April 15, 2014

Writers' Block: What To Do When Creativity Fizzles

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.
During our writers' critique group last night, the subject of getting stuck on a storyline came up several times.  One member brought the beginning of a new novel, provoking a member to ask why we keep seeing new books instead of continuation of the works brought in previously.  The writer's answer?  She knew where the story must go but didn't know how to get there.

This problem can freeze a writer or artist into inaction (just like the sign in the photo with this post); however, this admission prompted a helpful discussion on what we do when this happens to us.  Below are the suggestions our group provided.

  • Ask what if questions.   What if this happened or this or this?  Keep typing your what if questions and answers until you find the next part of your story.
  • Skip to a part you can write.  Write it and come back later to fill in the gap.
  • Start off your day with the idea that you will edit the last two paragraphs of what you wrote the day before.  As you edit, you often will find the words flowing beyond those two paragraphs.
  • Stop mid-sentence when you write.  When you come back the next day, you have to complete the sentence which means you will probably write further.
  • Commit to writing something every day, even if it is a paragraph or a few lines.
  • Set a timer for fifteen minutes and write during that time.

I've probably forgotten several of the suggestions, but I loved how several of our members provided solutions to this writer's dilemma.  This writer, and probably other members of our group, realized the problem was universal, but it doesn't mean you should stop writing.

I'll add a few more that I've heard over time.

  • Pick up something in the same genre and read it.  This will place you in the environment of your writing.
  • Take a walk or drive and open your mind to the world around you.
  • Write part of the back story of your book.
  • Work on world building.  It might not appear in the book, but it's part of your characters' world, so it will help you shape a better story whether or not you use it directly or indirectly.

What advice has worked for you in the past?  Please share it below in the comments section.

10 comments:

Rick said...

I struggle desperately with writer's block, though mostly from mental exhaustion related to my day job.
I find a change of scenery helps. Taking my iPad to a coffee shop or book store, kicking back, and diving into where I left off often gets the creative juices flowing.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Rick, that's another great way to get the process flowing again. I have a few favorite places where I go to do the same thing.

Valerie Norris said...

Thanks for posting this, Barbara! We were spit-balling ideas and you thought to collect them and post them. Wonderful!

Hope they're helpful to many others. Block isn't my problem. Procrastination--you got solutions for that? Other than what I suggested last night--a whip?

Barbara V. Evers said...

I don't know, Valerie, I think a whip is a great idea. But seriously, schedule a set time every day to write is the only one I can come up with at the moment. Anybody else got a suggestion?

Lance C. said...

First, I don't believe in mental funk which affects writers and no one else, so I don't believe in "writer's block" per se. But I do believe in mental funk which can impede any task with an intellectual component.

When I meet a mental funk while writing, I first decide whether to keep butt in chair. If I don't need to, then I set the writing aside and come back to it later after my mind has had a chance to "refresh".

But if I need to keep butt in chair for whatever reason, then I simply shift into stream-of-consciousness mode. In essence, I think with my pen or keyboard, writing out every thought that I have as I talk to myself about the particular part of my story that I am in. It adds a lot of words which have to get taken out later (which is fine since real editing removes more than half the words anyway), but within a couple of minutes it frees the logjam in my head and lets some really good ideas come out.

I've been using this technique only within the past year, but for me the good stuff usually flows within 2-5 minutes after I start, so it's quite efficient as well as effective.

This stream-of-consciousness technique works so well for me that I now use it to write ALL of my initial drafts. In other words, I use this technique to write the entire story or novel from start to finish. What I share with reviewers like writer's groups is then a highly revised and somewhat polished version of that initial draft (meaning much of the obvious stream of consciousness is gone).

Barbara V. Evers said...

Great points, Lance. I'm not a believer in block, either, but I do get the mental funk thanks to interruptions from others when I'm getting ready to write.

David Burnsworth said...


Another motivator that I've recently learned: deadline. It's amazing how that looming date has kept me in the chair and moving forward. Even if it isn't my best work, I've kept the story going. I know I can polish it up during a rewrite session. If you don't have an actual deadline, create one for yourself and work as if it's real.

Barbara V. Evers said...

David, that's why I don't struggle with this too much. I've been dealing with deadlines for business documents for the majority of my career, so I couldn't let a little old block get in the way.

J.E.S. Hays said...

Very good advice - a lot of great ideas that actually work. I've tried nearly all of them at one time or another.

Another trick is to keep a Novel Journal (you could do the same for a short story but you'd have several stories in one journal that way). You write down something every day - about where you want to go with the story, what your mood is, what questions you want to answer - anything at all about your work. You can add to the journal any time, even several times a day if you want to. This is rather like the "stream of consciousness" writing, only this is a journal of your writing journey. Reading over what you're trying to do will often spur you to write.

Barbara V. Evers said...

Another great tip! Thanks. This is one I haven't done but have considered. Guess I better start.