Overcoming Writer’s Block

Having sat down to write, you might find yourself at a loss for words – literally. Staring at your blank page fails to produce desired results, so eventually your head flops back and you search the ceiling for inspiration’s elusive spark.

Perhaps you have tried the distraction strategy (go for a walk, jump into the pool, mow the lawn). The distraction strategy can work by releasing your concentration and letting your subconscious continue to work at its own pace. You may return to your writing refreshed and inspired. However if you want or need the time to be productive and further your effort towards your goal of finishing the project, then you need another strategy.

Here are several ways to spur productivity.

Getting started. Sometimes beginning the work is the problem. These two suggestions are helpful in overcoming writer’s block at this important step of a project.

1. The first idea is to think like a painter in order to find inspiration. Writing is an art, so learning to think like a painter is not far-fetched. Instead of paint, you are creating with words. Painters look at the things around them differently than most of us. They look at the line, colors, shapes, and moods in everyday objects. They analyze the combination of these factors to see how a particular object is made. Then they use that knowledge as inspiration to create something unique. Sometimes their creation is realistic but other times, their creation retains only one aspect of the original inspiring object, perhaps the color combination or a set of shapes. Use a similar approach to kick start your writing. Examine an object or a scene. What about it interests you? Identify each contributing element that makes it what it is. Then recombine the elements or a part of those elements to create your project.

2. The second idea is to give yourself an assignment. Sometimes the blockage is due to a lack of direction and an undefined timeline. If your writing project is big (like a novel), break it into smaller parts. Then set a goal to complete a section by a certain date. Your assignment might be “Outline the plot by Friday” or “Describe the main characters and their motivations by next Tuesday”. Once the smaller sections are completed, move onto writing larger parts of your project (i.e. “Write Chapter One by Thursday”). You are building your project step-by-step. You can measure your progress and know you are nearing your goal.

Research. I find research works well for getting me past a lack of inspiration. Find a subject in your writing project that could use more detail. For example, if you are writing a novel set in the desert southwest region of the United States, research the types of plants and animals which live there, so you can use the information to accurately describe the environs of your story. Study maps, both street and topographic, to get a firm grasp of the layout of the space. Take a look at satellite imagery on the internet. If it is in the budget, take a trip to the setting and soak up its atmosphere. This approach can be used for any type of writing project. Choose research topics which enrich your work.

Word exercises. Select important words from your text. Use a thesaurus to find synonyms. Study the synonyms for the nuances their use would bring to your work. Try rewriting paragraphs substituting synonyms and see what develops. Perhaps nothing will suit better than your original choice, but maybe the use of a synonym will impart a slightly different flavor to the text and get your creative juices flowing again.

Character play. Take a character from your story and jot down key description words.

For example:
George – thin, in 70’s, glasses, slightly stooped, casual dress, thoughtful, enjoys computers, retired professional photographer

Then start to expand each key description. After you have several short phrases, try writing a descriptive paragraph about the character. This exercise may give you phrases you can import directly into your work. It gives you a clearer description of the character for reference while you develop the rest of the story. You may gain insight concerning how the character would behave in a given situation and how this character could interact with others in your story.

Characters Take Two. Another approach to finding and developing believable characters is to people watch. Chose a site where you can sit and watch people – a museum, the zoo, the bus station, a coffee shop. Use index cards or create a template on your favorite note-taking software and jot down your impressions and descriptions of people you see. Write down detailed descriptions of their physical appearance, clothing, and the way they behave. Label the top of your card with the person’s gender, general age, and type of character they might appear as in one of your works. File these cards according to type of character so you can retrieve them when you need inspiration for a character in your book. You can combine characteristics of the people you see when you create your final character. The details you have recorded will help you craft a believable character for your story.

Outlining to the nth degree. If you are struggling with getting your story to move, then try outlining the story in progressively greater detail. Begin with your general outline of Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Then add layers of detail to each section. Some writers find working backwards from the conclusion helps them tie everything together. Others start with the body of the work, because they have particular features they want to ensure appear. And there are writers who feel most comfortable starting at the beginning and working through to the conclusion. Whichever approach you use, drill into the outline until your sentences fill in the portions of the outline. Feel free to move portions of your expanded outline around until you are pleased with the flow. Suddenly, and with great satisfaction, you will realize you have made tremendous strides in your story.

These techniques of working through a period of writer’s block will soon have you filling your blank pages with useful, interesting material which can be incorporated into your literary work. Use these techniques regularly and you may find you never suffer from writer’s block again.

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