-fitted jacket. You can find more detail about this technique
in my Echo Exercises video. Four: Write in pieces. My brain dislikes writing in sequential order,
and I’ll often braindump entire dialogue exchanges and descriptions from random parts
of the story into my notes. These are usually the juicy bits: tense conversations,
cool action scenes, emotional reveals. I keep each of these dangling scenes in a
document separate from my chronological manuscript, until I get to that point in the story, where
I can then paste it into its appropriate slot. If I write Chapter 16 before Chapter 11, I
know I’ll have to bridge those parts, but it doesn’t feel as daunting because I have
both a starting point and a destination—it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks. I use this technique on a paragraph-to-paragraph
basis as well. I’ll write the opening of the scene and
the end of it, then jump around, barfing out whatever bits of dialogue and description
come to me first. Then I write the parts that will bridge those
moments into something cohesive. I have a better idea of where the scene is
going because I’ve already written the end. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle: the more
pieces you connect, regardless of where they are, the better you can see the big picture. You might write a random scene and later determine
that it no longer has a place in the story. But oftentimes the kernel of an idea from
these early scene drafts can be recycled and become a pivotal moment in the final draft. Any writing is better than no writing. Take Jodi Picoult’s advice to heart: “You
can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Five: Make a list. This is helpful when you have no idea where
the story is going or the pacing is starting to drag. Open a new document. Write a question you’re struggling to answer,
such as “Why does he decide to participate in the tournament?” or “What would make
this scene more exciting?” Set a timer for 20 minutes, and list ten possible
answers, no matter how stupid or out there they seem. If your question is simply “What happens
next?” be sure to come up with crazy things that would never happen. The sweet mother accidentally kills her daughter;
the main character cuts his own finger off, on purpose. This exercise will help you move beyond the
obvious paths and travel down one that makes you want to know more. Six: Summarize. Just thinking about your story is like a hamster
running on a wheel, treading the same path over and over. Your ideas need to leave your head in order
to go anywhere. Say you have only a vague idea of what needs
to happen in a particular chapter. For example, the protagonist accidentally
eavesdrops on his best friend and discovers that he’s in cahoots with the villain. Expand on that summary. Write the play-by-play, as if you’re describing
a scene from a movie, but include the character’s emotions too. I’ve provided an example in the video description. I always discover new details as I’m writing
the summary that would have never occurred to me with the thoughts floating around in
my head. The key is to summarize the scene into something
that can be visualized—then it’s just a matter of translating that outline into
description and dialogue. Seven: Surprise yourself. This is for when you’ve lost your passion
for your work in progress. What discovery would make you view one of
your characters in a new light? For example, would you be surprised to learn
that a religious figure was once an atheist? Maybe they reveal that in a conversation. Does one character harbor an unexpected crush
for another? Show how their behavior changes when that
person is in the room. Use this new information to keep things interesting
and move the story forward. Find ways to get immersed in your world again,
too. Regardless of genre, you could create an odd
tradition specific to the setting or characters. Add an event that shakes the community to
its core, like the death of someone important who meant different things to different people. If you need to write an interaction between
two characters but you’re stagnating, add a third character or change the players involved
in the scene and see if that makes you write more. If you have two lovers who are married to
different partners and they’re meeting for a tryst, shove their nosy neighbor into the
mix to add humor and conflict. Or try changing the setting—instead of a
bedroom, they could be trying to have smexy times in a cemetery and it’s really not
working out. Give yourself something to look forward to
writing, especially in terms of conflict between characters. Eight: Talk to other writers about your writing. Describing your story problem to someone else
forces you to mentally organize your ideas, and with organization comes clarity. A good critique partner will provide honest
and detailed feedback. They’ll help you see what you’re doing
well and what you need to work harder on. When asking for feedback, be sure to ask specific
questions about your concerns: How can I improve the believability of the plot? How can I make the protagonist more likable? What do you think is going to happen next
in the story? In addition, other writers may provide suggestions
that you would’ve never come up with by yourself, and those ideas can lead the story
in new, exciting directions. Nine: Get organized. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the number
of possibilities and edits I need to make. That’s when I know it’s time to declutter. Use an organizational tool like One Note or
Scrivener to create different “compartments” for each scene, as well as for each character
or worldbuilding element. Keep a log of changes you plan to make for
each chapter so that you can reference it later. Whenever I organize my notes, I inevitably
add to them and accidentally write snippets of scenes in the process. Ten: Research relevant topics. Most writers tend to fall down a rabbit hole
while trying to Google the best way to dispose of a body or what have you. This is a form of procrastination. However, every so often, give into the urge. Set a timer for two hours. Open as many tabs as your browser can handle
and start a fresh document . Summarize the most useful information in bullet points. After you’ve compiled all your notes, organize
them by subtopic. Say you have a character who’s on the verge
of starvation. You might research the physical effects, the
