15 Tips to Defeat Writer's Block
Writer's block (or as I like to call it: Inspiration Constipation) is a demon every writer has encountered. You get comfy at your writing space, have your beverage of choice close at hand, and surround yourself with inspiring music, and... nothing. Your brain is empty. But you have deadlines to meet, so staring at a blank screen isn't going to cut it.
Luckily, there are relatively simple things you can do to overcome the dreaded Block. Let's start with the most difficult:
1. Disconnect. This one is the most important, and can be the hardest to do. Hide your phone in the other room, put your laptop on airplane mode, or ditch it altogether and use a notebook—whatever it takes to keep you off of social media. It's the Kryptonite of productivity.
2. Write somewhere else. A change of scenery can do wonders if you're stuck in your story (or at the very least, forces you to go outside.) Go get a cuppa at your favorite coffee shop or find a quiet corner at your local library. If it's nice out, grab a notebook and write outside. If it's not nice out, find the biggest window in your home and write in front of that. Rain and snow make beautiful backgrounds to creativity.
3. Skip to a new scene. If the scene you're working on just isn't working, skip it. There are no rules that say you have to write your story in order. Go ahead and write the ending first if you want to, or skip it completely and move on to the sequel. Getting those scenes down might spark an idea for the part you skipped, but most importantly: it keeps you writing.
4. Write a fluff scene. Not every scene of your draft will make it to the finished product, and that's okay. Write a scene you have no intention of including. It can be a cute fluff scene between two characters who never share screen time in your story, or an infodump on a side character's childhood, or a conversation between yourself and your main character. Knowing you won't be including it in the final version can free you from the pressure of it having to be "good", and then who knows what you'll come up with?
5. Play the soundtrack from your favorite video game while you write. The background music for many video games is designed to keep you focused and an energized, so use it to your advantage!
6. Make a storyboard. If you're absolutely at a loss for all ideas, turn your wifi back on and make a storyboard on Pinterest. Search for settings in your story, people who look like your characters, or clothing they might wear, and pin them for reference. Pro tip: give yourself a time limit so you don't spend the entire day doing research.
7. Take an Idea Walk. Yes, this is totally stolen from New Girl, but only because it works! If staring at your computer screen isn't working, then take a break from it. Go for a walk, even if it's just to do a few laps through or around your house. If walking isn't an option, search YouTube for a 15 minute yoga routine. The idea is to get up and moving, and then return to your story after your mind has had a chance to focus on something else.
8. Imagine an interview. Do you dream of discussing your novel on Oprah one day? Imagine it. What would she ask you, and what would you answer? How would you describe your story to an audience of adoring fans? What makes your story great? Once you have your answers, focus on those things in your writing. After all, Oprah can't interview you if you never get your story written! Alternately, you can imagine an interview between yourself and your characters. Ask them what they want, and what they're doing to get it. Let your story follow their answers.
9. Consider your favorite tropes. Yes, tropes can be overused, but that's usually because so many people love them. What are your favorite tropes? Can you tweak them to work in your problematic scene? I love it when characters have inside jokes, so when I get stuck I write scenes explaining how those inside jokes came to be. Some of them are fluff scenes that I'll never include, and some of them I've been able to work into the story—and my beta readers often say those are their favorite parts of the book. Write what you enjoy, and your readers will likely enjoy it as well.
10. Go back to (or figure out) your MIT. MIT is a term I use in my classroom, and it has helped me focus on the point of my lessons as well as my writing. It stands for Most Important Thing. This can be the MIT for your entire story, the MIT for a specific character, or the MIT for your current scene. What one thing has to happen? Everything in your scene should work toward fulfilling it.
11. Sketch a scene. It doesn't matter if it's one you've written or one you plan to write, or if you draw it as a single picture or a page of comic book panels. Transferring your ideas from words into images can help you envision the details that might be escaping you. Stick figures work just as well here, but really focus on the details you want to include in that particular scene.
12. Chore Consequences. I leave this until I'm desperate, but it's definitely effective. Just give yourself a goal to reach, and then assign a chore as a consequence. My husband usually does the dishes because I hate them with all of my hate, so when I need that extra boost of motivation I tell him that if I don't reach my goal in a predetermined amount of time, I will do to the dishes for the day. Make sure you tell someone your goal and consequence so they can hold you accountable, and watch your productivity double.
13. Take a break. Sometimes, it isn't worth giving yourself a headache trying to finish a scene. Get up, take a shower, go to the grocery story, watch a movie—give yourself permission to do something else, and don't think about your story. Let it percolate in the background until you're ready to return.
14. Take an idea dare. This is something I love about the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. On their website, they have button which will generate random ideas and dares to work into your story. Some of them are silly (include a dog who steals underwear) and some are not (reveal your protagonist's one phobia), but they're great when you're stuck. If you don't have access to the YWP website, just search "story ideas" or "writing prompts" until you find one you like.
15. Take inspiration from your favorite song. Song lyrics can do amazing things for your inspiration. Think about a song that has stuck with you and write a scene based on a line or verse. I once wrote a short story based entirely on the line "but then your hand takes mine/thank God I found you in time" from Paul Simon's song "Love and Hard Times." It made my roommate cry.
Bonus tip: Carry a notebook. I know many writers do this already, but if you aren't carrying a notebook with you make sure you buy one to keep in your purse, backpack, car, or even pocket. Keeping notes in your phone also works, but there's something that feels so good about flipping through physical pages filled with your ideas. Jot down the random lines of dialogue you overhear while waiting for the bus, or scribble a description of your history professor. You never know what it might inspire down the road.
These are just a few tips to help defeat Inspiration Constipation. What do you do to help against writer's block? Leave a note in the comments!