Breaking the Block

Today was supposed to be the review of Darby Karchut’s Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire, something I’ve been looking forward to writing for a while. But I really wanted to take my time with it, and between the dog going lame (he’s fine, he’s just copying me) and my house being on sale, time became that mythical creature you glimpse between the tree trunks before realizing you just ate some bad fruit. So instead I’ll talk about writing some more. Y’all will just have to wait with bated breath for the other.


There’s a disease all writers get from time to time. There is no vaccine; there aren’t any pills to take. Symptoms include fixation on a blank page, finger paralysis and that nagging feeling that you can’t possibly be a writer if you can’t think of what to write. If you experience any of these conditions, calm down and take a deep breath. Writer’s Block isn’t fatal, although it may feel like it, especially if you’re depending on your manuscript to bring in the next paycheck. Of course, if you’re getting paid to write, you’ve probably already conquered The Block, so this isn’t really for you. But for those of you still staring at the keyboard wondering why your fingers won’t move, here are a few treatments you can try.

Take a break. This may seem counter-intuitive – I thought I had to write to be a writer – but seriously, getting away from your work can give you a fresh perspective. Staring at the page is obviously not helping, so go do something else. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Or if it’s the middle of the day, I take the dog out and mull over a problem while he chases the frisbee. Writing is work, give yourself time to rest and recoup your losses. But after your break, be sure to go back to the keyboard. Don’t let your frisbee time turn into a sabbatical. You’ve all heard my ‘just write‘ rant. Take all that fresh perspective and turn it into words.

Prompts anyone? Sure. Why not? Try exercises for writers, if you’re into that kind of thing. I thought I wasn’t, but turns out they’re kind of fun. Maybe take your character out of your book and put them in another. See what they do, how they react. Can you use that?

Try writing by hand. Or if you’re already old fashioned, try a keyboard or a typewriter. Changing mediums resets your brain and could jump start something on the page too. I write all my blog posts by hand first. For some reason, it feels less permanent that way. I can just jot down ideas without worrying whether they’re really going to work or not. I know that’s completely opposite of real life but shh my brain hasn’t figured it out yet.

I’ve heard change locales. Normally work at home? Try setting up in a coffee shop. Or vice versa. Go people watching in a park with just a notepad and a pen. Personally, this doesn’t work for me because I get super distracted. I swear I’m writing until all of a sudden, I realize I’ve been staring at that dog for five minutes wondering if it’s owner knows it looks like a pig. But writing someplace else might work great for you.

Outline your characters. Maybe one of the reasons you’re stuck is because you don’t know your characters well enough to write how they’d react to a situation. Take a moment to figure out what makes them tick. This is probably a good thing to do in general but I try to save it for moments I’m stuck. Digging deep into a character’s past and motivations really helps get the ball rolling, Indiana Jones style.

When all else fails, type harder. Yeah, tap the keys so you can hear them click. Don’t look at me like I’m insane. This is my default Block Buster. When I’m distracted or feeling like I’m not getting stuff on the page the way I want, I arch my fingers and tap the keys harder, more deliberately. I like how it sounds. It sounds productive. It’s soothing and makes me want to write more. Seriously, stop looking at me like that.

There are millions of ways to break The Block and everyone has their own tried and true method. These are just a few that I jotted down one day. Feel free to develop your own. How about it? What do you do to break your Block?


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9 Responses to Breaking the Block

  1. Lissy

    Serendipitous post. I have too much free time on my hands, so I’ve been trying to write a bit, but I keep getting The Block. Greg and I have been discussing various plot points, characters, technology, and the history of this little world we’ve created, but I haven’t been able to put anything down on paper. I think I get hung up on names. For some reason it’s like I have to put a name to my protagonist before I can really begin. It’s sort of like I have to “meet” this person before I can begin their adventure. Weird, I know. Any suggestions on how to overcome that? Or any suggestion on how to pick a name?

    • Geez, ask a hard one next time, Lissy! I could write a whole post on this. Names are essential for me. I can’t put even a word down of a story until my protagonist has a name. I like the website Behind the Name. You can look names up by country or meaning and get an idea of what feels right. As far as ‘knowing’ a character before you start, sounds like you’re going to be a planner. At least for this project. I tend to be a pantser so my outlines are haphazard. I’d suggest checking out scrivener. It’s a program for writers, excellent in so many ways. One of which is the way you can organize all your notes for research and characters. They have a great character sketch template which will give you a good place to start. The program is about forty bucks and has been a life saver for me so I’d highly recommend it.

    • Arielle

      Kendra tried bouncing this off me earlier and most of what I said was, “Uhhh….I don’t know?” I’m not the person to ask about names because I tend to go with ones that I just think sound cool. Possibly not the best system. I would go with Kendra’s website suggestion. But I did think of something that might help with “meeting” your character.
      This sounds super goofy, but play make believe (or maybe call it something less embarrassing). I must confess, I do this every time I get a new story idea. I go somewhere no one will hear or see me, and I pick a point in the plot where I know sort of what’s supposed to happen. Then I try to act out the scene as the main character. This is hard when you have to do all the other characters’ lines too, and it feels pretty awkward and silly at first, but it really does help me. It turns the character into a real person for me, which makes it feel much more natural when I’m writing in his or her point of view. If you decide to give it a try, I would suggest doing a few scenes that are really different from each other.
      This isn’t a solution to the name problem, but getting a feel for who he or she is might spark something, like whether her name should sound sophisticated or simple. Or maybe his mom has an embarrassing nickname for him he’s trying to outgrow.
      That’s all I got. Good luck!

  2. Sorry to get all picky on you instead of talking about your points, but I’m about to go on a crusade. Baited (worms and minnows) does not equal bated (restrain, diminish). PLEASE!

  3. Pingback: What’s in a Name? | From the Desk of Kendra Merritt

  4. I think being paid to write might actually make writer’s block more of a problem for me. The pressure!

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