Writers often slam into a story wall. Sometimes they find a way to scale it and continue to run and dodge through the rest of the obstacle course to reach “The End.”
But sometimes, instead of a wall standing in our path, it’s a mountain range that blocks our progress. We’re backed into a corner. Ideas stop coming. Words shrivel up and die on the page before the ink dries. Maybe we don’t know the characters well enough. Somewhere between the lines we’ve lost our passion for the story. Whatever the reason for the block, it’s a real thing (no matter what others might say), and it happens to most writers sooner or later.
Suggestions abound for busting down writing blocks that don’t involve actual writing, such as drawing a map of the story world, designing a book cover, or compiling a playlist. Switching to another writing project keeps creativity flowing but distracts from the piece that caused the crash-and-burn in the first place.
The following tips focus on keeping you on a path through your current work-in-progress—the one that’s actually giving you grief. Most of these will get your brain to shift gears, help stimulate creativity, and cause you to look at your characters and their story from a different angle.
1. Write in long hand. This is the one I turn to first when I’m stuck. It means an extra step in transcribing your work onto a computer later, but it could be just enough of a change to get you back on the path.
2. Write a scene from a different point of view (POV) character. Try one you haven’t used yet or never thought to use at all—a secondary character, a love interest, the antagonist, the protagonist’s dog, the biggest redwood in the forest. This is especially helpful in understanding how another character feels or will react in a situation.
3. Write flashbacks. Here’s a way to dig deeper into your characters, where they come from, and what shaped their lives. Do this for villains as well as heroes.
4. Switch POV style and rewrite a scene or two—first person instead of third, third person instead of first.
5. Write out-of-order. Who says you have to write chronologically or strictly follow an outline? Whether or not you have a scene busting to be written, give it a go no matter where it falls in the storyline.
6. Having trouble deciding where the plot should go? Take inspiration from the Write-Your-Own-Adventure series. Write more than one course of action and follow the results. This also works if you know the end of your story but not how to get there.
7. Write a scene or chapter only in dialogue. This is a great way to practice your skills and get your brain working on advancing the story in a different way.
8. Change from “showing” to “telling” mode. Author Robin LaFevers suggests this switch “allows you to ‘tell’ the story. You can then go back in and convert it to showing/action based scenes later but being able to ‘tell’ helps you keep moving forward.”
9. Apply writing exercises or prompts to your characters or story. One of my favorites: What do your characters carry in their pockets, and why are these things important to them? A variation asks what a character wears, such as jewelry, as a token of remembrance.
10. Write a dream sequence or nightmare in your protagonist’s POV. This might be helpful if a character is wrestling with making the right decision or doesn’t know how to get out of a predicament—the subconscious often knows exactly what to do.
If just one of these suggestions helps blaze a new trail around the mountain, gives you a better understanding of a character, or reveals where the story is going, it will be worth the time spent deviating from the original plan. You might end up with writing that doesn’t fit in your story, but no writing is a waste of time or energy. It’s all part of the journey to “The End.”
What techniques have you used to find a way around a writing block mountain (or through it, if you like goblins)?