mental effects, and personal accounts. You would use those subtopics to organize
your notes. Afterwards, you can write a passage from the
lens of your character using those details you’ve uncovered. Starvation often causes hallucinations, for
instance, so what would this character in particular hallucinate about? Use targeted research as the jumping-off point
for writing a scene. Eleven: Reflect. Journal about what you’re stuck on. What do you love about your work in progress
and what’s bothering you? Talk yourself through the problem. You can also identify your strengths and weaknesses
as a writer. What parts of the writing process do you want
to get better at, and what steps can you take to improve? Maybe you struggle with setting descriptions. Challenge yourself to add more sensory details
to your next scene. Focus on that one aspect during the draft,
then go back and edit with other elements in mind. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer
amount of STUFF we have to keep in mind while writing; we have to ensure the characters
are consistent, the dialogue sounds realistic, the conflict is interesting, and a thousand
other things. So, narrow it down, and choose one aspect
to focus on. Write scenes that utilize your strengths too. If you’re good at writing romance, jump
into a kissing scene between characters, even if it doesn’t happen until later in the
story. Don’t worry about whether or not it will
make it into the final draft. Just write. Twelve: Change your environment. Writing somewhere else can signal to your
brain, “Okay, this place is a writing space. Get to work.” You could try your local library, a park bench,
or university study spaces. Libraries are my favorite because you’re
surrounded by books made by people who also once agonized over writing a sentence. Let yourself be a cliché and hang out at
Panera, Starbucks, or Barnes & Noble. Sometimes even just writing in another room
of the house will help your concentration. Pretend there’s been a power outage and
write by candlelight in your bathtub. If you don’t want to lose the freedom to
write in your underwear, you can change your virtual environment instead. Make the font size huge so that you feel like
you’re writing more pages, or super small so you don’t keep re-reading it. Change the font style to match the mood of
the story, whether it’s Book Antiqua or Calibri. Write with pencil and paper instead of a keyboard. Draw your attention to the act of writing
by shaking things up. Thirteen: Start a new project. If you’re feeling truly burned out, give
yourself permission to explore another idea you’ve been dying to write. Develop an outline for a new novel in a different
genre from the one you’re working on. Draft a 4,000-word short story and polish
it until it shines. Write a 50-word story and submit it to microfiction
sites like… 50-Word Stories. Prove to yourself that you can finish something,
and never doubt your mind’s capacity for creativity. Fourteen: Use music to set the mood. Choose one song to play on repeat that evokes
the emotions you’re looking to write in a particular scene. Let the images play through your mind, jot
down ideas, then draft the scene you’ve envisioned. For a fun, adrenaline-filled action scene,
you might choose “He’s a Pirate” from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. While writing a bittersweet goodbye scene,
I listened to “Happy” by Marina and the Diamonds on a loop. Try not to distract yourself by skipping through
your music library; keep your focus on the writing and the mood you’re trying to evoke. Fifteen: Refresh. You know how your brain sometimes starts going
crazy with ideas at super inconvenient times, such as right before you go to sleep? Replicate that effect by letting your brain
relax. Free your mind from a computer screen and
let your thoughts flow where they may. Go for a run or a hike, play your favorite
sport—anything that gets you heart racing and distracts you. Wear yourself out, then take a long shower
or bath. Meditate. Clean your closet or your bookshelf or your
car, something that puts you in a productive mood. Refresh and start your next writing encounter
with a clean slate. Sixteen: Live life. Stories are inspired by the real world—our
experiences, our emotions, the people around us. So go out and do things. Take a look at your local event calendar. Learn about mushrooms on a guided hike through
a local park. Take a carpentry class. Visit art exhibits or listen to live music
that’s not normally your cup of tea. Volunteer and meet new people. Take a day trip somewhere and try out the
local attractions and restaurants. Afterwards, you can journal about the experience
in a free verse poem. Capture the sensory details and feelings of
the experience so that you can channel those emotions into a future story. Seventeen: This. Exactly what you’re doing right now. Books, blogs, podcasts, and videos about writing
can help you view the process in a different light. When looking for advice, target the specific
problem you’re having. If you’re worried your character is flat,
find resources on how to create three-dimensional protagonists. If you’re new to writing in first person,
learn the pros and cons. There are countless resources out there, but
a few of my favorites are the book Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, the Fiction University
blog run by Janice Hardy, and the Writing Excuses podcast. For more tips on overcoming writer’s block,
Chris Mandeville’s “52 Ways to Get Unstuck” contains a wide range of ideas. As novelist Erica Jong says, “All writing
problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being
judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll
never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will
never be shown to anyone.” In other words, focus on generating ideas,
not judging them. When faced with writer’s block, experiment
and find what cures work best for you. Some might be duds and others, well, they
might just be magic. I’ll leave you with one more of my favorite
quotes about writing: “Remember that you can find the most inspiring
teachers in every book you love. Remember that you can be awash in doubt and
fear and still write. Remember that the way out of doubt and fear
is through them, one word after another.” I’d love to hear about your current project
in the comments. Whatever you do, keep writing.

