If there’s one thing that has wordsmiths quaking in their boots, authors pulling at their hair, and scribblers snapping off pencil nibs, it’s the dreaded writer’s block.
It hits us all, at times. And that’s OK — there are ways to bust through it. While you’ve probably heard advice like “take a walk” or “build a writing routine,” sometimes we need something a little more creative to get the words flowing.
Next time you feel stuck, try one of these six tips:
1. Leave your computer behind
Busting through writer’s block can be as simple as switching up your writing tool. Computers come with distractions, like the internet, games, and pesky notifications. You have a few options here. If you like to go old-school, grab a paper and pen, then write, outline, draw your story arc, or doodle — just keep that pen ink-side down for at least 15 minutes.
Alternatively, you could try something like an AlphaSmart word processor, a portable, battery-powered keyboard that lets you type as much as you want — without other distractions. This is a fantastic choice for those who get sidetracked easily or have a tendency to get sucked into self-editing instead of writing. Bonus: You can plug it into your computer and easily transfer over everything you’ve written when you’re ready to edit.
2. Spend some time not writing
This might sound counterintuitive, but hear us out. If you’re lacking inspiration, taking a few minutes to intentionally do something different but related can be a game-changer. This could mean creating an inspiration board on Pinterest, researching similar projects that could prompt new ideas for your own work, reading a few pages of a book on writing, or sketching a mindmap of all the topics you want to write about. You could even get out a sketchbook and draw, say, the room your scene is going to be set in and where your characters are standing in relation to each other.
If you test this out, be sure to set a time limit. Around 15-30 minutes is a good place to start. Once your timer is set, dive in and have fun (without feeling guilty about time spent “not writing”). When the timer goes off, use that newfound inspiration and get back to it.
3. Experiment with a character exercise
If you’re working on a story and feeling a bit lost in the weeds, you might need to change your viewpoint. Spend a few minutes doing a character experiment: Write something (a journal entry, a chapter, a scene) from the perspective of your antagonist or another secondary character. What’s their view of your protagonist? What’s their version of the story that’s playing out? How did they end up in this situation?
Not only is a character exercise a fun and low pressure way to gain a deeper understanding of both the second character and your protagonist, it can also trigger new ideas for story development and conflict.
While this recommendation is targeted primarily at fiction writers, you can still take the idea and apply it if you do something different. This is all about shifting your perspective and seeing your work in a new light. You could try writing purposefully bad copy and seeing what happens, or imagine you’re someone totally different and jot down what you think they would say.
4. Write the last paragraph first
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is start. We can spend forever typing and deleting and retyping the first sentence until we get it just right.
Skip all this stress by jumping to the end. Write your conclusion first, whether it’s a paragraph, a single sentence, or brackets where you’ve simply noted what’s going to happen — [Insert scene where main character does XYZ, leading to ABC, ending with fireworks].
When you know where you want to end up, backtrack and lay the groundwork to get there.
Just remember: The last paragraph doesn’t need to be perfect. As you start filling in the beginning and middle, you’ll end up refining the end in the process.
5. Try dictating
If you’ve lost your writing mojo, take advantage of dictation and say it all out loud first.
The average person can speak anywhere from 100-150 words per minute. The average typing speed is about 40 words per minute. By dictating, you can likely get more words down “on paper” at a faster rate. There are lots of software programs and apps that can help you do this.
Additionally, getting into the flow of talking about a topic you care about can ensure the most important information makes it on the page while also sparking new ideas. Even if you have to go back and edit, at least you’ll have words there ready and waiting for you.
6. Make it a game
If you’re like us, you thrive on a challenge. When writing feels boring or bland, or you’re struggling to find your flow or stay consistent with your word count, consider upping the stakes a bit. Turning your writing into a game can help you dive in sooner, write faster, and incentivize you to come back for a second round.
You could partner up with a writing buddy and see who hits their word count fastest — loser buys the coffee. Alternatively, you could try one of the many programs out there designed for this specific purpose. 4thewords, for example, lets you slay monsters and embark on quests as you build a daily writing habit. There are also programs that start deleting words if you don’t write fast enough. While not necessarily for the faint of heart, they can certainly help with getting ideas out of your head and onto the paper.
The bottom line
Remember: Writer’s block can hit us all on occasion, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle — there are creative ways to take action. As Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
About the Author: Kelsey Fritts
Kelsey is a writer, editor, anthropologist, and bookworm. She's also the author of two young adult fantasy novels. When she's not out exploring in nature or playing with her ridiculously spoiled dog, you can find Kelsey curled up with a mug of hot cocoa and a novel—likely one by Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, N.K. Jemisin, Margaret Atwood, or Ursula K. Le Guin.