25 Ways To Defeat The Dreaded Writer’s Block

Switching gears from the “25 Things” series (which is now neatly compiled in an e-book cheaper than a bottle of water of a hobo handy) and segueing into a more practical “25 Ways” list.

I do not believe in writer’s block. I believe it shares the same intellectual space as the bogeyman in your closet, as the serial killer under the bed. The more you fear it, the more it gains power. To be clear, I do believe that writers can be blocked, that writers can have bad days where the intellectual plumbing feels gummed up by an old diaper filled with soggy fruitcake — I just don’t believe this is unique to the writer. Everybody gets blocked. Everybody gets frustrated. Everybody can have a bad day where the brain-squeezin’s just won’t get squozen.

Even still, while the problem may not be unique, the solutions often are.

And so that’s what we’re tackling today.

Ready? Let’s crotch-kick writer’s block so hard, it tastes the poodle crap we stepped in on the way over.

1. Write Through It

You are confronted by a tangle of jungle vines and Amazonian thicket. The only way forward is forward. You have a machete. What do you do? You chop, motherfucker. Take the blade. Start hacking. Won’t be fun. Won’t be fast. But it’s the only way to gain ground. Your first way through writer’s block is just to write. Clench your jaw. Tighten your sphincter. And write. The key is to write badly if you must. Write without regard for quality or care. Flail about with your word-machete until the tangle is clear.

2. Write Through It, Part II: All Work And No Play

This is the same as the first but bears special mention: sometimes it’s not even about writing words in your story, sometimes it’s about just writing. Writer’s block is often about jarring loose stubborn bullshit — it feels like you’re trying to pull teeth out of a meth-cranked raccoon, but that’s an act of finesse. Put down the pliers, get out the hammer. Start swinging. Write crazy. Write big. Write insane. All work and no play makes writer-monkey a twitchy serial murderer. Write one word over and over. One sentence. One paragraph. Don’t worry about what you’re writing. Turn on the spigot. Let the madness flow.

3. The Blood Must Flow

Science lesson. Blood carries nutrients to your brain. One of those nutrients is imagozen, the vitamin that governs our imagination. I may just be making that up. But there’s some truth there: we do need good blood-flow to the brain to think clearly. Been sitting on your ass a while? All the blood and sweet, sweet imagozen is pooling in your ass-parts. Get up. Move around. Take a walk. Exercise. Do some push-ups. Hell, have sex. You gotta love a guy who will tell you to solve writer’s block by “banging it out.” Right? No, seriously, you have to love me. Take off your pants. Mine are already on the floor. LOVE ME.

4. Stick Energy Drink Up Ass, Tighten Buttocks Until High-Octane Enema Occurs

I am not actually recommending an energy drink enema, just so we’re clear. I will not be held liable for the embarrassing X-rays that make it onto the Internet. What I am saying is, caffeine? It’s your buddy. Caffeine can give your brain a much-needed jolt, as if from those electrified paddles. CLEAR. Bzzt. Start with tea. Tea has a mellower edge than coffee. That doesn’t work, try coffee. Mmm. Coffee. Speaking of — *slurrrp*

5. Booze Booze Booze Booze Booze *vomits*

Caffeine creates tension. But maybe what you need is recoil. Could be that you’re just too ratcheted up to write. No problem. Switch your chemical dance partner. From caffeine to liquor. I’m not saying you should make a habit of writing drunk — in fact, I’m suggesting you write merely tipsy. Whatever amount of alcohol lubricates your social gears may also lubricate your writing gears. Just this once. Just to ooze past this block. To get your mind chatting up the birds at the word-bar.

6. Chatty Cathy, Don’t Clip Those Strings

Talk to yourself. Seriously. Use your mouth. Vocalize words. Have a conversation with yourself. Talk about the story. Talk about what’s clogging the pipes. Yammer away like a crazy person. (For bonus points: do so at a public bus terminal.) If you’re so inclined, record the conversation. Label the file, “MY MANIFESTO.” E-mail to all the newspapers.

