Writer’s Block: What Do You Do?

A short time ago I was asked how I handle writers’ block. I’ve been blessed with never having the true writers’ block when I couldn’t write anything at all. But most writers have times when they get to a spot in their fiction and are unsure how to proceed. I’ve experience these moments more than once.

While writing about sixty completed novels with most of them published, I’ve learned some techniques that work for me, and other novelist have talked about what works for them. Here are some of the ideas we’ve used.

1) Step away from the novel for a few days or longer. Clear your mind. Read a good book or amagazine about fiction writing. Use some writers’ block activities to jump-start your creativity. To find writing prompts of various kinds while you’re on this blog, go down to Category Writing Fiction search box in the right sidebar, and use the search button for these topics – or press the link:

Brainstorming: http://www.gailgaymermartin.com/category/writing-fiction/brainstorming/
Creative Prompts: http://www.gailgaymermartin.com/category/writing-fiction/creative-prompts/
Creativity For Fiction: http://www.gailgaymermartin.com/2008/07/simulate-creativity-exercises/
Sagging Middle: http://www.gailgaymermartin.com/category/writing-fiction/sagging-middle/
Writers Block: http://www.gailgaymermartin.com/category/writing-fiction/writers-block/

While you’re away from your novel, you’ll have a chance to think free, and when you go back, you’ll view it with fresh eyes and that can stimulate new ideas.

2) Try Exercise. This is a way that has worked for me. When I climb on the exercise bike or jump on the treadmill, before long a new idea springs into my mind that leads me to resolve an issue I’d been struggling with. If you like to run or walk, whatever the exercise, allow your mind free rein. Don’t try to think of ideas, just open your mind and ideas will come.

3) Make sure you have a full plot. If you leave on a trip without a map or a destination, you can end up anywhere, and it might not be what you had in mind for our trip. Trips, like fiction, need a basic path. Yes allow time for detours and adventures, but don’t get sidetracked and end up in quicksand finding your novel sinking fast. Authors are smart to create a skeleton synopsis. Know the beginning, two or three conflict ideas based on well-developed characters, and an ending. Don’t worry about details. They will come, but with the basic synopsis, the rest will fall into place. If plotting is your problem, review the major plot elements and revise with story. You can find all that information under the topic: plotting.

4) Too much too soon. Sometimes knowing where the story is going can cause a novelist to get there too soon. Many major issues happen too fast and leave no excitement or surprises for the middle and ending of the book. Make decisions about conflicts and issues. Then decide what order they will be best received by readers and assign a location for the plot point to appear – beginning, middle or ending. On this blog you can find good information on the Sagging Middle. Read some ideas which can stimulate creativity and always hold back key information until it must be told. Don’t open the novel with backstory. It only bogs the present moments of the tale.

5) Know your weakness. Most writers have well-developed skills in some areas but lack in others. Identify your weak writing. Look at your work and see how you can enhance those needed skills. Dialogue is often a problem—trite, chitchat, undynamic, or purposeless. All dialogue serves a purpose to move the story forward. Make sure you conversations do this. Scenes also must move the story forward by providing new information or awareness, introducing new characters with a significant purpose, setting up a conflict, anything that adds to the plot. How about description? Visual descriptions not only provide a sense of place but can enhance mood and characterization. Use it wisely. Does your story lack strong emotion? If so, it feels flat. Emotion is what connects with the reader. Bolster it by showing emotion and not telling it.

6) Use Index Cards. You may have a writing program that does this, but I’m hands-on, and I use 3 x 5 cards when I can’t decide how plot points should be introduced or fall into place in my novel. I ask myself numerous questions—what should readers know and see first? What will keep them curious? What should I hold back for later? On index cards I jot down ideas and information I want to have appear in my story—characterization, setting details, plot points, dialogue needed for various issues or revealing information, secrets, conflicts and red herrings (in suspense). Then I sort them, deciding which should be first, what should be held until later, which conflict is the weakest and which shows conflict growth. Conflicts should always go from weakest to strongest. What will make the reader curious and hook them? Knowing this helps me build my novel with greater suspense and effective hooks.

7.) Critique or Writers Groups.  If you are online or meet in person with other writers, try brainstorming ideas. Tell a little about your novel and where you’re stuck.  relate what fills your mind rather than your story. Often when a group of writers get together creative juices begin to stir. Ideas bubble out of no where and as you hear them, jot down the ideas and possibilities you hear.  Even listenng can stimulate your own creative juices, so don’t be afraid to share your frustration with others. Let them help you get passed the blockade and free you to run the race.

Not all techniques will work for you, but try what seems most useful. Make sure to check out the writing block blogs mentioned at the beginning. Try the various writing prompts and simulators I listed. Writer’s block will pass eventually. If nothing more, step away, read a novel, and then return to your writing. You’ll find new ideas blossoming before you know it.

If you have ohter ideas that work for you, please share them in the comments. They will benefit everyone — and the bonus is, you’re name will go into my drawing for a free novel and small prizes which I give away six times a year.


Leave a comment
  1. Jill March 28, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    These are all great tips, Gail. Thank you for sharing the links as well. Often when I get stuck, simply stepping away and curling up with a good book always seems to help.

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    Great post, Gail!

    You may want to fix this typo in your blog post, “If you have ohter ideas that work for you…”. The word “other” is misspelled.

    I’ve been reading your blog today and think all of the advice and resources you have for writers is amazing! Keep up the great work! 🙂

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