Friday, April 3, 2009


People ask me all the time how I deal with writer's block. And I admit that used to be a real problem for me until I developed methods of dealing with it when it happens, writing around it and generally stripping it of its power to hurt my productivity. With the caveat that I generally focus my efforts on writing mysteries, thrillers and adventure novels, here are my 7 favorite ways of dealing with blockage:
  1. Kill someone. The Classic method of dealing with a roadblock in mystery writing is "Throw another body on the floor." I generally find that about 40,000 words into any book I will hit a wall that can only be solved by killing someone. Writer's block really can be murder.
  2. Give 'em the finger. One of my favorite mental tricks comes from Larry Dixon in a toast he gave at a writer's party I attended some time back. "Imagine the 'Microsoft Pointer-Finger' is giving you the finger," he said. "Unless you're writing, it's sitting there just flipping you off and you can't make it stop unless you're putting words on the page."
  3. Take it on the road. Sometimes what a scene needs is a new location. If I'm having trouble with a scene or series of events, it often helps to re-set the scenery. This can either entail the characters getting in a car or just moving the location of the events to a new place.
  4. Send 'em to the showers. If you've written yourself into a corner, or if you're in one of those situations where the characters seem to be running away with the story and you don't know what comes next... do what comes naturally. I find that characters become more human in my head if I allow them to do human things, like use a restroom, shave, smoke, change clothes, call their parents, answer email, cook a meal... or take a shower. It adds verisimilitude, moves the scene forward and if it's too much, you can always delete it later in the rewriting and editing stages.
  5. Write the next word. It sounds so simple until you're sitting there staring at the keys, being mocked by the 26 innocent-seeming letters. But you have to get the next word out there into the aether. And then the one after that and the one after that. It may be the wrong word, they all may be the wrong words, but you're writing and that ain't nothin'. Writers have a tendency to be so self-critical that if we wake up on the wrong side of the bed, nothing we do that day is going to satisfy. There's nothing wrong with that. But you have to write anyway. Get it down on the page. Rough edges can be smoothed later, just get it out there.
  6. Go get a cup of coffee. Seriously. Get up out of your chair and go do something else for a bit. Get a refill, take a walk, garden, or fill out a silly online quiz your friend sent you. The longer you sit there staring at that &%$ cursor giving you the finger, the hard it can get to write the next word. Walk it off.
  7. Remember the secret... There are 26 letters on your keyboard. They're the same 26 letters used by Joyce when he wrote Ulysses and by Huxley for Brave New World, Hemingway for The Sun Also Rises, and Nora Roberts for the fifteen novels she put out last year. It's all about perspective, really.
And a bonus 8th way to get over a writing drought... Write a blog post about writer's block. Now if you'll excuse me, I have pages to write before I can sleep. --- What are your tricks for dealing with Writer's Block? Or are you immune to writer's block? I want to know! Leave your tips and tricks in the comments. Photo by me (Canon Powershot A510 w/ Timer)

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).