7. Reach Out And Touch Somebody

Perhaps a masturbatory chat with yourself isn’t quite enough. Fine. Find another human being (or, if you’re reading this after the year 2018, find a sentient appliance bot, like the Dishflenser 500, or the Toast-Aborter v2.0) and have this chat with them. Talk out your problem. Get their input. Human interaction can go a long way toward jarring loose whatever grubby suppository is stuck up inside your narrative butthole.

8. Converse With Your Imaginary Friend

This one will make you certifiable, so don’t perform it in front of any sensitive family members. But take one of your characters, and talk to them. Out loud or on the page. Do a little role-playing. (And any writer who hasn’t engaged in a little role-playing — either the kind with dice or the kind with a librarian’s outfit and an orangutan mask — is missing out on learning how to let your fiction find its path.)

9. Fuck With The Feng Shui

Get up off your ass. Pack up your writing. Go elsewhere. Across the room. To the kitchen table. To a Starbucks. To a Jersey rest-stop. Hell, wander outside, do some writing there. Sometimes just the change of scenery is enough to free the word-demons from their restrictive cages.

10. Tinker With The Guts

You ever get lost while traveling? “We’re supposed to be at the Aquarium. And yet here we are, atop an ancient hill, trapped inside a giant wicker effigy, surrounded by torch-wielding cultists. I think we took a wrong turn somewhere, honey. Sorry, kids.” Sometimes you have to backtrack. Find out where things went awry. So too with your fiction. Read back. Find where you fucked up. Your reluctance to continue writing may be born of the unconscious discomfort that something in your tale is wrong, like a picture hanging askew on the wall. Go back. Straighten the picture.

11. You Need A Motherfizzucking Map

It can be hard to see the forest for the trees when writing a big project. You feel like you’re wandering in the swamp, walking in weeds as high as your ears. Do you have a map? Probably not. Listen, some writers are pantsers. They love to operate off the narrative grid. You may not be one of them. Go back. Write an outline. Beat out the story the way you’d beat a confession out of a perp. Know where you’ve been and discover where you’re going and then go back and write. Sometimes writer’s block is just you missing the big picture.

12. Throw The Map In A Bag And Burn It

Alternately, maybe you need to pants it a little. Maybe you’re too married to an outline that just isn’t tickling your pink parts anymore. Fine. Fuck it. Throw caution to the wind. It’s time to do something dramatic. Christa Faust has a killer tattoo that cuts to the heart of it: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” That’s a specific example, but you can blow up the story however you choose. Fire! Death! Betrayal! Cataclysm! Deception! Adultery! Whatever it is, take the map you’ve written, wrap it around a hand grenade, and shove it up the story’s ass. CHOOM. Harvest the sweet story blubber.

13. Put Lipstick On That Monkey

Sometimes, a cosmetic change goes a long way. Me? I’m a font whore. I like to find the right font that fits well with my story. Yes, this is ludicrous. Yes, this is a waste of time. Yes, I do it anyway. And once I take 30 minutes to find the right font, the story’s style locks for me. Try it. Or maybe you mess with margins. Or line spacing. Or you choose to write long-hand. Or carve your story into the back of a hooker corpse. Your call.

14. A-Scripting-We-Will-Go

Depart from your narrative, and turn your fiction into a script. Just for now. Just for the part that’s blocking you. Of course, if you’re already writing a script, then do the reverse — switch it up and move into the more languid and longer form afforded by prose. Again, this “switching of gears” can uncage the story-bears. By the way, “uncage the story-bear” is the metaphor I choose when I proclaim I am about to make love. I walk into the room, I scratch my beard, unmoor my pants, and I announce that in a booming voice. I just wanted to let you in on that part of my life. Thank me later.

15. Dear Missus Frittershire

Familiar with the epistolary? Any story that takes the form of a series of documents is considered epistolary. The novel might manifest as a collection of letters, e-mails, newspaper clippings, diary entries, tweets, the ravings of an impudent spam-bot, etc;. Try this out. I don’t mean for the whole story. But for today, try writing through your writer’s block by embracing this form. “Today, my character will write a blog entry.” “I will use the art of the takeout Chinese menu to tell this story.” Shit, you never know.

