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Tips for Breaking Writing Obstacles

I’ve written before about not believing Writer’s Block exists. I still don’t. It’s the Sasquatch of our industry. What I do believe in is not having ideas or motivation and not being in the zone, but those aren’t blocks, they are obstacles. Every career has them. And they can be overcome.

There are days when writing is a painful process of flinging words on the page without passion or a clue. We’ve all been there. Flailing about for an idea, any idea. But that’s different than having writer’s block.

Writer’s block gives those feelings too much power, as if there isn’t a solution or cure. As if it’s a curse that is insurmountable.

It’s not.

There are always tricks to lure your muse back. You just have to be committed to the craft and as determined as a hero facing certain doom. Dig deep and you will push through.

Here are my best tips for breaking through a bad day of writing:

When you don’t have ideas:

Go back to the source.

Talk to experts.

Read books.

Do more research.

Revisit your notes.

Pull out your idea folder and dive in.

Visit museums.

Get out in life and observe, not with the idea of working, but of collecting.

Get out of your head and turn your focus outward.

Meet new people and listen to their stories.

Eavesdrop, not to use what you hear, but to be inspired by another’s tale and perspective.

Expand your horizons and seek out new knowledge.

Feed your imagination with art.

When you aren’t motivated:

Keep trying anyway. Sometimes all you need is momentum to get moving again. It’s harder to begin than it is to keep going.

Take a walk.


Listen to music away from your desk.

Get out in life. This is a perennial favorite that I find cures many ills. It’s especially effective for writers who tend to get trapped in their own heads.

Watch a video or movie that is about a similar subject to get inspired by your subject again.

Go back to your outline or plot to see if you can find new ways to see the story.

Write character sketches or a short scene that won’t be used. Work on creating a rich backstory that will add depth to your existing scenes.

Play word games for a bit.

Play video games for a while. Story-based games work well. My favorite is Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time—a classic.

Go to the train station or airport and watch people come and go. I find it impossible to see so many people without creating backstories for them.

Do something physical to get out of your head. I love jumping at the trampoline park or going for a hike. Kayaking helps too. Do what works for you.

Get out in nature.

Look at the stars if they’re out.

Play. It doesn’t matter how. Go to the park and swing or steal your child’s Legos and build something new.

Set a false deadline. There is nothing that invokes the muse more than the adrenaline rush of an impending deadline, so create one. I don’t recommend procrastinating with your actual deadline to find motivation. It’s a great way to miss it and appear unprofessional.

Walk away for a while. You may be burned out and need a break. As long as you don’t have a set deadline, it’s okay to take a day or so to give your mind a break. Just make sure it’s the aberration and not the rule.

Listen to someone reading Shakespeare or poetry to fall back in love with words. I highly recommend Celebrities Reading Shakespeare by the BBC or enjoying a great short story from Selected Shorts available from Selected Shorts or through iTunes.

Re-read a childhood favorite that inspired you to write in the first place.

Sing. Loudly. Badly or not. Doesn’t matter.

When you’re not in the zone:

This one is tougher, but my best tips for getting in the zone is to…

Read poetry.

Read an except from a favorite author with a similar voice to what you are writing.

Take a ten minute break to move. Sometimes all you need is to get the blood flowing.

Write until you are in the zone.

Write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s a complaint letter to your muse.

Pick up a favorite project and use it to find your writing mojo then switch back to your current project.

Play word games for a few minutes to get your brain firing again.

Take a piece of what you are working on — a phrase, sentence, idea — and play with it. Make it into something comical or write it from a famous character’s perspective, say Yoda or Loki.

Stretch and then shake yourself out before you sit back down and get to writing.

The trick with any obstacle is to chip away at it. Find the source and attack it. Don’t accept your obstacle as “Writer’s Block” and give up. There’s always a way around.

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