33 thoughts on “17 Cures for Writer’s Block

  1. The bit of advice at around the 4 minute mark about jumping around when you write and connecting it later is definitely true for my process too. I keep separate documents for each scene and sort them by which character's pov it's from and which act it takes place in. This lets me see my progress at a glance and makes it easier to just write whatever scenes come to me without worrying about the order they go in.

  2. I get stuck in a loop of re-reading and rewriting inevitably changing the scenes that follow etc. This causes trouble with actually progressing my story. Any tips of how not to fall prey to myself?

  3. Your videos should get more attention, you have great content! I would love a podcast from you. Btw what's your opinion on starting with short stories against going all in with a full novel?
    Maybe you can use calm music on the background, kind of like how Ted-Ed's channel does 🙂

  4. I have been stuck on the same short story for about three months now. I'm hoping that using some of the tactics in this video will help me

  5. My tip to stop my writer's block is to write and edit on different days because, if I did it on the same day, I'd be second-guessing and undermining my creativity. Another thing I do is tell myself that I just need to have ideas and then I can judge them later. In the end, even though I have way more bad or non-helpful ideas, I have enough remaining good ideas.

  6. I'm writing a fantasy novel that might be considered YA. I'm currently working on my fifth draft of the story, and there will three more to come right this one.

  7. My current project is a fantasy short story, so I use the music method with lots of German & Russian music (both old and new) so that I can capture lots of feelings.

  8. I'd begun writing in august, but soon left it… now I reread it n realised its not at all what I initially considered it to be!!! I'll either polish it, as you said, or write something new… 😐😐

  9. I'm working on what started as a simple friendly challenge to complete NaNoWriMo last year, and has become a demon that haunts my thoughts and demands an entire SAGA to put to page before it will let me rest. I hope to finish the first draft of the first book this year. ^.^;

  10. I use music from epic movies and video games to set my mood. With the right music, the story flows.

  11. I appreciate the variety of suggestions provided! I'm not the most complex of thinkers, but I can't help thinking there's got to be something in here for just about anyone. There were a few things in here I've made use of to decent effect. Though this video is a bit on the long side, I think it would've been beneficial to include why 10 items should be listed, like you did in… one of your other videos. I think it's more important to know why something is than what something is because every rule has exceptions, and you can play around with it more if you understand the underlying reason.

    I've been in a deep depression for years, and it's sapped my will to do pretty much anything. The thought that maybe writing is just something that I used to do has been growing ever louder in my mind. A couple weeks ago, though, I stumbled across a song I forgot I'd attached to my favorite character in my "current" project. That rekindled an ember of interest. I started dredging up old ideas and details. I re-read some old writing. Eventually I started generating new material, filling in details I'd left unfinished or unanswered the last time I found myself interacting with this stuff. I started branching out to other characters, other parts of the timeline, and even world building. I wrote new scenes to test out new characters, writing more than I think I have in years–not that the bar is high. Maybe I'm just particularly tired lately, but I feel like this manic little phase is waning. I'm not sure if I care enough to fight for its continuation. Maybe so since I'm telling you this?

    My "current" project has a working title of "War for the Sun." It's an epic fantasy following aging heroes coming out of their prime and ushering in the next generation. With the wounds of a crippling war between nations still mending, war again rears its head and promises cataclysmic change among mortals and immortals alike. The God of Forgiveness is tired, weak, and must find a replacement before it's too late. As she tests her chosen successor, another endeavors to usurp her mantle and claim what he believes is his rightful place among the gods.

