Take the advice of 14 famous writers to

Break Through and Beat
Your Writer’s Block…

 
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First off… What is writer’s block?

Chances are that at some point in the writing process you’re going to smack into a Wall: a big, ugly, intimidating Wall that’s too high to see over and too wide for you to be tempted into going around it.


With nothing but time on your hands, and certainly nothing else to distract you, you’ll stop and stare at this monstrosity and begin to wonder how you ended up here. That’s usually when you notice the crude graffiti defacing the Wall’s surface with disheartening messages like: Just quit now; This story sucks; and – an old classic – YOU’RE A TERRIBLE WRITER.


Sound familiar..?

The bad news is that this happens to almost every writer. But the good news? This happens to almost every writer.


You are so far from alone.

In fact, I have searched the internet for the best advice from some of the most successful authors currently writing. And their tips for beating blocks and rediscovering your creativity? Well, I’ll let them tell you in their own words.

 

…When your ‘well of creativity’ has run dry

Brandon Sanderson understands a thing or two about a writer’s process…

One thing that non-writers don’t understand is that for most of us, we have a kind of “writing reservoir” inside of us. Consider it a creative well that can be tapped only so far in a given day. Once it runs dry, it’s often hard to create anything, even if we have the time to do so.

One of the lessons I learned as a storyteller was how to refill the creative well while doing other activities. You can do it while driving, exercising, eating . . . anything that doesn’t take your full attention. During these times, many writers I know run through plots in their heads, feel out character personalities, think about conflicts. They make connections, overcoming blocks.

–Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn series and The Stormlight Archives

 

Erin Morgenstern knows that sometimes we just need to give ourselves a shake.

Shake your brain up so the ideas can move around.
— Erin Morgenstern

Do something, anything that doesn’t involve writing once in a while. Take a walk, go to a museum, do yoga, paint your toenails, spin around in circles. Shake your brain up so the ideas can move around.

–Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus

 

Marie Lu gets deliberately lost in art… to find her way back to writing.

Words might not be inspiring you anymore. So turn to writing’s creative cousins. Art. Music. Games. And so on. I personally will draw my characters. You can do the same, even if you don’t usually draw or you don’t want to draw your characters. Take 10 minutes and make a map of your world, even if you’re writing contemporary. Where’s the post office? What’s the layout of this house? What places do your characters love to visit? Draw a random box in the corner. Make that a secret/forbidden/abandoned place. A love hotel. A bar with a hidden basement.

Turn to music: make a playlist of music that matches the mood of your story. Don’t just play it back, either—plug in some good headphones, close your eyes, sit back, crank the volume, and get lost. Play the scenes of your story out in your head. Imagine the lyrics matching your story. Listen to the story arc inherent in the song. Go to where your characters are. Somewhere in the darkness, you might see the spark of a scene.

–Marie Lu, author of Legend and The Young Elites

 

Holly Black has a trick for avoiding the dreaded ‘blank page’…

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, before you quit for the day, write a little bit of the next scene or a couple of lines on what you think will happen next. That way, you are never looking at a blank page.

–Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles

 

Maggie Stiefvater occasionally needs to remind herself of the End Goal.

Unwind each day with thirty minutes of reading something that feels like what I’m trying to make, to remind myself how others accomplished it.

–Maggie Stiefvater, author of The Raven Cycle series

 

…When you’re paralyzed by self-doubt

Gail Carson Levine has no time for mean thoughts:

Do not beat up on yourself. Do not criticize your writing as lousy, inadequate, stupid, or any of the evil epithets that you are used to heaping on yourself. Such self-bashing is never useful. If you indulge in it, your writing doesn’t stand a chance. So when your mind turns on you, turn it back, stamp it down, shut it up, and keep writing.

–Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted

 

Kristen Cashore has a gentler relationship with her self-doubt:

shake it like a Polaroid picture
— Kristen Cashore

I’m not saying don’t listen to the voices. Go ahead and listen to them— if you try to ignore them, sometimes they only scream louder. I’m only saying, don’t believe them— and, most importantly, don’t let them decide how you spend your day. Maybe laugh and give them a hug and say to them, “Yes, you’re sad and lonely and desperate for my attention, aren’t you? Well, thank you for visiting; stay as long as you need to; but, by the way, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Because I know I can do this, and, as it happens, you can’t stop me. Want to sit with me at my desk while I show you what I mean?”’

Self-doubt and fear are just part of the process. Those voices are never going to go away. Write anyway. Take a breath; go for a walk; look at the stars; listen to OutKast and shake it like a Polaroid picture; and then, sit down and write anyway.

–Kristen Cashore, author of Graceling

 

…When you can’t figure out what comes next

Susan Dennard takes this opportunity to check in with her supporting characters:

When I’m stuck and don’t know what event and/or setting should next arrive, I turn to my secondary characters and my antagonists. Where are they right now? Where have they been since the last time I saw them? And what were all their emotional/goal dominoes throughout the previous scenes? … Almost always, I’ll eventually reach an “aha!” point and see exactly what event needs to come next.

… For example: ‘Wait, the love interest wouldn’t be willing to forgive my heroine so quickly! He’d probably still be furious and refuse to join her at the park in that last scene…which would mean her best friend would have gone with her instead–and oh! If her best friend is there, then I can introduce this important piece of information earlier which lets me use this next scene as a turning point…’

You get the idea.

