tagHow ToHow I Overcome the Block

How I Overcome the Block


Author's note:

Undoubtedly, this issue's been addressed with innumerable 'how to' guides across the web. If what I've offered below doesn't work for you, find your favourite search engine and 'give it a burl'.

How To...

Overcome writer's block. My way. Not necessarily your way, but shooting or beating your monitor won't help. Well, it might give you momentary satisfaction, but that will stop when your fist starts to hurt.


You feel it coming on; you know just as soon as this paragraph's done, you're screwed. There's a wall right in front of you. It's made of angry, red clay bricks, held strong with depressing, grey grout. You scrape your hands over the wall's rough surface, and wordlessly beg it to crumble. But it stands strong, and you huff. How long this time? A day? Week? Month, or two? A few years?

Staring at it helplessly, hoping for sympathy on the wall's part, you know you've got no chance; it's a wall, it doesn't care that you really, really want this story written, done with, polished and published, another notch on the wall.


When I see the wall getting larger the closer I trudge toward it, this is what I do:

1. Put the story away. Close the window it's opened in, slide the paper into a manilla folder; just get it out of your sight. Right now. You're not putting it away forever, not even the whole day, fingers crossed.

2. People-watch. You don't have to leave home to do this, and you won't get accusative glares. If you've got a TV, radio, extroverted room-mates, pick one. I prefer movies. Tune in to conversations. Talk-back radio is particularly good for this. Follow them, as though reading a script. Listen to the words they choose, spoken clearly, stumbled over, mumbled or shouted. In your mind's eye, throw your character into the conversation. How would they speak? What would their opinion be? How would they behave?

3. Turn said 'talk-box' implement off. Now it's time for quiet. Let your mind run over the conversations you've just listened to, and give a voice to those characters waiting to be heard. You might be thinking 'But NW, my character's a fifteenth century barbarian – he doesn't know the first thing about Star Wars/ Lady Gaga/ Babe Ruth!'. Not to fret. Tell him all about it, especially Princess Leia's slave outfit; he'll cream his pants. The point is to get closer to what your character is like – rather than the story itself. Once you can get in on their psyche, you'll have better command of them, and the floodgate to story progression may open to you.

4. Turn on your best writing music. Now picture a completed scene that you're happy with, and play out that scene while listening to your music. Of course, choose music that can relate to this storyline. For example, if you're imagining a party scene, try pop or hip-hop. If you're imagining a quiet, romantic dinner, find a crooner to listen to. Got the point? Play this music until the scene in your mind is completed, not when the music stops. Put the play-list on repeat, if you have to, but try to avoid interruptions.

5. You might, at this point, feel ready to return to your story. Keep playing the music. Your brain is now associating the music to the story or character, and you'll find the keys on your keyboard have lost their invisible barrier.

6. If you've reached this far haven't gotten any closer to smashing that wall down (or walking around it, you rotten pacifist, you), then I suggest, drum roll please: Play pretend! It may sound silly, but if I'm stalwartly determined to get something done and refuse to put it away, I'll play pretend and act out the scene in my living room. You'll need props. Maybe a lot, maybe only a few. A plastic sword, a bike helmet, a cowboy hat, to name a few. I have a chest full of old Halloween costumes and props which I regularly use to play with, and even if I only end up realising that the logistics of a situation that I've written don't work and need a re-write, that iota of indulgence into the world of imagination can turn into hours of writing.

7. Okay, so points 1 to 6 are useless to you. What are you writing? For general populace's sake, let's say you're writing erotica. Okay, so watch some porn. No really, watch some porn. Specifically in the category you're writing, if you can. Watch closely and comment out loud on what draws your attention. Take away the heavily made up chick and the over-buff dude, and replace them with your characters. Freeze-frame if you need to, but take a while to actually see them in the position you're going to be putting them in. What do they see? What do they feel? What do they smell? What do they hear? Use senses, and just scribble while looking at this picture about what makes the scene memorable, what touches you.

8. Find a spare set of critical eyes. Proof-readers are your best friends, even if you sometimes feel as though they're your worst enemies! Getting fresh eyes on an unfinished piece might bring different ideas to throw into the pot. You do have to be careful here, though. If you have a proof-reader who does what they do for the sheer enjoyment of it, that doesn't mean they won't expect to be credited for collaboration. Some people don't care; and I'm only speaking for myself here. I think a good volunteer proof-reader/ editor is only to be credited for that. If they want to give you ideas on where to take your story, that's up to them to provide if they wish to. If you ask for their ideas on plot progression, character development, etc., then offer to credit them for their collaborative efforts on your work. I'll take a guess and say 9 out of 10 won't care, either way, but will appreciate the offer, nonetheless. Remember, being an editor is a free service; you don't have to pay them in coin, but you can at least pay them in spoken gratitude.

If I get to this point (and I often do), and the muse still stubbornly refuses to descend, I give up for the day. In the past, I've forced myself to finish chapters and had my editor call me on exactly the parts I was having trouble finishing. Lesson learnt, these days I refer to point 1. The important thing to remember is that you're writing because you enjoy it. The end result of achievement is worthwhile, but if returning to the same story every day only feels like work, then you need to look at changing your perspective or venturing down alleys you wouldn't have thought of before now.

Preventative Measures

My routine for writing good chunks of fiction without the muse taking abrupt flight is proven for me, but quite possibly the opposite of what yours is for you.

First of all, you need to want to write. If you're not feeling it at all, don't bother. If you want to, but lack the ability to 'get into' your story, try the above points, again. If you already have the drive and desire to put fingertips to keyboard, pen to paper, then give my method a go, and see if it works for you.

Things you will need:

1. CD player or mp3 player. I use Windows Media Player on my PC, you can also try online streaming, but that's out of my domain. Whatever you use, make sure it's got a looping function.

2. Instrumental music with little to no lyrics. I usually listen to scores from 'epic' movies, such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, Sunshine, X-Men, Platoon, to name more than a few. It doesn't matter what you choose to play, as long as you don't find yourself singing along and getting distracted.

3. If it's night, which it probably usually will be, change the visual settings on your word processor, so that you're working on what looks to be light grey paper, rather than white. Taking away the brightness of the page will help relax your brain.

4. Coffee is on hand, kettle boiled, ready for more. Getting up to grab a cuppa every now and then is vital, but don't overdo coffee, especially before bed. Stretch your limbs, even if it's a yawn/ stretch in your chair. Go and get a drink, get some food into your belly. Interaction is just as important as writing, regardless whether it's interacting with your caffeine hit via mug, with the kitchen window looking at the view or with the sun-soaking cat, giving it a rub. Whatever your interaction, you need to keep moving, rather than sitting stagnate for 6-8 hours straight.

An important note to add here, if my method works for you, is this: If I listen to the same musician, or same album two or three times, eventually the effect begins to wear away. It might happen to you, or it might not. But should it, don't panic! Just find another album by the same musician, or composer, or in the same category as you've already got. Music evolves, and we as writers can use it to the best of advantages. Just recently I learned that my favourite trance DJs are close to finishing a new album, and though what I'm listening to now still has the desired effect, I'm super excited to hear what the future has in store!

Well, literature extraordinaires, I bid you good luck, and wish you well, beating that brick wall to it's well deserved death. Just don't be so naïve as to think it'll give up that easily. Like all good horror movie series, the baddie always comes back for more when you least expect it!

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