Monday, March 29, 2010

WRITERS: How do you turn Writer's Block into Writer's Breakthrough?

I received an email a month or so back, from a writer working on her first manuscript. She was stuck firmly in the middle of her manuscript and was unable to move forward. Her question: What do I do when I get writer's block? How do I work through it and could I give her any advice? My answer: Sadly, I didn't have one!

I never really thought about "writer's block" until now. When I come to a point in a story where I don't know where the story is going next, I set it aside for a day or two and the answer comes to me, usually at some weird time, like the middle of the night, or when I'm doing some mundane task--either way, it always seems to come. But now that I am thinking about writer's block, I'm wondering is there a good way to overcome it other than nearly tripping over myself on the treadmill when I have that 'eureka moment'?

How do YOU deal with the infamous writer's block? Do you use an exercise or a method to work through it? Do you beat your head in despair for weeks, until the answer finally comes, just when you're about to trash what you've written? What are your tips and tricks to turn your writer's block into a writer's breakthrough?

Hit me!

xoxo -- Hilary


  1. My writing clearly reflected my writer's block for about a week. I only wrote 2 pages and it was too easy for my characters to solve their situation (and not a decision my characters would make). So I put down my writing for about five days and tried to refresh my inspiration. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but I didn't know how to get there. Since my story came from my fantasy/imagination, I reverted back to fantasizing and not writing it down. This refreshed my characters and concept. I deleted the two crappy pages and picked up where I left off.

    My characters had felt foamy, and fake to me when I had my writers block. I had to refresh my inspiration and memory of them. I always play my fantasy before I go to sleep, it helps me fall asleep and dream. So I spent a lot of time staring at walls and sleeping. The stories and characters came back to me, revived and refreshed.

    Take some time off and inspire yourself, is my advice to you.

  2. I've only had one major bout with the dreaded Writer's Block. Tried everything I could think of, even scrapping the whole MS and starting over from scratch. Ultimately the only thing that worked was time. Had to let the cloud pass over and I was back in business. Of course, I didn't have much to show for the months of downtime other than a bunch of blog entries, but writing is writing. Work on something else, that's what I'd suggest.

  3. great post! i have a firm belief that there is no such thing as writers block, only story block. as in the story your writing has stalled because it probably has nowhere left to go. i'm probably the only one who thinks that, but awell. Knock on wood, i haven't had writer's block yet.

  4. Writer's block. Ugh. Hate when it happens. Does it help to know that it happens to most everyone I've talked with at some time or another? What's worked for me? Patience. Persistence. More patience. Sometimes this means giving my muse breathing space. Sometimes this means setting the work aside for a day, a week, a month, sometimes A LOT longer. Sometimes thi means working on something else. Sometimes this means sitting down at the computer anyway. Same time. Same place. And writing through the block. Sometimes this takes days, weeks, months of slogging through a "shitty draft" before what you're writing makes sense or bears any resemblance to prose. Sometimes this means taking a break and truly giving your characters down time. When this happens I try to honor the process. I read. I play. I give my book time to simmer and my characters time to regroup. If you think about it, even when you're not writing, you're writing because life informs art. And if you're not living it, how can you possibly write about it? What I try to ask myself when life gets in the way (and my writing gets blocked again) is how is this latest detour informing my story? What do my characters need to learn?

  5. What I do is that I take a break from my MS and just let loose. Read something else. Just relax. Take it easy. Go through the plot in my head, not in an obsessive way, but in a way I would after reading a really cool book.
    And soon, it all comes back to me and I'm ready to write again ;)

  6. I agree about there being no such thing as writer's block. But I do, however, believe in "author fatigue." I found this great post on the subject at the Lyrical Press blog ( and it described me to a tee. So what I do now is take a step back, re-read my work, and, if necessary, take a few days off. Invariably, some new thoughts will come and I'll scribble 'em down in my notebook, and it always feels like entering these notes into the MS adds up to some serious invigoration for the story.

