Changes to Help Break Writer's
By Lazette Gifford
Copyright © 2008 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved
Getting stuck on a story is a frustrating experience,
and a sure way to waste time as you sit and stare at the page while
trying to find that next line. Even knowing where you want the story to
go doesn't help. The next words will not translate from your brain to
your fingers. Pretty soon your brain feels like it is going to explode
because the words are in there, but they just can't find their way out.
You give up and walk away from the work in disgust.
If you are lucky, just the act of walking away is all you need to break
through the wall, and in a short time you're back to work. However, for
some people, other changes may help instead.
For this workshop, I'm going to list several sets of
things to try that may get you past the difficult spot. It is likely
that various parts will help you at different times, and that mixing
them up may help you find the perfect answer.
The one thing that is very important, however, is
that you do not stress over being stuck. It happens to everyone, either
in a short term 'stuck on a specific story' or a long term writer's
block. You can, however work your way through it. You just have to
want to, and be willing to try different methods to break through.
I'll start with the easy ones, which are usually the
sorts of things you'll do when you are stuck on a specific story.
Short Term Changes
If you find yourself staring at the screen and the
next lines will not come, try getting up and doing something you usually
don't like to do. Wash the dishes, clean your bedroom, sweep the house,
rake the yard or fold clothes.
This will get you away from the computer and the
story, and set you doing something that does not involve writing.
Writing comes from the subconscious, and sometimes when you consciously
force yourself to try and work, you put up a road block to the
subconscious mind. Try to find repetitive work (sweeping, raking) that
can allow you to zone out on everything. Emptying the brain of
conscious thought opens it up to the subconscious again, and sometimes
that's all you need to let the story slip in again and take off at a
If you do meditation, you already know the benefits
of such an activity. Doing work that requires little conscious thought
can create much the same sort of sate of mind.
This does not include what most people consider the
traditional mind-numbing activity: television watching. Television
fills your head up with vision and sound, voices and other people's
ideas. Sometimes it can give you inspiration, but it really isn't
clearing your brain when you are stuck. It might help as a form of
relaxation and to think about other things. Give it a try, but if you
find yourself watching shows and not getting any farther on the story,
shut off the television and try something else.
Walks are wonderfully relaxing, though, which can
also be a benefit. Be certain you take paper and pen, a PDA or anything
where you can record a few quick words (cell phone, tape recorder,
camera with video ability) because your mind will have the distressing
ability to clear and offer you answers when you are the farthest from
home and any hope of jotting them down.
Take your time and don't try to push. The trick here
is to learn to let go of the conscious push to keep working on the story
and let your writer-brain take over and kick in with what you really
need -- inspiration rather than perspiration.
One other thing that writers often overlook is the
idea of skipping the scene and moving on to the next one. Sometimes a
scene does not become clear until you can see the one that went before.
And sometimes you even find that you were blocked because your
subconscious new that you didn't actually need that scene after all.
If you find that getting blocked on a story is
becoming a habit, you may want to try something a little more drastic,
and something applied directly to the story. Sometimes if you make the
story look different, it can help you approach it differently.
This may sound silly, but it can work. Page after page of black on
white screens can be daunting. This idea might help.
One of the easiest ways to make a story look
different is to change how you see it on the screen. There are three
obvious aspects to this: Font, Font Color, and Page Color. Most
writing programs allow you to change all three with ease. This means
that even though your story has to be submitted in Times New Roman,
Black Font, White Paper format, you can write it in anyway you like. A
problem you are experiencing might be that the white of the page is
giving you eye-strain. Try a soft blue or beige. The font may look
dull. Try something bold and fun, and change the color to compliment
the new page color.
Also, be sure to choose a good size for the font.
Double space the lines, too, which can help make the story look less
like a block of ugly little words -- the view you might have when you
get stopped in a story. It also helps create less eye strain. You may
not even realize that eye strain has become a problem until it eases --
but being uncomfortable when you work can be a cause of writer's block.
Sometimes choosing the font to match the mood of the
story can also work -- something silly for a fun story, something ornate
for an epic fantasy tale. Sometimes visual clues -- and a different
look -- can help a writer get into the proper mood.
Mood is important to story writing, and having your
own mood at conflict with the story you are writing can be a problem.
Sometimes a few visual clues like this can help change your view of the
story and get you moving again.
Change program or method
Sometimes it helps to even break away from your usual
word processing program and try something different. Try using a plain
text editor with no frills at all. Or be more daring, and work out
chapters in a program like SuperNoteCard (www.mindola.com).
In this one, you can move things around very easily. It might help to
break the story up and do small sections at a time, with specific word
count goals. Using a program other than your usual one can help you
break things up into different pieces, write smaller sections, and move
forward without worrying about what was written before, because it's not
in the same place. There are times when this can help. Moving away
from looking at the story as a whole can be very helpful.