16. Wander Down An Alley

Er, not literally. I will not be held responsible if you are captured and eaten by Oscar the Grouch. (You gotta watch that guy. Terrible hungers.) Let’s say you’re writing a novel. Let’s say you’re banging your head on that novel the way a bumblebee bats his head against the window-glass. I want you to take the protagonist, or some aspect of the storyworld, and deviate. Write some flash fiction, maybe a short story, some ancillary, tacked-on, doesn’t-connect-directly-to-the-novel story. Indirect, yes. Direct, no. Take today and write only that. It may open doors for the larger project at hand.

17. Kill The Shiny

As modern souls we are besieged by distractions. Text messages and tweets and spam-bots and porn and TV-on-demand and cyber-LSD and digital cupcakes and only the gods know what else. Escape the gravity of your own distractions. Turn it off. Power it down. Use a program like Mac Freedom or Write Or Die. Close the door on all the piffling, waffling, middling bullshit and make sure it’s just you and the word count.

18. Hear A Buzzer, Start To Drool

Tell yourself, “If I write 1000 words, I get [fill-in-the-blank].” Doesn’t matter what it is. Ice cream? Another cup of coffee? An hour of television? A jet-boat made of pony bones? Like I said: whatever. But establishing a reward gives you motivation to do the one thing that really defeats writer’s block: writing through the anguish and coming out the other side. Covered in blood. And smiling.

19. The Penmonkey Diet

Carbs are great if you’re going to be, y’know, using that energy for something like, say, moving your laggardly slugabed body around. But writers live a sedentary existence, at least while working, and so it behooves you not to hoover a bowl of Corn Pops into your gut. Do that and the carbs will only drag you down, make you mentally foggy. Stick with protein while writing. By the way, bacon is protein. Just saying.

20. Hop Around Like A Coked-Up Jackrabbit

Nobody said you had to write your work in order. I like to write in sequence for the most part just because it keeps me on point — but if I’m at a section I’m just not “feeling” that day, I’ll skip around, write something else. “I want to write a fight scene between two stompy robots,” I’ll say. Hell, you’re the god of the story. You may experience it in whatever order you so choose.

21. Get Visual

I like to take photos. Or fuck around with Photoshop. You think I haven’t been vain enough to do up fake book covers for my as-yet-unpublished books? Oh, I have. Point is, sometimes writer’s block is just about flexing those creative muscles on the right side of your brain. Hell, you fingerpaint poop on your Plexiglass enclosure like I do and that counts. Seriously. Look, I drew a monkey! The flies are his eyes.

22. Down The Rabbit Hole Of Research

Research can be a trigger to get you moving again. No matter what you’re writing about, you will always find more to know, and in this case research qualifies as a “good” distraction as long as you keep a relative focus. You play it right, research can be the key that unlocks whatever mental door got slammed shut.

23. Recognize Why You Don’t Want To Write This Part

Sometimes you get stuck on a part and are too stubborn to do anything about it, so you just stand there and stare it down, growling and stomping your feet. Here’s a secret: maybe that part you’re stuck on is a part you just don’t want to write. And if you don’t want to write it, what are the chances that someone might not want to read it? You know what you do? Skip it. Kill it. Move past it. Find another way through.

24. Fuck Off For A Day, Willya?

You get one day. One. Free pass. No writing today. Just flit away, little butterfly. Flit, flit, flit. Clear your head. Have some fun. Tomorrow the work returns. The block, undone. Or it damn well better be.

25. Deny The Existence Of Writer’s Block

If you’re being skewered by a unicorn, the secret is: tell the unicorn he doesn’t exist. If you do that, he’ll disappear in a puff of Lucky Charms cereal. That’s true. That’s fact. Same thing goes for writer’s block. If it’s assailing you, an incubus clinging to your back, you just tell that mythological being that you don’t believe in him. You do that, you steal his power. Suck his breath away. Make him turn to so much vapor. You have to harden your heart and your head against it and believe that the one way through is that old saw that everybody repeats but they always forget: writers write. That’s the one tried and true way through writer’s block. Because a writer who writes isn’t blocked, is he?

* * *

Like this brand of booze-soaked, caffeine-addled, salty-tongued writing advice? Then I might recommend you take a look at 250 Things You Should Know About Writing and Confessions Of A Freelance Penmonkey, both available now. Please to enjoy.