  7. Used to be, I'd stop writing altogether. I couldn't be bothered with the effort. Now, I forge through. I just keep writing. It's bad, really awful writing, but it can always be fixed later. Sure, I want to bang my head against the wall in frustration when the words are so awful, but in the end, it works out!

  8. I am certainly not the most knowledgeable person to comment on this subject but I have only experienced writer's block in reverse. I've only written one novel and the words poured out of me with so much volume I've now spent months trying to cut the MS to the point where an agent would consider repping it.

    I had no problems whatsoever getting the plot to page but I do find myself getting stuck a lot when editing. It is really difficult decide what can go and what must stay when you can only see one page at a time. I've found it helpful to summarize each scene in a cell in a spreadsheet and then I can remember each scene in each chapter at a glance.

    Still editing for length though!

  9. I clean my house from top to bottom, usually takes about 4-5 days, go through the clothes for Goodwill, whatever I can do to not go to the computer. By the time I'm finished with the house, the block is gone and I'm raring to go on the keyboard.

  10. the only time i've really gotten writer's block was on a novel i just needed to put aside. For me, the block was a sign that i needed to do something new. At least temporarily. Best decision ever

  11. Donna Lean3/29/2010

    I've run into writer's block twice on this ms, and dealt with both differently. The first time it happened I look at my photo of my muse Bruce Dickinson and asked "What would Bruce do?" I don't think anything stops bruce so I slogged along, sentence by painful sentence, until I crawled out of it. I literally wrote a sentence at a time until I got across what I needed to say. The second one was easier. I realized I couldn't move forward because of the new character I'd thrown in. I didn't even KNOW him. So I wrote him up a resume and interviewed him. I asked questions you shouldn't ask a person in a job interview, but hey I had to know what his motives were. That was several chapters ago, and it turns out he's not a bad guy....narrow-minded and stubborn, but loyal to a fault. Works for me :)

  12. Maybe try some of these:

    1. Take a break from writing and come back l8r.
    2. Start a later chapter, see if that helps
    3. Start another novel to shake up your mindset
    4. Stop writing and just read to clear things
    5. Ask critique group for a SPECIFIC suggestion
    6. Stop doing any and all illegal drugs
    7. Talk about your novel to someone new which can excite you all over again into possibly breaking through the writing block.

    P.S. My wife and I just bought 2 new pets for our kids. Guess what they are!? Fancy Rats! LOL. I'll have to post you a picture. They are sooooooo cute!

  13. For me, writer's block is a way for my subconscious to tell me that I've gone in the wrong direction. This means I need to back up a bit and see where I went wrong. After I fix that, the block goes away. :)

  14. I have to agree with others who have said time is the best remedy.

    For the most part, I don't get writer's block because if I get stuck, then I will either skip ahead to something I know needs to be written (which will sometimes solve the problem for me), or I will go for a walk. The only time that hasn't worked is with my MG WIP, which I've been writing off and on for the past eight years. And the reason I was so stuck was because I didn't know enough about craft in order to write this story well, so I had to learn a lot in order to move forward. I'm still learning, but I'm at least making progress now. :)

    Great post!

  15. I stop writing (because I'm sure what I write won't survive my delete button) and I spend time staring out windows and at blank walls. I just think, think, think until something worth writing pops into my head.
    Great post! And a very real subject for me.

  16. T.J., If our own characters feel fake to us as writers, I can only imagine how others see them, although we are writers, which means we're are super critical on ourselves!

    T.D., writing IS writing! Whether it's your MS or a blog post, working on something else helps me too, sometimes an idea sparks from whatever new thing your working on!
    Ash, it seems it's pretty 50/50 in here, whether there is truly writer's block or not. I do believe a story always has a place to go; the question would be can the writer figure out where that place is! Great insight!
    Kim, I agree, even if it's for very short spells, everyone gets stuck! After all, we are writers, not machines! When I need to come up with the next part of my plot, I not one that can write for the sake of writing, sadly I just don't think that way. I know it will come, so I wait it out! "I give my book time to simmer...", love that!

    I'm very much like you, I never obsess, it will come eventually.