    There came a point where my ideas and skills had so far surpassed where they were when writing the majority of the first book that I just broke down and started rewriting the whole thing. Unfortunately The Great Rewriting stalled out when I got to a point where I couldn't make a decision about something. Maybe I'll try one of your suggestions here to figure it out.

  12. Thank you for the tips.I'm writing about a woman observing the life of an autistic prizefighter during a hostage situation in a semi-dystopic universe. The woman broadens her view of her local society as the prizefighter adjusts to the dilemmas of rescuing her grandson.

  13. I'm currently writing a story about north and south korea. She's a trainee to become a bodyguard for the president of south korea and her fathers a diplomat. One day she follows her father to the boarder for a political meeting. There she meet the son of a north korean diplomat. The two fall in love and all hell breaks lose

  14. I'm thinking of a fantasy series. I have a slight idea of what I want, but when you mentioned how ideas come when you need to sleep, that hit me right between the eyes. Unless I learn to write in my sleep, I fear I won't get very far.

  15. Hm, somehow I don't really find myself in this anywhere…
    I mean, I have been writing for the amazing length of time of ten years or so… sarcasm and I have found ways to work around my writer's block most of the time.
    Sometimes my disorder messes things up, but that's not really what I'm thinking about…

    I'm the kind of person who'll plan ahead a lot.
    Like, while I'm writing chapter 37 of a story, I can already tell you what the second child's job will be, when the first one isn't even born yet. He'll be a soldier, btw.

    I also have an effective way of keeping my ideas and thoughts organized. I don't actually write down notes or anything, unless I'm 90% certain I'll forget them otherwise (things like specific scenes that I want to include in that exact form).
    By doing that I keep my mind busy, and I also have a way to sort out less interesting ideas. Because my mind will hold onto ideas that are interesting, that need re-thinking or have depths that need to be explored, while shallow flukes will just come and go.

    What I struggle with, despite all that, is often the execution of something.
    I'll know exactly what needs to happen, but my fingers just won't move to write a thing.
    I'm a very mood-dependent person… I try to set the mood with music most of the time, but sometimes that won't work either.
    Sometimes I'll just be stuck…

    I then like to talk to a good friend, or fellow author, and ask them to role play the scene with me. It's often easy to get stuck in one's own mind, so inviting somebody else inside can help…
    Sadly even then, I'm often stuck…

  16. There is one way. Write. It's work. If you're waiting for inspiration or have some romantic idea of what writing is, don't bother writing. It's work. You punch in you punch out then you read, repeat.

  17. Thanks for writing this piece….been writing with a mock up of all my main characters with their own twitter accounts… and quite frankly feel semi Skizo… it's like method acting via typing…. gud thing I'm drawing the Profile pictures ass well. well.. ( believe it or not the drawing is intact my down time to absorb the characters.. and really illustrate the emotions …… Pictures can relay 100 words.. .. heheheh……
    check out the project…
    #okomhet on twitter…..


  18. My tip to get rid of writers' block is to think of how great the outcome will be and how close I am to finishing, I imagine the story and then I let it out on pages. I also recommend listening to upbeat music to get your creativity working, for me, I find it difficult to get creativity out when I listen to slow music because it dulls my creativity and it tires me. I think it depends on who you are. Although, I do listen to studying music from time to time.

  19. What got me tripped up was going back and forth between 1st POV versus 3rd POV.
    When I started writing, in 1st POV my thoughts flowed and It was excited. Then, I wanted give 3rd POV a try just to see which still works for my story. I realize they both work, but I perfer 1st POV I want the reader to connect with my characters.
    I realized I just need to continue to write, be confident as a new writer, and have fun.

    Rereading my favorite author who writes in 1st POV.

    Thank you so much for this video!

  20. Hey, i have a request – please try to make more videos of 5 to 6 minutes.. it's easy to listen them even while traveling. I appreciate all your video's. I listen to all of them just i found out that i hear on repeat only those which are short ones. Thanks for reading.

  21. I am writing a piece of fiction on the two translators who first got George Orwell's 1984 on the shelves in the USSR. I have used the vidoes to great effect, but I started out as a plotter for a 4000-word short story, and am not a pantser (is that how it's spelled? Or is it Panzer?) moving the story along to something that will certainly have 20000. I am not at 10000. I am concerned about the characters' features, and the setting. I underwrote the setting. I don't know why. Perhaps because I am afraid that few readers have an idea of the physical features of the late USSR or of life in the post-Soviet world. Should I add those details in a subsequent draft, or keep it minimalist. I suppose I am afraid that the overabundance of detail is going to slow the pace of what is ultimately bureaucratic action down.

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