Or make a drastic change and pull out the paper and
pen and start writing. Sometimes it helps to start with a free write
session where you think about the story situation and write random
things until you fall into the feel of the story.
Some people even use tape recorders or computer voice
recognition software and tell their stories. This last one does
work for everyone, since it requires that you be an actual storyteller,
which is a speaking talent, not a writing one. Many people are born
storytellers, and many of them cannot write the stories out. Other
people can write, but can't speak the stories until they are written.
There are a few who can do both.
Free writing in general will sometimes help, too. In
a case where you are stuck, you might try taking your characters and
just letting them talk at you for a while -- write everything that you
think they would be thinking about at a time like this. Let them rant,
rave, get worried... and see what you get out of it.
Or free write about the situation itself -- write
about what led up to where you are and what you want to happen
afterwards. Sometimes rewriting the situation in a straightforward way,
without all the bells and whistles of the story itself, can clarify the
situation and bring into light the logical next step where you are
You might even try sketching out the scene --
literally, drawing a little map that shows you where everyone and the
other important aspects of your scene, are located. There are times
when 'seeing' the set up can give you a new perspective on the scene and
allow you to see the next step more clearly.
There are writers who are able to draw well enough to
sketch their characters, and a few others use computer graphic programs
to create them (DAZ Studio, Poser and the like) to picture their
people. Some cut pictures out of magazines because they find that
'seeing' the characters help to translate them onto the page. All of
these activities can be fun, they can even help... but they can also
become an excuse not to write.
It might help to try changing your approach to
writing. Rather than looking at writing the next big scene, just write
the next 100 words. Breaking the work into smaller pieces makes
reaching goals much easier and fun. 100 words at a time can add up
pretty quickly, too.
Talking to other writers might help as well. It can
be uplifting, fun and a great way to share experience with the people
who actually understand what you are going through in ways that friends
and family who do not write can't understand.
There are three ways to approach other writers. One
is through blogs and LJs, the second is through boards, and the third is
through chat rooms. The last can be the quickest, easiest way to make a
connection and get help. Forward Motion (www.fmwriters.com)
has both boards and chat rooms, and links to journals and blogs.
Sometimes just knowing that other people understand can help.
Many writers work with music in the background.
Sometimes they don't realize it but the music is having an adverse
affect on their work. It might be because they've listened to the music
so much that it's become dull and repetitious, and that affects the mind
as you write.
Try changing music. Make drastic changes. You might
even try picking up a set of nature sounds CDs and choose something that
is appropriate to your story, if possible, like a forest sound or ocean
Music is a mood setter. Sometimes we choose music
just because we're comfortable with it, and that may be the worst reason
in a case like this. Look through your collection (or find an online
service) with something as far from what you have been listening to as
possible. If that doesn't work, try writing in silence and listening to
the voice in your head as you type.
Try different things. Some people find that they
work well with a specific set of songs they've picked out just for the
story they're working on. Try making up a playlist of songs that
inspire you to think about the novel, rather than just personal favorite
Change location or look of location
If none of these work, and you are stuck more often
than you like, there may be something far more drastic that you can do.
Consider moving your writing location to somewhere new. If you work in
the bedroom, move to the dining room. If there is no where in the house
where you can go to, try writing at the library or coffee house
instead. A change of location can make everything seem new and
exciting, and get you out of a rut.
If you cannot actually move to a new location, try
changing the look of where you are. If you have books everywhere, clear
them off and put flowers, statues, cups with pens or the like in place
instead. Get yourself a stuffed mascot like a stuffed plot bunny (I
have several) and keep them close by. They can work as visual clues to
help you trigger your writing.
Try moving your desk at a different angle, and put up
pictures that remind you of the story you are working on. This means
collecting a lot of different pictures and storing them, but it can be a
great way to get into the feel of a location.
One other way to 'get away' is to go read something
instead. This is a short term answer, but it can 'take you away' from
where you are now. It can inspire you to want to have a book like that,
or it can inspire you because you know you can write a better book than
that -- but either way, it can help you see other words, and break the
road block to your own.
The last and most drastic change is to go to a
different story, article or poem. I rarely suggest that people abandon
their stories because it can get to be a habit, and taking the easy
answer (and this is the easiest one) can make a writer lazy.
Pushing through difficult stories will teach you more
about writing than putting them aside and only working on the easy
stuff. However, there are some stories that need to be put aside, at
least for a while. Set a date to go back to it and try again, but for
the moment, move on to something else.
The final point about being blocked is that there are
many different things to try to get free of it. The most important,
though, is to write. It doesn't matter if you are writing on the story
that is driving you crazy, or if you are free writing, or working on a
new story. Don't allow yourself to fall into a 'I can't write anything'
slump, because those are far more difficult to climb out of that
How do you really break out of writer's block?
One word at a time.