39 comments

  • I see alot of these kind of replies in the reply “area” so I’ll keep it short: Thanks for the swear-full (new word, Websters proves it) advice, Chuck. Bla, bla, bla. What I REALLY wanted to say was how much do you write? I try to get in 1,000 words a day, and I don’t know I’d that’s a lot or a little (I know Stephen King writes 2,000 words, but I trust you more). And sorry about that “Websters proves it”. I know it sounds like you because I hve been reading your 25 lists lately. I find myself in a swear-full (there it is again) state after reading your stuff. I hope you can answer my question. Keep up that epic, writerly shit!

  • Fanfiction. Seriously, it works.

    If you can’t make yourself write another word in your own universe, then go visit someone else’s. Get in their toybox and borrow their action figures and see if letting yourself off the worldbuidling hook doesn’t make it easier to figure out what you were trying to make your characters do in the first place. Pretend it’s not your characters doing “the really tough thing to write”, instead figure out what XXX and YYY would do, then decide how your characters would react differently. BOOM! Writer’s block just got obliterated.

    Also, I wholeheartedly agree with the scripting advice. It works beautifully. I “script” rather than outlining in the traditional sense, and it simplifies the next step of fleshing the story out. At the very least, everyone knows where they belong and what they’re supposed to say when they get there.

    (And, if nothing else, there’s always “And then a rock fell on them and everyone died.” Who doesn’t love a tearjerker ending?)

  • I don’t think I’ve ever gotten writer’s block. It’s more of me just not wanting to write or unable to focus on writing. Whenever I don’t know what happens next, I just write the first things that come to mind, and if that lands me in a dead end, I go back and see how that happened.

    Another way to do that and not end up in a dead end is to look at the next scene I have planned, even if its far away, and think to myself how do I get from here to there.

    My muse always comes through to me…as long as I be nice and not yell.

  • I’d love to tell you where I stole the following paraphrased quote from, but seeing as my short term memory appears to be blocked … Anyway, some long dead writer (I think) once said that writers need to do everything necessary to keep their muse flowing. So, echoing your own thoughts in today’s blog entry, this long dead writer (I think) said that if a writer needs to drink alcohol from morning to night, then that’s what he (or she) should do. Sure, you’ll lose a liver — eventually — but that’s not important in comparison to the magical words which the liquor enables. I’m not saying I espouse that viewpoint, especially. I’m just reporting it (more or less). However, in order to keep the words coming, I have been known to drink one more cup of coffee than I can actually tolerate.

  • Another entertaining and inspiring post Chuck. I used to get terrible block, years ago before I took the writing seriously. Now I don’t get it, or at least not for long. I sit there and may stare at the screen a bit but then I start this weird free flow style of writing and it goes away. The stuff I write might be rubbish but I don’t worry about that at the time – I figure I’ll deal with it later.

    I worked out that those years I had block were all down to me thinking about it too much. Turn brain off, words will flow. (Not totally off though – I don’t want my face smacking into the keyboard or anything. Though that may be a good way to get the words to flow too…)

    • A lot of the time, writer’s block has that same quality of “I can’t get it up” erectile dysfunction — the solution is different, but the feeling and often the core cause is the same. It’s either a) you’re just too stressed out because you’ve placed the weight of the world upon those pages or b) you’re just not that “into” the project you’re working on for a variety of reasons.

      So, @Alexa — turning your brain off is a good way through. Sometimes you just gotta let the spice flow.

      I generally don’t get writer’s block anymore. I allow myself to suck on a first draft. I don’t press all my hopes and dreams into the story. I just write. Usually with an outline, which is my safety net.

      – c.

  • I, too, disbelieve in writer’s block. Haven’t gotten it for years. The last time I had something resembling writer’s block, it was because of your point #11: I had been trying to pants it, thinking that this is what Sensitive Artist Types do, and I got completely bollocked up in the plot about halfway through a novel. I eventually had to trash it and do something else. Since then, I write an outline for anything longer than a short story, and I never worry about writer’s block.

    Also, fuck Sensitive Artist Types.

  • I believed in Writer’s Block until I met Chuck.

    Thanks to the magical butt of his shotgun and the sweet, sweet taste of booze, I’ve left that hysterical and superstitious belief behind me.

