Monday, April 9, 2012

What do you do when you feel like you have "writer's block"? Or do you ever feel that way?

Some people think writer’s block means that you can’t come up with any ideas at all; other people tend to think of it in terms of being at a loss for what direction to take your ideas. I guess whichever way you look at it, writer’s block means that your creativity, or at least the forward movement of your book, has come to a screeching halt.

Thankfully, even though I don’t always know which direction my story will go or the exact idea I should pursue at the moment, I’ve never really had a problem with coming up with ideas or developing them for the stories I write. Truthfully, I think it’s because I’ve developed a series of questions that help me unlock the direction of the story. Here’s what I’ve come up with to keep the ideas flowing:

1 - Ask yourself what the character would naturally do in that situation, then have him do it, or, if he does something else, show us that there’s a better reason for that unexpected course of action. For example, let’s say your TaeKwonDo expert is walking down a dark alley and is attacked. Naturally, readers will think that he’s going to skillfully fight back. Let him do it. Then afterwards, what would he naturally do? Call the cops? Go home and forget about it? Take the injured guy to the hospital? Whatever you choose has to be natural and believable for that character.

2 - Ask, “How can I make things worse?” Since stories depend on escalating tension, by simply looking for a way to make the struggle deeper, more intimate, or personal, or by finding ways to raise the stakes, you can keep the story going in the right direction. If I were working on that TaeKwonDo story, I would brainstorm ways that I could use the encounter in the alley to escalate the internal and external struggles of the story. That would of course depend on the story’s context, but it might mean our hero ends up winning but angering his assailants fellow gang members who then come after him, or getting in trouble with the law, or anything else that would propel more difficulties into the story that will end up making it harder for our hero to live a normal life or accomplish the goal he has for the story.

3 - Look more carefully at the context. Every week I’ll print out my story from the beginning and read it through asking myself, “What are my readers thinking, hoping for, wondering about, or worrying about at this moment of the story?” Then I try to keep the promises I’ve made earlier in the story by giving readers what they want or something better.

I also write in different locations, write in different states of mind (perhaps getting up at three in the morning and writing for four hours), go for a walk or a run, take naps, see matinees, or play a game with my family. All of these things jar my mind loose from the story and help me to take a step away, then later I can dive back in the story with a fresh perspective.


  1. Thanks for a great post! I agree with you that what we call writer's block is usually a challenge about what direction to take next in developing our story. I appreciate your sharing key questions to ask in order to keep the story flowing. Good stuff! :)


    MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA

  2. Absolutely love this blog. Great advice that I will be applying to my writing habits.

  3. Great post! I've been on a sort of deadline and have found all of your ideas to work!

  4. I like these ideas, and I enjoyed your article in Writer's Digest last month.

    When I'm stumped I wonder if that's my way of sorting through what's not working. I'll add these questions to my armory of tools.

    How do you feel about critique groups?

  5. Those a great guides to help come up with ideas.

    Since you don't outline, how thoroughly do you plan out your characters and story before you begin the first draft? Do you do much more than superficially edit as you go?