Writing Outside the Block

15 Ways to Get Past Writer’s Block

If you’re a writer, there’s nothing more agonizing than sitting in front of the computer and finding yourself at a loss for words. You’ve carved out the time to write and you need to make progress, but the letters just can’t seem to make it from your head to the page.

Some schools of thought say to keep writing—to push through the block and put pen to paper no matter what comes out. But if you’re anything like me, trying to write when you’re blocked leaves you with a bunch of garbage…or you find yourself down some Internet rabbit hole with no memory of how you got there.

Before courting either of those fates, try these 15 ways to get past your writer’s block. Some get your creative juices flowing, some engage your research skills, some are just plain fun, and all them allow you to keep moving forward with without actually writing the text. And who knows, maybe you’ll be back at your keyboard before you reach #15.


If You Want to Keep Writing…

1. Try a free write.

Free writing is just what it seems—a time to write whatever pops into your head. Set a timer for 10 minutes and start writing, either on the computer or by hand (I love to do the latter!). You don’t have to work on your manuscript or even write sentences that make sense. Just get all the thoughts out of your head and onto the page, no matter how irrelevant, distracting, or downright strange they may seem!


2. Outline what’s left of the book.

Even if you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of writer, outlining can help when you feel stuck. It’s fun to map out where your story is going, even if you end up taking a different path along the way.


3. Go back and edit what you’ve written.

Stuck on a chapter? Go to the beginning of your book and start editing. By the time you reach the sticky chapter, you will have gotten reacquainted with your book and will be full of news ideas to improve.


4. Brainstorm new ideas.

Many of us writers have waaaay too many book ideas rolling around in our heads. Jot down a few new concepts to regain your creative confidence.


5. Critique a book for a writer friend…and ask them to do the same.

Getting an outside opinion on your WIP or finished manuscript is key to making your writing better. And you should always reciprocate because, well, caring is sharing.


If You’d Rather Not Write…

5. Make a writing schedule.

You may feel disappointed that your writing time isn’t panning out, but that’s okay! Make a writing schedule for the next month or two or three, building in time to write, research, edit, and take breaks. You’ll feel better once you have a plan in place.


6. Spend an hour on Goodreads.

If you’re going to play online, play online wisely. Head to Goodreads (or your favorite book recommendation site) and learn about recently published and upcoming books in your genre. Read the reviews from readers and check out the book covers and descriptions. You can learn a lot from what other folks do well.


7. Make a mood board.

Mood boards capture the essence of your book through images, color palettes, comparable book covers—you name it! I like to throw inspiring images into a PowerPoint or on a Pinterest board so I can think more visually about a project.


8. Start thinking about marketing.

It’s never too early to consider marketing opportunities! Start brainstorming ways you can build your platform, connect with readers, and get your book in the hands of influential people (think: librarians, booksellers, radio/TV hosts, big-name authors, etc.). Add to this list whenever you get stuck.


9. Watch an inspiring book-related video. 

When you don’t even want to look at another word, look at someone talking about words instead. Try one of the TED Talks below to jump-start your inner author.

  • How Books Can Open Your Mind (6 minutes)
  • Why a Good Book Is a Secret Door (16 minutes)
  • Where Does Creativity Hide? (22 minutes)


If You Are Looking to Get Published…

10. Write your query letter.

If the manuscript is giving you trouble, try your hand at the query letter. (And if you’re not querying, then try writing back cover or marketing copy.) For tips on writing a strong query, check out this post.


11. Write your synopsis. 

If you can write a synopsis, you can do anything! Distilling your work into a 2-3 page document can be torturous, but it will help you define the key points of your story and will come in handy when you are pitching your manuscript.


12. Research agents and/or publishers.

Trade your Word doc for a spreadsheet and look up agents or publishers you’d like to work with that represent your genre. Put together names, companies, submission guidelines, and email addresses so that when your project is complete, you’ll be ready.


If You Want to Get Off the Computer  

13. Read! 

Take a field trip to your bookstore or library or grab a favorite off your bookshelf. Sometimes all it takes to recharge your writing battery is to read something that inspires you. Pick up two books—one in your genre and one outside your genre—and immerse yourself in a new world.


14. Hit the books.

It sounds old fashioned, but there’s this cool place called the library where you can find information on just about any subject. Crazy, right? Instead of Googling everything, head to the library and find some books on your subject matter. Reading a tangible book and taking notes by hand can help stimulate different parts of your brain…and your creativity!


15. Watch a great TV show or movie.

Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but movies and TV are another form of storytelling! Pick a program that will inspire an element of your writing—a similar genre, character, plot arc, etc. Then see how those elements play out on the screen vs. on the page. Perhaps you’ll get some new ideas!


Have more ways to write outside the block? Share them in the comments below!

Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She loves reading and writing but not arithmetic. Follow her on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at www.editorsays.com.