    Zoe, I write some of my best stuff when I'm physically and mentally exhausted! Somehow, "author fatigue" makes ideas flow! I wonder if I'm hallucinating, I'm so tired! ;)

    I have real respect for those who write through their block. I just don't have it in me to write, until I have "it" in my head!

    The only thing I suggest for that is to read your MS in its entirety, not editing, and then ask yourself, what do I remember the most in this book? What are the most special parts? It should make it easier then to figure out what may be great writing, but simply not essential to the story. Nightshade City was a much longer book. It was painful to cut some of it, but it's a much better book for it! Good luck!

    I hate cleaning more than writer's block! Ha, ha! I'd have to come up with a different tactic! ;)

    Falen, good for you putting it aside! I can't do that! It will drive me crazy!

    Donna, maybe I need a muse! I like your thinking; they wouldn't stop Bruce, so why should I be stopped! Awesome!

    Void! That's so great! Let me know when you post pictures of your ratties! They make such great pets! I LOVE your list, truly sound advice, especially #6, too funny!

    Danyelle, I love your Jiminy Cricket attitude! I've got to try that sometime when I need a breakthrough!

    Tabitha, eight years? Go you! It's great that you figured out WHY things weren't working for you. That's half the battle and I think sometimes writers can't figure that part out.
    Lydia, blank walls would make me crazy! I have a short (very short) attention span! I might start writing on the walls, which would make hub pretty angry with me! ;)

    Great insight everyone!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  17. Wow, after reading all of these awesome ideas, I think I'm going to try starting something new tonite, then later this week re-reading what I've written and see if I can pick up where I left off, or backtrack if need be. I think this has been the best blog that I've read with REAL people giving REAL answers...Thanks all! :)

  18. Cav, what an awesome thing to say! I heart Cav78! I'm working on my debut's sequel right now and this is all such helpful advice for me to use if things slow down! Right now, I'm on a major role, so hopefully I can save these great ideas for another MS!

    xoxo -- Hilary

  19. I've never had writer's block, per se, but I think that's because of my approach to writing. I always have a bunch of projects going, so if I'm not feeling one, I can jump to another. I also don't force myself to sit and type. If it's not happening, it's not happening, so I do something else, and come back to it later.

  20. Chris, I've never had an out-and-out "block" either, but unlike you I could never have more than one project going on at a time. I had to put my Hobgoblin MS aside to finish Nightshade's sequel. I want to work on it a lot, but I'm not brainy enough to work on 2 manuscripts at once! My rats would be green and hairless and my hobgoblins would eat cheese and have whiskers! ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary

  21. Anonymous3/29/2010

    Yup, I give it time. Usually inspiration strikes, or I find a solution to a problem upstream that gets the whole flow going again.

    You see, writing is much like plumbing. Can't have clogs.


  22. I usually try to write through it and think of something bad that can happen to my characters that will increase the tension and the stakes! Usually that gets my juices flowing again.

  23. I walk, I critique someone else's work, I blog, I run, I read and go through my idea files and notes...I write something new until I feel inspired again.

  24. Whenever I'm "blocked", I am doing the dishes or vacuum. Silly I know, but it ALWAYS works.
    And it makes me a perfect maid, too.LOL

  25. Anonymous3/30/2010

    It's a waiting game. Even with an outline, sometimes I get stuck on something minor. I go for a walk, listen to some music, work on another head will clear up eventually.

  26. Everyone's already come up with great ideas already. I think music has already been mentioned. That helps me.

    Another one- In my mind, I'll walk through the chapter inside the head of an unlikely character. I'll see a whole new perspective. I won't write it in his/her perspective, but use that to come up with fresh ideas about what might happen.

  27. I don't know much about writer's block. Sometimes I'm afraid what will come out when I pick up my pen, but never afraid that it won't come out at all.

    Great blog!

  28. If I have certain writing problem I need working out, I sometimes pull out a notebook and a pen. Something about the "manual" way of doing things helps me.

  29. I do pretty much the same as you. Or else I try working on another part of the manuscript.

    Are these your rats in these pictures??

