Updated: Nov 13, 2019
It's every writer's arch-enemy and worst nightmare. Here's how I combat it.
I'm lucky, in that I don't suffer writer's block often. I can sit down and write a story from start-to-finish because the outline is usually right there in my head--I just have to put words to it.
But I had a slight case of it yesterday--or at least a case of what you might call writer's sludge. Every sentence came slowly, as if I were trying to drag it out of a pool of quicksand. I wrote less than 500 words yesterday while working on a novel, when my average is 2,000-3,000, depending on what else is on my to-do list for the day.
It got me thinking about what I do when the words just won't come. And I came up with three methods, that, while they might not always be a magical solution, can certainly get the creative juices flowing again.
RE-READ WHAT'S ALREADY IN FRONT OF YOU
In the case of a project that you're already mid-way through, go back and re-read what you've already written, from the beginning if necessary.
Yes, you've probably already read through it a section at a time to edit and proofread, but do it again. Not only will you catch mistakes you missed the first seventeen times (and there will be some), but reading what already happened in your story often sparks ideas for what could happen next.
Maybe there's a plotpoint you forgot about on which you can elaborate. Chances are, in that case, there are loose ends that need tying up anyway, and readers will notice these.
Re-reading also gives you a chance to "fill out" thin stretches of plot, allowing for more character development and a richer story. It also helps to ensure continuity of tone, and that what you add flows well and makes sense with the rest of the narrative.
CONSIDER IDEAS THAT MIGHT AT FIRST SEEM RIDICULOUS
Remember that thing teachers always had you do in school, brainstorming? Do it. Throw every idea that pops into your head at the wall, even the ones that sound absurd or seem to have nothing to do with the story you're writing.
Handwrite a list on a piece of scratch paper (include doodles if it helps), or type furiously on a separate document on your computer, if you're like me and can't write fast enough to keep up with your thoughts. You're bound to find a diamond in among all that coal.
Even if you can't use any one idea, parts of multiple ideas might come together to form that lightbulb moment you're desperately searching for. Or maybe one of those seemingly throw-away ideas will begin to morph itself into something usable. Sometimes all you need is a tiny pinprick of a starting point.
UTILIZE WRITING PROMPTS
I used to think these were stupid. Why would I want to write a story someone else thought up?
But writing prompts are often open-ended enough (they're supposed to be, after all) to adapt to what you're already writing or your ideas for a project you're looking to start.
An idea for a book (I call them novel concepts, see what I did there?) that I've been taking notes on occasionally came from planting a seedling in my mind--a random writing prompt--and letting it grow into something big. Something I never would have dreamed up if I hadn't stumbled upon this:
A deserted but relatively undamaged city. A mutated strain of a common virus caused massive human casualties. A pair of keys to a place that was important to you. You have established a relatively safe and secure colony for a group of survivors; now you must defend and strengthen it.
Pretty generic, but writing prompts usually are. And no, I'm not going to tell you where I'm going with it. You'll just have to wait and find out in 700 years when I finally get around to writing it.
Some good writing prompts Twitter accounts to follow:
Or, some great writing prompt websites to check out:
How do you overcome writer's block? Comment below, or message me to pass along some of your own tips!