Writers can sometimes face challenges when it comes to coming up with story ideas, characters, and plot twists. When these challenges drag on, they become known as writer’s block. If you’re currently dealing with this problem, then be assured, you’re not alone. Every writer goes through this struggle. Heck, even I did for years! Yes, it’s true. I struggled with coming up with story ideas from my sophomore year in college to almost a year after I graduated from college. But the good news is that I’ve learned a few tricks to vanquish writer’s block. Here are 5 great exercises that will help you defeat it too:
Exercise #1: Write the First Thing That Comes to Mind and Build On It
It could be anything. Whatever pops into your mind. Here’s what just popped into my mind:
A girl wakes up in an unknown location. She doesn’t know how she got there, and she can’t remember the night before. This could be someone’s house, but it looks too much like a dungeon.
That’s a fantastic story idea right there. You can build on it and make it more exciting. Perhaps the girl was sold to slavery while she was getting drunk with her girls the night before her wedding. Now the girl has a back story and a big problem facing her. How will she get out? Will she ever get back to her fiancée?
Whatever pops into your head, write it down the way I did and keep adding to it. Then write the opening chapter, or a chapter in the middle of a story, or maybe even the last chapter. Do what you like. Make it yours. Don’t question the thoughts; just write them down.
Exercise #2: Write About Your Most Painful Memories
Emotions can trigger so many ideas that you can write about. Even if you don’t write nonfiction, you can use painful memories to write fiction. Believe it or not, but fiction is based on reality. So use your feelings. Talk about that moment in day camp when you made the mistake of telling the really cute Clare you had a crush on her and she proceeded to tell you how you look like a booger. Talk about eighth grade when you overheard Melissa make fun of you while you hid in a bathroom stall. Dig deep into the most painful memories and write them down. You don’t have to use your name or the names of the real people. You don’t even have to make the story 100% true if you’re writing fiction.
Exercise #3: Write a Full Scene with Just Dialogue
We communicate with dialogue and body language. We even do actions while we communicate; we sip coffee, we type on the computer, and sometimes we jump rope. But when you’re stuck in writer’s block mode, who says you have to follow the rules? Thinking of every little action can be exhausting. Remove action from your writing and just write the dialogue. Here’s how it could go:
“I don’t want you to go,” Sam said.
“But it’s getting late and mom will kill me,” Kyle said.
“Well, if you stay, I’ll let you do anything you want.”
“Can we watch the neighbors making out?” Kyle said.
And now that you have an entire scene made up all of just dialogue, you can go back and add action. Show readers how Sam tugged on Kyle’s sleeve as he tried to get out the door. Show readers how Kyle smirked when he asked to watch the neighbors. You don’t have to think of action right away, and when you write just the dialogue, you write faster and create for yourself the skeleton of the whole story. It becomes the base, and you can build up from it.
Exercise #4: Write a Full Scene with General, Bland Descriptions
Similarly, you can write a full scene with bland descriptions and actions. They don’t have to be good; they just have to say something about what’s going on. For example:
“I don’t want you to go,” Sam said. She tugged on Kyle’s sleeve.
He shook his head. “But it’s getting late and mom will kill me,” Kyle said.
“Well, if you stay . . .” She licked her bottom lip. “I’ll let you do anything you want.”
Kyle smirked. “Can we watch the neighbors making out?”
Sam crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. “OK.”
The descriptions here are decent. They are not bad nor amazing. I wrote them fast just to show what each character is doing. I didn’t think too much about what I wrote or how I could make it better. That is for a later time. Editing comes last. So first write your full scene with the bland descriptions. Then edit that scene, like this:
“I don’t want you to go,” Sam said. She tugged on Kyle’s sleeve, almost tearing a hole in it. This month, they only saw each other for two days what with Kyle being grounded and all. She pulled harder on his sleeve. “Come on, please?”
Kyle looked down at his watch and he shook his head. “It’s getting late and mom will kill me.”
“Well, if you stay . . .” She licked her lips together and looked him straight in the eyes. “I’ll let you do anything you want.” With the first few buttons of his shirt unbuttoned, she reached over with her hand and brushed the tips of her fingers against his chest.
Kyle smirked and looked excitedly out the door. “Can we watch the neighbors making out?”
Sam crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. “OK.” This was not how she thought it would turn out.
As you can see, I took my bland scene and made it better. This is editing. However, when you start your scene, make it bland. Write generic terms. Use clichés that you know later would have to be removed. Hey, even go crazy with adverbs (quietly, slowly, playfully, happily). As long as you start out writing a bland scene with the knowledge that later you will edit it and make it better, everything is fine. Besides, you will find yourself writing faster and not dwelling on the fact that you can’t come up with ideas. Because you obviously can!
Exercise #5: Go Somewhere New and Force Yourself to Write a Scene
This is a great way to get yourself to take writing seriously. Take nothing with you other than your pen and notebook, or laptop if you prefer (just be sure to turn off all distractions), and sit somewhere new or that you don’t often go to. You can people watch and listen to music. And then start writing. The thing about going somewhere new is that you are forced to actually sit and write, as opposed to watching TV at home or cleaning that stain on your shirt that NEEDS to be dealt with immediately. When you go somewhere new, you stop making excuses for why you’re not writing because there are (I hope) no distractions around. Watching TV and cleaning your shirt can wait.
And that is all I have for you right now. These five exercises have helped me, and I know they will help you too get rid of writer’s block once and for all. When in doubt, know that you are a writer, you just need to channel that side of you.
Looking for something new to read? Here’s a preview of my book Dance with the Devil: