Writer’s block. It’s a real poo, ain’t it?
And it doesn’t matter how good or experienced a writer you are: you will experience it. In fact, it’s arguably the biggest obstacle career writers have to overcome: writing and refusing to put a project on hold, even when the menace that is writer’s block squeezes the life out of your delicious brain meat.
But the human brain is a funny thing. While overcoming writer’s block can often feel like trying to move mountains, sometimes a few simple solutions might be all you need to get back on track. That’s what I’m here for. To, uh…clear your brain meat.
Start from Scratch
I am not saying delete everything you have and start over again (although if you want to go absolutely nuts and do that, you do you). What I am suggesting is that you start an entirely new document, completely from scratch, but keep what you already have to the side. Think of it as a reference point rather than your draft. Think of it as starting fresh, even if you’re technically not.
Then…start over again. Sometimes the wall of text behind you keeps you from moving forward. You are so caught up in what you’ve already created that you can’t see alternatives or ways to go on.
While this particular tip may not be the most productive if you’re a novelist writing a fantasy epic, it can be very helpful for shorter works. Hell, sometimes when I’m working on an article for The Angry Noodle, I’ll cross out everything I have or move it elsewhere, then start from scratch knowing what I already know and having a better idea of where I want the article to go than when I started. I often found that the writer’s block I suffer from often stems from trying to rewrite what I had, trying to put pieces together that didn’t quite fit. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is actually to just start over with a fresh perspective instead of trying to fix what isn’t working.
It sounds counterintuitive, I know. But some of the articles you may have read on my site (including this one, huehuehue) would never have been finished had I not realized I wanted to write them differently, got stuck, procrastinated, then finally realized I needed to get my shit together and just rewrite the damn thing all over again.
Reread, Reread, Reread
If you’re writing a short story, reread it over again. It might sound like a weird or fairly obvious thing to suggest, but writer’s block often comes from us trying to build on a scene we’re writing when we can’t even remember the entire context of it. Rereading everything again always helps me put the story back into perspective, reminds me of previous scenes, characters, dialogue, and worldbuilding that I could use to build out the story further, and restores a lot of the passion I lost for the project when I got stuck.
Write Everything by Hand
This might come as a surprise to you, dear readers, but writing by hand takes longer than typing. A lot longer.
Shocker, I know.
As a result, most writing seems to be done electronically rather than by hand. It’s faster and easier, after all. And when writing already takes as long as it does, why would you ever want to burden yourself further by tediously writing everything down instead?
The reason could be that it serves as a great potential solution to writer’s block. While typing is undeniably a lot faster, the speed and ease at which you can type is also ironically why it might be better to turn to handwriting when you’ve hit a mental block. Studies have found that writing by hand is better not only for retaining information when taking notes, but moving slower and having more freedom when writing by hand could make you more creative and force you to think critically as you write.
I can vouch for this method. As someone who is usually much too impatient to write any way other than the fastest way, I still try to set aside some time to handwrite either an outline, notes, or even pieces of whatever I’m working on whenever I find myself stuck. You’d be surprised at how many ideas come to you just because your writing process is going slower (and a lot inkier) than usual.
Take a Shower
Did you know that research has proven that doing a monotonous and/or relaxing task relaxes your brain, making it more likely that you’ll have a creative epiphany or solve a problem you’ve been stuck on?
Fun fact: did you also know that several of the blogs that I’ve written would sit in purgatory for several weeks until I had a nice long shower and realized, “Oh snap, this is a really good point to add to that one article that I forgot about a while ago and had no reason to think about again until my brain completely turned off while I was chillin’ and getting all clean.”
Brains are weird. By forcing yourself to sit in front of your computer (or your notebook; see previous point) and try to brainstorm ideas, you might actually just guarantee that you won’t be able to think of anything because you’re trying too hard. Many of the random shower ideas I got were just that–completely random. Sometimes they had nothing to do with whatever writing I was currently thinking about, or I wouldn’t even be thinking about writing at all when I’m showering but the idea would just pop into my head. It’s weird. Really weird.
But hey, it works! The lesson here: try, but don’t stress yourself trying. Sometimes taking a minute to give your mind some time to go blank is all you need to break through the dreaded writer’s block.
I did not write that post about cool generators for writers just for shenanigans, friends. A lot of them I use frequently, and the ones I hadn’t used, I sure do now that I found them to write that article.
There are a couple of ways a generator can help you out of a writing funk: you can either throw caution to the wind and write whatever is generated for you, no matter what, or you can just keep going through it until you find that missing puzzle piece, that tiny little thing in the back of your mind that was nagging you and stopping your entire writing process. For me, it’s names. I am not the type of person who can put “TK” in place of a name. I need the name. I need it. My entire writing process freezes the moment the characters come across someone new and I realize I haven’t named them yet. So I like going to sites like Fantasy Name Generators and going through the names that fit the category of what I’m looking for until I find one that just feels right, you know?
You would be surprised at how many generators there are, for every little thing. Whether you are looking for new characters with different personalities to add, new settings, new items at a shop, climates, towns, magic spells, chances are there’s a generator for it.
