11 August 2016

Crowdsourcing Writer's Block

by Brian Thornton

So if you've spent any time trying to get thoughts down on paper, you eventually run into the bane of productive writers from time immemorial.

I'm talking about "Writer's Block."
Not THIS type of Writer's Block.

Every artist has suffered from creative dry spells. For some, it's because of a lack of inspiration. For others, it's a lack of time. For others, it's a lack of headspace.

I have a four year-old and a mortgage. I recently suffered from a perfect storm of all of the above, running concurrently.

So I set about trying to get around it. After all, this isn't my first rodeo. I finished my first book in 2003. I published my first book (not the same book) in 2005. I've published ten more since.

So obviously, I've dealt with this particular daemon before.

But I've found that a child trumps all previous approaches. After all, he didn't ask to be born. And he didn't ask to be plopped in front of a TV screen by himself for hours at a time. I owe him more of a life than that.

So there's the scheduling part of that. Thank God I have a spouse who has embarked on her own writing career, and is particularly sensitive to the vicissitudes of this particular affliction. So she has really stepped up in the "helping provide time" department as I navigated the shoals of Writer's Block earlier this year. I owe her. Yet another reason this current book project will be dedicated to her when it sees publication.

But then there's the problem of headspace, and clearing out enough of it to allow your book to continue to set up house in there, along with the requirements of your day-gig (assuming you have one), paying bills, your golf game, you know....Life.

So what to do to get around it all, clear the mechanism and get on with it?

I once heard the great G.M. Ford prescribe a cure for writer's block as something along the lines of "Ass in chair. Write. Repeat."

If you're looking for ways around your writer's block that aren't so completely predicated on sheer force of will, I've compiled a brief list below. Please feel free to add your own tried and true methods in the comments section. This is the kind of thing that can use a good crowd-sourcing!

Here's the list:

1. Change it up. If your current W-I-P isn't singing for you, change the singer. Work on a different project, and see whether the fresh scenery doesn't spark something that can bleed over into the one on which you're currently blocked. And if you don't have anything else you're currently working on, then START ONE.

2. Take a walk. Seriously. Exercise is always a great way to get the creative juices going.

3. Take a walk to a coffeeshop. If you're not getting it done in your current venue, change the venue. A literal change of scenery. If you usually write a coffeeshop, try another coffeeshop. If you're too cheap or too agoraphobic to leave the house (I'm only half-kidding), change the room. Stephen King wrote his first three novels at a tiny desk nestled between the washer and dryer of the laundry room in his double-wide trailer. (Come to think of it, the King example might be another instance of G.M. Ford's whole "ass in chair" dictum.).

4. Jump ahead. If you're stuck on a scene, jump ahead to one you're intending to write later. That frequently shakes something loose.

5. Go back to your outline. Rework it, if need be. If you don't outline, consider outlining. If you consider it and reject it, do the following: go back to the beginning of your W-I-P and reread it, writing either scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter summaries. It should help you get and keep your head back into the story.

Have something to add? A tried and true method for defeating the writer's block goblin? Please share in the Comments section!


  1. Something I have wondered about, but not seen addressed (not that I am that widely read in this area), is that there seems to be more than one kind of writer's block. It makes me wonder if there are different strategies for these different types, too. For instance, sometimes I have no idea what I want to say, or how. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to say and am trying like crazy to say it but the words won't come out right so I can't get anywhere. Sometimes I know what I want to say but I'm afraid to say it (or try to say it) because it feels high-risk (makes me feel vulnerable to editors and/or readers) so I can't get up the courage to try. Sometimes none of the above is true but there just isn't any "oomph" there when I sit down with it. I don't know if this contributes to the conversation, but for what it's worth...

  2. Terrific post, Brian! I have a four year old as well and a day job too, so I understand where you're coming from--and I think these suggestions are exactly right. My trouble is: Even knowing that some of these work, I sometimes forget to do them! So often, I've kept banging my head against the screen (figuratively or not, read that as you want) and then finally give up and head out--only to find halfway along my walk across campus, ideas and approaches begin to clear up. The trick now: Begin to do that walk (and these others) proactively.

    Thanks for the post and good luck with all your writing!

  3. All I know is that I have it, it is bad, and there is far too much noise in my head.

  4. Besides talking a walk, I also have been known to whine, bitch, and moan about it. I also often switch stories. That's why I have like four stories going at the same time, with different tones, etc. That way, if one's not working, the other might...

  5. I'm a big fan of turning to another project and going for walks. Both open the mind and summon the muse.

  6. I use to walk a lot before my mobility issues as it helped clear my head on this as well as other things. I have not found a good substitute.


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