  30. Laura,
    Yes! Clogs = Bad! Sometimes my stories need a little writing Drano and they feel much better! ;)

    Hmmm...that's an insightful take! My characters are befuddled with woe, so I'd hate piling more on!! :)

    Sharon, take out everything but the "run" part and you and I think very much alike! Ha, ha!

    Laura, don't tell my hub you do chores when you have writer's block. It will give him "ideas"!!

    What the heck is an outline?? *grins broadly* ;)

    Oh, never thought of that! There are some instrumental songs that really help me think, I'm got to try that, seriously!

    Never be afraid of writing total "ick"! We've all done it! NEVER. BE. AFRAID!

    Anita! So true! When I start scribbling random stuff down is usually when I get the best ideas!

    Yes, I've done that too! I'll write a scene that happens in another part of the book! My ratties are very shy...maybe someday though! ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary

  31. First, I love the new look! Super. Perfect for a debut author. :)

    I'm an outliner so when I experience any block it's during the outlining. So I go through What if questions, but usually, I know it's best to not focus on it and let my subconscious get to work. I'll read, free write, write blog posts...But I never expect the answers to a plot to just be downloaded into my brain when I sit down to plot.

    And while I'm writing, somedays are more slow going but I don't know if I'd consider a block.

  32. Like others have said, the answer for me is usually to be willing to put the project aside and work on something else. Sometimes I will eventually come back to it, sometimes I never do. I have four or five novels that I 'quit' at about 50 pages in and I don't feel bad about that. The works I went onto were better for me and it's all part of the process.

    and, thanks for the kind advice over at my blog today .. it helped.

  33. Hmmm, I have had blocks before. The only thing that helps me is listening to the quiet. That sounds so strange, but it's just what you were describing about the moments doing the mundane or on the treadmill.

    Those are my "quiet moments." When my grocery list and the zillions of errands are zooming in my mind. When I'm on the treadmill, in the shower, driving my car, mopping my floor. The stuff you can do without really thinking (Like, was that light red I just went through? Ha!). That's when the real moments of genius come.

    At least for me.

    Listen to the quiet.

  34. I can't force the ah-ha! moment either. It deigns to greet me whenever it feels like it--which is often when I'm not actively brainstorming. :)

  35. I like to have at least two projects that I am working on. That way if I get stuck, I just put it down and work on the other one until the inspiration come--and it always does.

  36. Hi Hilary! Thanks for following me-- your book looks amazing and I'll be picking it up in October!

    For me, writer's block usually comes down to a problem with my plot. There's something not quite right there, not quite together. Once I work through whatever the problem is (usually by pestering my fiance with the guise of conversation while I actually think out loud to myself) it goes away!

  37. I'm like you. I set it aside and usually the answer hits me in the middle of the night.

  38. hmm... whenever i get hit with writers' block i always try to take a step back and put myself in my characters' head. i realize i only ever get stuck when i lose sight of the story. so once i'm able to really re-imagine the characters and their likely responses to the situation [the novel is stuck in] i'm able to move forward. often i need to delete the last few sentences i've written because they were responsible for taking me the wrong way.

    that was a bit of a ramble, lol.

    great post! also: i love the new layout!!

  39. I pray and fast and meditate. One of the simplest break-throughs I've had was just to give myself permission to be free with my writing and not worry about rules whatsoever.

  40. BTW, I gave you a blog award!

  41. Hi Hilary! Whoo-hoo! I see you just rolled 300 followers. Way to go!!

    I was in the same situation a couple weeks ago. I just didn't know where the story was going or how to weave together what I did know about the story. This is my first go-around writing a novel, so writer's block was devastating. I found my answer by going back to basics and building a more solid outline, following the Snowflake Method. It has really helped me navigate the murky sea of my story, and I've made tremendous progress since.

  42. What a fanastic post!!! I love the way you look at things and turn them around!

  43. I believe in the power of sleep and dreaming. I go with what you said about the 'middle of the night'.

    Even without having writer's block, but just not being fully happy with how a work fits together, I will sleep on it. Many times I wake up with the answer.


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