Talk to People
I love having brainstorm buddies. When I was in college, my friends and I had a writers group that we were very inconsistent about. But when we did all find the time to get together and talk through the problems we had with our writing, the results were magical.
You are one person with one vision for your short story/blog post/article/book. The beauty of workshopping your idea to other people is that you are multiplying the possible routes for your writing to go. Sure, there will inevitably be times where someone might suggest something that is nowhere near where you envision your writing going, but don’t underestimate the imaginations of other people. Most of my best friends are not science fiction or fantasy writers, but poets, comedy writers, screenwriters, playwrights, etc, etc. And yet, when I would propose ideas to them and tell them where I’d gotten stuck, they were always able to help me find a breakthrough.
You can go the traditional workshop buddy route and try to find a group specifically dedicated to sharing and workshopping writing. But I’ve actually found that sharing my writing and ideas with close friends and family got me better, more honest feedback and ideas. In the end, it’s all up to you and what you think would be the most helpful. Sometimes writer’s block is just a sign that you’re too close to your WIP and you need someone outside of it to help you break through.
Ambient Music Is Your Friend
While removing distractions can definitely contribute to curing the dreaded writer’s block, I have a hard time just sitting in a quiet room. But I also have a hard time focusing when there’s something going on in the background. What’s the best solution to that little conundrum, you ask? Ambient sounds and music. If you are easily distracted but need something to listen to, what better way to solve both problems by making the thing you listen to the same thing that can set the scene in your mind?
For example: are you writing a scene that takes place in a haunted house? Search “haunted house ambience” and I guarantee you will find a ton of music and ambient sounds to really get you in the right mood. Few things have ever inspired my writing more than sitting down, closing the door, putting on my headphones, and listening to nothing but some sounds that match the scene I’m writing. Not too long ago, I wrote a scene for a fantasy short story that took place in a shady black market. Before searching for “fantasy black market ambience,” I kind of figured I was taking a shot in the dark and wouldn’t really find anything quite that specific.
Nope. Lots and lots of results. And the beauty of ambient sounds/music is that you can usually find either really short videos that have a lot going on to help you write shorter, more involved scenes, or really long videos that are more subtle but help you keep your mind focused for longer. One of my favorite videos when writing sci-fi is this really cool cyberpunk ambient video on loop along with a really chill song. It’s only ten minutes long, but it was great for writing a scene about what it was like to be wealthy nobility in a futuristic, cyberpunk world.
My advice: search the scene you’re writing. If your characters are venturing through a haunted forest, search “haunted forest ambience.” If you’re writing a huge battle between two armies, complete with swordfighting, dragons, magic, and explosions, search “fantasy battle ambience” and lots of great videos pop up. I even saw a video focused on the ambience of the aftermath of battle, if you’re looking to write about the horrifying conclusion.
Image Boards Are Also Your Friend
It has been quite a while since I’ve posted my Pinterest anywhere, but I do in fact have one. Officially, I use it for saving pins of Angry Noodle posts to market for my site. But unofficially (and more honestly), I use it to make image boards for writing inspiration. I like creating themed boards for all sorts of things: superpowers, fantasy worldbuilding inspiration, magic, interior locations in science fiction, urban fantasy worldbuilding inspiration, and more. Back when I was still writing my sci-fi/fantasy series The Core City, I even made one big image board for every district in the city and the respective powers of the inhabitants.
All of those are just a few examples of the kind of inspiration you can get from Pinterest. I’m a very visual person, and if you are too, you will most definitely find something to inspire you just by creating an image board and typing out a search term like “urban fantasy,” “fantasy,” “fantasy outfits,” etc, etc.
Force Out the Word Vomit
This is probably the most unfortunate solution on this list. I know this because I hate it. I hate it so much.
But the painful truth is that there is no one stopping you from writing but your own brain meat. And while the other options on this list might be helpful for finally getting you back in your groove and in the mood to write, sometimes nothing helps. Sometimes all you can do is force yourself to work through it and keep writing even if every single word feels like pulling teeth.
The nice thing about it is that writer’s block is not forever. It can certainly feel like it, but you will inevitably either find the inspiration you lacked that got you stuck, step away for a while feeling lost only to come back to it months later with a fresh perspective, new ideas, and a new love for what you’re creating, or you’ll be an absolute mad lad and power through your own mind working against you.
Whatever the case may be, you will find that spark again. And that’s pretty darn cool.
For this post, I’d like to give a special thanks to the magical, beautiful Brandy. Writer and appreciator of all things spec-fic (eyyyy, high five!), long, long time Twitter homie, and one of the most amazing and supportive people you could ever meet on that there silly bird app.
There is so much you can learn from her and I can honestly say that she is one of the best people I’ve ever e-met. Sweet, hilarious, and just an all-around delight, Brandy is an absolute gem of a writer and a friend. Thank you so much, Brandy!
Bryanna Gary is the founder of The Angry Noodle and an editorial assistant at Del Rey Books, sci-fi and fantasy imprint at Penguin Random House. She is very smol and noodly, and also dipped in pasta sauce.