–Susan Dennard, author of Truthwitch

 

Brandon Sanderson recommends a change of perspective. And also ninjas.

Kill a character. Have a bomb go off
— Brandon Sanderson

Change the viewpoint character for the problem scene. Change the setting of the problem scene. Add a new character, and have them really make things messy in the conflict. Kill a character. Have a bomb go off. (Or have the ship sink, ninjas attack, etc. A big disaster. The goal is often not to keep the scene, but to explore how your characters would react so you can explore them more in depth.) Do a first-person character monologue for a character you haven’t fleshed out enough.

If you find yourself doing the scene over and over, however, stop and just move forward. You may not be able to fix the problem until you’ve worked out the next ten chapters. 

–Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn series and The Stormlight Archives

 

Gail Carson Levine sets herself strict rules for dealing with her blocks. This one is meant to focus your mind and spark inspiration: 

When I run out of plot ideas, write about setting and what each character is wearing, in exquisite wordy detail. When I run out of setting and apparel, write about the voice quality of each speaker, speech mannerisms, facial tics, body language.

–Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted

 

Holly Black knows that sometimes all you need is a voice, and a cat.

When you get stuck, sometimes it helps to talk through the book out loud – even if only your cat is listening. Sometimes hearing the plot is enough to engage a different part of your brain in solving the problem.

–Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles

 

Scott Westerfeld urges you to dig a little deeper…

It’s not always about writing more words or drinking more coffee. Sometimes getting to the end of a novel simply takes remembering that the world is more complicated than we know, and then sticking some of those complications into the story.

–Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies

 

Stephanie Perkins suggests taking a detour and enjoying the scenic route:

If you get stuck, take your protagonist down a different path. This isn’t the draft that you’re going to publish. This is the draft that will help you figure out what story you’re really trying to tell.

–Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss

 

…When you’re just bored

Marissa Meyer knows exactly what you need:

It sounds like your book needs a hearty injection of The Unexpected. So unexpected that not even you could have seen it coming. The trick to landing an excellently unexpected insertion is to not go with the first idea that pops into your head—too often, that is the domain of clichés and the all-too-expected. Rather, try making a list of at least twenty things you would enjoy writing about right now. It doesn’t matter if it has anything to do with what you’ve written so far (you can always drop in some nice foreshadowing during revisions), and the whole point is that you’re about to insert something fun, unique, and exciting into this draft.

… Make your list, choose what’s calling to you most, and drop it into the next chapter just as if you’d been planning it all along. Watch as your plot and characters scramble to make it work, and the words once more begin to pile up.

–Marissa Meyer, author of Cinder

 

Naomi Novik reminds you that the power is in your hands…

Set something on fire. Have zombies attack
— Naomi Novik

If you’re finding a scene boring to write, cut it and skip to the good part. Set something on fire. Have zombies attack. Note that boring is not the same as hard. Really great scenes can be very hard to write and take a long time, but if you’re sitting there going “god, when will this be over,” make it be over. You indeed have that power. It’s your novel.

–Naomi Novik, author of Uprooted

 

Marie Lu plays a scandalous version of ‘connect-the-dots’.

Write a long list of all your characters. Then, start drawing random lines connecting random characters to each other. Don’t think—just connect. Afterward, look down at your page. Try to figure out a connection between each of the two random characters you just linked—something scandalous, maybe, or something sweet. Something three-dimensional and unexpected. Some explosive scene that throws the two together.

–Marie Lu, author of Legend and The Young Elites

 

…When your usual methods aren’t working

Laini Taylor has a simple solution:

Just ... try everything.
— Laini Taylor

You can TRY EVERYTHING ELSE. TRY THINGS. Journal about the tone of your story, what you want it to feel like, or challenge yourself to freewrite the scene twice from two different points of view. (Or five.) Think about the reaction you are trying to elicit in readers--how do you get it? Make yourself think up ten ways to start the scene that are more dynamic than what you have now, or get into the character's head and ask what they would really do in a given situation. Be them. Consider major changes to your idea, audition them, and be open to the possibilities of increased awesome. There is always the possibility of increased awesome! Just ... try everything.

–Laini Taylor, author of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Strange the Dreamer

 

Marie Lu doesn’t play by the rules.

Write an entire monologue with your main character if you have to. Spend a chapter just exploring the life story of an antagonist. Write a scene with nothing but dialogue between your hero and your villain. Write a steamy love scene between your favorite couple. They don’t have to be scenes in chronological order. They don’t even have to end up in your book. But they will help you to keep going.

–Marie Lu, author of Legend and The Young Elites

 

Veronica Roth suggests mixing things up a bit!  

When you reach the place on Manuscript Mountain that makes you consider admitting defeat, and the tools you have used to get as far as you have are no longer working for you, consider using someone else’s tools. Pantser? Try plotting. Plotter? Try literally burning your outline (safely! In a trash can or something!). Perfectionist? Try writing the worst scene you can possibly muster. Strict beginning-to-end-er? Write whatever scene is burning a hole in your brain and fill in the gap later. Whatever you do, don’t hold so tightly to whatever writer identity you have formed for yourself that you can’t innovate, change, and grow.

–Veronica Roth, author of Divergent

 

If you want specific block-busting ideas that you can apply to your novel, check out my 23 Writing Prompts to Jump Start Your Story.

 

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