    My missing teeth and I are in your debt, Chuck.

  • In regards to the planning thing, one strategy you recommended a while back was to write a summary of What Happens Next whenever you finish writing for the day. Even if people have trouble outlining this is a great tool that’s helped me get over blocks in the past.
    But yeah, having some kind of plan is REALLY important in this regard. If you have the basic map of where you’re going you have more time to worry about the little stuff.

  • I go along with the Rewards Program. I once had a terrible job (well, I had lots of terrible jobs, but that’s another story), and the only way to entice my protesting body out of bed and into the car was the promise of a stop at a wonderful bakery for a brownie and a cup of coffee. Not good for me, probably, but at least I always got to work.

    Looking above, I realized thinking about my terrible jobs opened all kinds of writing possibilities.

  • Chuck, thanks for the ideas. I took away this advice. If you are stuck, change something and see if that works. Repeat until until you are unstuck.

  • This is just a variation of numbers 1 and 2 and….some others. Probably.

    If momentum slows down and I know I’m just writing schlock because the storyline has stalled – I take any or all of my characters and write scenes about their first sexual encounter. I’m not sure what that says about my own psyche but it works for me.

    Knowing that my antagonist was once a total geek-faced no-date-for-the-prom idgit, helps me figure out why he’s determined to be perceived as suave and accomplished. Likewise, discovering miss-goody-two-shoes had the rep-from-hell her senior year after an off-site football game is a tidbit that could come back to haunt her now that she’s got a daughter of her own.

    Whatever it takes to jar things back into third gear. Backstory and personality details help me refine story details and know my characters better. I could also toss the previous twenty pages which usually works too.

  • Josin’s totally right. If I get badly stuck, I just pause for a moment and then step back before it gets to be a problem – and I think fanfic. It might not get written out, but I have conversations with other people’s characters, and that works great.

    Also, Chuck, I love the fact that you tell writers to have conversations with your characters or to envision conversations between the characters. I’ve done this my whole life and never heard of anybody else who did it. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only crazy person on the planet.

    By the way – I love the advice you give and the way you give it. Your blog is always worth a good laugh – and valuable information.

  • For a long time, I’ve been retweeted the Terry Pratchett quote about how there is no writer’s block, and it was just invented by people in California who can’t write. Yeah, but, yeah, but, well, sometimes I get overwhelmed or dispirited or friggin old and just don’t think I can do it. Wrong! It’s that I just don’t wanna do it. Machete in the jungle is the perfect analogy, so thanks for that. One time I got past that not-gonna-do-it-itis by interviewing Chuck Wendig! Reading this excellent blog post is much easier.

  • These are awesome! I love how they sound mean or ridiculous but are actually really helpful ideas that can help. Make a map and throw it away, yeah, that sounds about right.

  • I like #8. So far, the family hasn’t caught me. And I may try #12, if the whole hit-the-victim-with-an-SUV thing doesn’t work out.

    This was a great help. I enjoyed it.

  • #15 just gave me an overload of ideas. I’ve been struggling this week with finishing a chapter, and it’s just not coming together. So I’m gonna use this one. Thanks.

  • Thanks for writing from this devil-may-care perspective. Although I take issues that prevent someone from writing seriously, I think the best way to deal with various fears (at times) is to kick them in the teeth and just push anger at them to force one’s way through that wall. Anger, or various forms of anger, like frustration, aggression, etc., can be very effective. I don’t like to use the words “writer’s block” because they carry with them way too much psychological power; they’ve become god terms for writers and writer-wannabes.

  • I want to fuck off for the day, I really do but as I’m writing for Nanowrimo I’ll just have to write through it. I’m already behind, I can’t afford to miss a day right now.

  • Thanks for this advice! I’ve been trying to write a chapter for the last couple days and hadn’t gotten anywhere, even though I had a rough outline. Then I read this post and decided to try Write or Die. I tried to write the chapter with it but quickly realized I was having trouble because the events I had in mind just don’t work for the story. So I used Write or Die to brainstorm and forced myself to think of different scenes that would work better. After thirty minutes, I think I’ve found something. And more importantly, I think I’ve found a new brainstorming tool.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds