How do you get rid of writer's block?

I didn’t think this was a question serious enough to merit a GQ thread … I hope this is the right place to put it.

I used to write. A lot. I submitted a manuscript to a major gaming corporation and was told “you obviously know how to write” by one of my idols; I printed the e-mail and am seriously thinking about having it framed :slight_smile: I was a very creative person in my younger years and used to let all my creativity out by painting, playing music, and dancing as well as writing, but in recent years my ability to do the first three has declined and writing is all I have left.

Now, it’s been over a year since I’ve really written. I’ve done a few things - I played a game with some friends, where you’re given a list of “objectives” you must fulfill in 3000 words or less, but I don’t consider that real writing; it’s not like I’m being original or anything, I’m taking someone else’s ideas and fleshing them out with my character. Currently, I’ve found I can’t even do that much.

The last thing I wrote was on September 9th, 2001. In retrospect it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was a prologue to a novel I was planning on writing for a very dear friend of mine for his birthday. He got the prologue, but ever since I’ve been unable to write any further on the project, or on anything else that is patently my own. I have volumes of background and history and ideas out the wazoo, but no ability to sit down and put words upon paper or screen.

So I come to you Dopers and beg your help. What can I do to let all these ideas out? They’ve been building up in my head like garbage bags in the back of the understaffed restaurant I work at, and I am dying to get rid of them! I have no creative outlet and it’s driving me crazy! I can’t sleep more than 4 hours a night without being plagued by bizarre dreams that would probably make great stories only I can’t write them … gah!

Help? Please?

puts on her best pitiful face

I am not a writer, but I write sometimes (if that makes any sense) - I find that going out for a long walk or other journey stimulates my mind - most of the writing that I can look back at now without cringing and throwing away was written on or immediately after journies.

Didn’t doing that put Stephen King in the hospital?

You don’t have writer’s block. Writer’s block is when you don’t have ideas. That one’s easy - just write anyway.

May I suggest Writing Down the Bones?

It deals with the issue of creating the discipline required to write when you don’t have anybody expecting you to write.

If you’re asking ME, what I personally do to cure writer’s block…it’s odd.

First I go and read an Eric Bogosian play, because he’s my idol. That usually clears something up, or makes me think.

Then I pick out a CD that I haven’t listened to for at least six months and play it all the way through.

Works every time.

I had some serious writer’s block a few months ago, and now I’m back into writing something every day.

I also started an lj community for all of us SDMB writers to share ideas and snippets and help each other.

Stop on by!


I have found that I actually have to spend time doing something I hate in order to come up with any creative inspiration at all. I thought being down here in New Orleans with my hubby was going to be so great–plenty of time to write and paint (since we were originally only going to be here four months). And well, needless to say, aside from a 20,000 wd beginning to a now “cold” novel, I am looking for a job. It’s as if I need something to fight against in order to make any breakthroughs.

Read Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird.’ This has become my mantra: ‘shitty first draft.’

Say it with me: ‘shitty first draft, shitty first draft, shitty first draft…’

What’s working for me is surrounding myself with good writing. If I’m reading trash, my brain isn’t stimulated, so it can’t write. If I’m reading well-written material, my brain is buzzing with ideas, simply because the writing that I’m reading demands response.

Listen to favourite songs for inspiration. I once wrote an entire short story from listening to Bjork’s Hyperballad - using the lyric "There’s a beautiful view/ from the top of the mountain/ every morning I walk towards the edge/ and throw little things off
". Douglas Adams went one better and wrote an entire novel from listening to a Procul Harum song.

Something else - radically switch genres. Start writing something totally pointless - if you’re working on a sci-fi crime novel set in medieval times, write an autobiography instead. At least it’ll get you going.

Just write your ideas down even if you think they sound stupid. You don’t have writer’s block, as someone earlier said, because you have plenty of ideas rolling around in your head.

I’ve been having trouble lately convincing myself to actually finish my current novel. I’m very close to the end, as in, the climactic scene, but I can’t seem to convince myself to write a decent amount every day. I think it’s frustration over my inability to sell any fiction. But I will finish the damn thing if it kills me.

One thing you might do. If you play a lot of computer or console games, see about writing game reviews for a website. Writing for money (or at least free games) and under a deadline is a great incentive. It’s not fiction, exactly, but it is quite creative and you’re at least writing about fiction.

Also, if you play pen-and-paper RPGs (especially any d20 games), plenty of publishers have popped up with freelance openings in different areas. Consider submitting a proposal for an idea. Once you’re under deadline, you might find ideas come to you.

P.S. Game developers rarely take outside submissions. Who was the developer that responded, btw?

When I get stuck, I read. Fiction works well, and short stories are a great way to get the machinery moving.

Other than that, you sit down and write. Put one word after another. And keep at it for at least half an hour. Take a break and try again.

I am more of an aspiring writer than a writer. I have written a memoir and am currently working on a Fantasy novel.

My memoir was pretty easy. I just thought of the stories I typically tell about myself , my family, and my friends and wrote them down. I call it finished because I am not sure how much else I would like to write down. As it is, it stands alone on its own merits now though it is on the smaller side of Novel.

My fantasy story is another issue altogether. I get stuck here all the time. Basically, when I get stuck here I go to my little index card folder and pull out something that I had brain stormed over earlier and look to see if it will fit in with the theme. The catalog idea was my best bet to overcome my periodic writer’s block.

In case you don’t actually keep one, I find it much easier and readily available than keeping it in a computer database. Basically, I have it divided by plots, themes, heroes, villains, background characters, landscapes, cities, and miscellaneous. When I have an interesting idea for anything that could possibly have anything to do with writing, I write it down on an index card and then file it. I find some days I am significantly more creative feeling than others.

The days that I think I have writer’s block those cards can really help bring me out of it. Also, since I am not a professional writer, I don’t write constantly. I find this to be a problem since it is hard to get started sometimes. I try to write around 5-10 hours a week on just about anything. It really helps to have a set schedule.

Some people have certain times of the day that they are more creative. For me it is definately just after I wake up or write before I go to bed. I come up with the most interesting spins and ideas during those times of the day but do my worst work then. I actually find that the ideas pour out at those times but when I try to actualize them they simply come out wrong. I find that the actual meat of the story comes better in middle of the day (too bad a day job hampers this somewhat) and rarely, if ever, in the evenings. This means that I have to do the majority of my writing on the weekends or during the day at work if I manage to get a lot of slack time and actually have my filecards with me.

umm…you can…ummm.


oh! ahhhhh.



According to one biography of him, Victor Hugo had an unusual method for curing writer’s block. He would strip naked and have his servant lock him in a small windowless room that contained nothing but paper, ink, and a desk. This was to stop him from being distracted- the flaw in that logic I won’t mention.

Thanks everyone :slight_smile:

So let’s see … I should go for a walk, naked, with my portable DVD player and my collection of Bjork videos in one hand, and Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 in the other, all the while extemporaneously spewing forth every idea in my head but in a new and unusual way totally unlike the genre I am used to writing? :smiley:

dorkus, that is a good idea. I have most of my stuff in a 210-page Word file that is just impossible to filter through, or spread out amongst any of a bazillion notebooks scattered through my room. I like the index card file idea, and what’s more, I have like 4000 cards and 10 or so index card files lying around from my old dance-instructor days. Thanks! I’ll have to try getting organised and see if that helps me some :slight_smile:

Deadly, it was Justin Achilles from White-Wolf RPG. Unfortunately they weren’t looking for fiction writers. I’m not very good with thinking up new things for their roleplaying books, as I’m pretty much overwhelmed with all their current rules and volumes! But he did enjoy my fiction and said that he’d give me a shout if he needed something. I’m not sure it’ll ever happen but it sure was a nice ego boost. :slight_smile:

Actually I think I just wrote something. I posted this thread and then I tried to sleep - working two jobs is taking a toll on me, and I have to be at work in just over 2 1/2 hours. But I couldn’t sleep. One particular memory kept nagging at me and so I got up and wrote about it. It’s largely true and I’m kind of ashamed of that fact but … It felt good to put something down into words that I don’t immediately hate, though. I’m still not sure if it’s really “writing” but I’ll chuck it up on a website for y’all so you can see what kind of blocks I’m dealing with, since it’s not a true writer’s block :slight_smile: I didn’t bother to edit it or anything … I just sat down and closed my eyes and typed.

