How to Beat Writer's Block-- The Illustrated Guide to Inspiration

May 11, 2011

Now, I want to make something clear right off: I don't believe in writer's block. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I don't believe in getting stuck. Heaven knows I've gotten stuck myself. But writer's block implies that you are blocked. You can't move forward. You should just go sit on the couch and eat a gallon of ice cream and watch Doctor Who because there's no point in even trying.

Taking a break is often a good way to clear your head, but there are some writing techniques that can help too. So now, I give you the Illustrated Guide to Inspiration. This can work if you're stuck or not; you can take it literally or literarily, and either way it's a great way to find inspiration.

Get a different perspective on something familiar
For our anniversary, the hubs and I had a rooftop dinner at a charming little cafe with an open roof. It looked out over the place we got married. As I looked out over the beautiful Salt Lake Temple, I noticed things about it I hadn't seen from the ground. It was beautiful, and I saw the place a little differently, which meant I thought about it a little differently.
Try this in your book. You naturally assume, after thinking and working on it so long that the way things are going is the way they should go. Take a look at the troublesome scene again. View it from another character's POV, or imagine what would happen if you twisted those familiar moments.

Don't be afraid to get lost
After dinner, me and Hubby decided to wander around Salt Lake City. Someone had told us where to find a lovely little park where several historical figures were buried, and we set out to find it. We went completely the wrong way, but we found some gorgeous places and just enjoyed the springtime. And eventually, we found what we were looking for.
Don't be afraid that if you wander around in your story, you'll never get out. Not only will you find some really stunning twists along the way, you just might get where you wanted to go.

Go somewhere you've never been
The building where we ate dinner was built 100 years ago exactly as the old Hotel Utah. It was the swankiest hotel in the west, and MAN is it gorgeous. It was built back in the day when everything was elaborate and attention to detail was important. I've been to other parts of it before, but I've never just lingered in the lobby. Standing there took me back to a time when ladies in fancy dresses and men in suits and cravats mingled in the magnificence.
Don't be afraid to go somewhere new in your story. Try writing something a few scenes away, or try taking your characters somewhere you didn't plan. Immerse yourself in something completely new, even if it's a different story. Just wandering around can help you find what you want.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.
As we wandered the lobby, we asked a worker if there was anything else he would recommend we look at while there. He pointed to a conference room where a gorgeous old buffet table sat. It was 300 years old and originally sat in a castle in Scotland.
I'm a sucker for historical things, and it fascinated me to run my fingers over the polished wood and imagine the castle where the table had sat and the people who had touched it before me. In the meantime, my husband discovered something different: an intricate Asian chest that was just as beautiful as the buffet table.
Don't be afraid to ask for help from your critique group and friends. Not only can you get some great ideas from them, but you just might discover some ideas of your own along the way.

So, my friends, what do you do when you get stuck? Feel free to share any helpful tips!


Reece said...

When I get stuck, it's usually because of a specific problem. For example, I have a MC who is basically a recovering addict with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; the problem is, I have to somehow get him to 1)voluntarily put himself in close proximity to the cause of his addiction and trauma, and 2)retain enough will power to become a pivotal factor in defeating said cause.

I'm handling it by talking to therapists who have worked with either recovering drug addicts or victims of PTSD.

So, I guess you could say that, when I get stuck, I look at the root of the problem and then talk to people who know about it.

Stacy Henrie said...

I heard a little trick a long time ago. Basically it's that instead of writing out everything you've got right then until you get to a point where you're stuck, stop writing while the writing's good. This has really helped me. If I can stop at a point that I know what's coming next, then I'm less likely to stare in panic at the blank screen the next time I sit down to write.

Julia Darcey said...

So true. Sometimes you just have to break the staring contest between you and the computer screen and get out of your head.
Something that helps me is writing on my iphone's notepad application. For some reason this sucks me away from the real world and into the story in a way my laptop cannot. Plus you can lie down, curl up, hide under the covers, whatever you want :)

Pretty pictures, by the way! This totally makes me want to visit Salt Lake City - I've never been.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

Aw, I miss Salt Lake now.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

If I get stuck, I usually work on something else for a while until I can hear my character again. It usually works. Granted, I have a story I'm still stuck on and it's been a few months since I've worked on it, but I know it will come back to me someday! :)

I love the Joseph Smith building. I've played my harp in the lobby several times and it's just gorgeous. :)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I LOVE THIS POST!! What a great way to illustrate these writing techniques, and it made me all nostalgic for good ole SLC.

I think getting a different POV and asking for help work the absolute best for me. I am a little afraid of getting lost, but if I have a CP to brainstorm with, I feel much safer.

Wow. So glad we are blog buddies. This was just what I needed as I sit down and see my writing work cut out for me.

KM Nalle said...

Shallee - these are all great ideas. I will often look at a scene from another character's perspective or throw in an unexpected and off the wall twist to get the characters moving again.

Also, I do what Stacy recommends. I stop writing after an hour no matter where I am in the scene. That way, I always have something to pick up the next day.

Michelle Merrill said...

Ooh, I like your analogy! And yes, your pictures make me miss Utah...

I should let you know that I've heard that writer's block isn't necessarily just being stuck. I've also heard as it referred to the headache that can come from trying to edit and write at the same time. Using both sides of the brain. Does that make sense? Just thought I'd tell ya. If that's the case, I definitely believe in writer's block :)

Abby Minard said...

I LOVE historical things too, and always love to imagine the people of the time, and make up stories for them.

Great analogies too, Shallee. It's always good to explore different areas when you're stuck. I've sketched my characters, written little dialogues and side stories to help my mini blockages before.

Ellie Garratt said...

Fabulous post! Like you, I don't believe in writers block. When I get stuck I find going out or chatting to a friend re-invigorates me.

Ellie Garratt

Tatum Flynn said...

Love this post, visual aids are so great at helping to make a point - and it looks like you had a great day out too :)

Ghenet Myrthil said...

These are great tips! I also don't believe in writer's block. There are so many things you can do when you're stuck, like you've illustrated here!

Happy Anniversary! :)

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