Pick it apart at will, folks :slight_smile: And thanks for all the suggestions! Keep ‘em coming though, in case that naked-DVD-book-blabbering-walk thing doesn’t end up workin’ out :wink:


Come on, Synnove, don’t leave me hanging? Does Jacob turn into a psychotic murderer? Does Melissa? Does she come to realize she loves him anyway? You write extremely well, btw. Extremely well.

If your problem is that you don’t know how to finish, then a couple of suggestions I have are:

  1. Get a piece of paper and brainstorm endings. Anything from ending it as a love story to ending it with an alien invasion of purple-headed dogs out to conquer earth. Just write, with no concern over how stupid or silly the idea is. Something good will come of it.

  2. If you have an ending in mind but don’t know how to reach it, go ahead and write it anyway. After you have a beginning and ending, a lot of times the middle will fill itself out. That being said, don’t be stuck on the ending if something better comes along in the process.

I hope you find it in you to become a professional writer. I think you have the talent.

** gex gex ** , you creep the living hell out of me. This very-freaking-morning, I had an idea for a sci-fi novel set in medieval times. I don’t think I’m going to write it, though. It’s too… weird.

Kn(wondering how ** gex gex ** got inside her head… there’s a story in that!)ckers

Is the date of your last writing a coincidence, or did your writing stop because of September 11th? Was anyone you know involved? Could the writer’s block be a symptom of depression or anxiety?

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but now that the 1st anniversary is rolling around, it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Bum on seat. Write.

Mr P was having a tizz the other month. I pointed him in the direction of a specific publisher with a specific format for a book. We thought up a plot. He wrote it.

It sold last night . It’s not a great piece of literature, it’s not what he wants to write all the time but damn it, it will keep the wolf from the door for a couple of months.

Thanks for the compliment, Deadly :slight_smile: I’m afraid the real-life ending to the scenario isn’t of much interest so I doubt I’ll be continuing that piece unless I can think of something likely to follow up with.

That’s not my normal style of writing but it was refreshing to be able to put anything in words!

I am not now, nor have I ever been, seriously considering going into professional writing. I know it’s the kind of industry that requires diligence, aggressive behaviour, and a great deal of self-confidence, and well … I don’t have much of that. It’s always just been a relieving hobby of mine and I never really expected it to go any farther than that. I just want to write again.

gonzoron, well, it’s kind of tricky. I don’t think it’s too related to September 11th; I certainly didn’t lose anyone I knew to the tragedy. The last thing I wrote was the prologue for a novel for a friend of mine, and his birthday was July 9th, and my birthday was September 7th, so I intended to send it to him as an “inverse birthday” (9/7 => 7/9, how clever) present. I finished it two days late.

However I must note that the subject matter was a faith war and one man’s struggle to overcome the terrorist tactics used by his side in the revolution. It was a fantasy story and all, but it was a bit hard to write about religious fanatacism without sounding like I was patronizing something or someone.

I haven’t been able to go anywhere with the story since. I feel like it’s cheating to work on it “out of order” since I’m supposed to be sending it to my friend in serial chapters. I feel … bleh.

Primaflora, I am absolutely awed by your husband’s ability to sell a book it took him but a month to write!

I think I have attention-span issues because when I was more active and had more things to think about I seemed to do better at each thing; now that I have more time and less to dwell on, everything I do feels sub-standard. I find it hard to write without flitting between times or locations, as I did in the thing I linked above. I think I’ll look into that Writing Down the Bones book, although I must admit I’m historically bad with self-motivation …

IANAW, but one thing that I read about Isaac Asimov sticks in my mind. As you may know he was the author of literally hundreds of books and he said that the one thing that kept him from ever having writer’s block is the fact that he always had several projects going at one time. A science-fiction book, a non-fiction book, a mystery, several magazine articles, and so on.

He would keep regular hours and treat it like any other job, just writing away, from 9 to 5 or whatever. If he got stuck on one project, he would just switch to one of the others. If he wasn’t feeling creative that day, he would do bibliographic research or whatever for one of the non-fiction projects.

Another suggestion is a writer’s workshop, I have heard many science fiction writers (for example) that have used the ideas that they have bounced off others to break through that block.

Keep up the good work!