Are you struggling with how to start your project? Itching to get writing but don’t know where to start? Maybe you feel stuck or walled off by writer’s block.
Have no fear. It happens to everyone.
Fortunately, there are several effective strategies you can use to overcome writer’s block and start writing your next project.
Say goodbye, writer’s block! We’re about to get your creative juices flowing again!
1. Change your writing environment.
We have to start here because it’s often an overlooked key to unlocking the stuck mind. When we do a certain thing or go to a certain place over and over again, our brains mold pathways that make thinking patterns fall into those same old ruts right away. The goal here is to change things up and break those crusty old behaviors.
Here are some of the ways to do that:
- Change your writing schedule. Write in the evening? Try writing first thing in the morning.
- Try writing in a different place. If you write in your office, try writing at a coffee shop instead.
- Take a break and walk around. Get the endorphins pumping! This really helps.
- Go for a drive to nowhere. 20 minutes in the car by yourself with no distractions (or maybe some music or an audiobook) does wonders to “reset” your brain.
2. Warm up with a writing exercise.
Writing exercises are great because you never know where they will go or what you will get out of them. More than a few of my own works have come directly from writing exercises I did to warm up my fingertips.
It doesn’t have to be a formal exercise either. The point isn’t to follow a set of arbitrary rules, but to get your brain thinking in the “writerly” way while expanding into newer, fresher territory.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Describe something. Pick something you see and describe it. Spend at least a page doing so. Try describing the thing or person without naming it directly.
- Practice freewriting. This technique involves writing without stopping or censoring yourself for a set period of time, say 10 minutes. Just write whatever is in your brain and see where it goes.
- Write from a prompt. There are thousands of writing prompts available on the web, such as those provided by Writer’s Digest. Another great way to jumpstart your creativity.
- Try a writing exercise. Or two. Or several. Reedsy offers a helpful list of writing exercises for novelists in particular, but anyone can get value from them.
Also Read: 5 Simple Tricks to Improve Your Descriptions
3. Start with a dramatic hook.
Now we’re getting into pro-level writing techniques designed to unstopper your writer’s block. In this method, you will open a new project with the most dramatic image, setting, or scene you can imagine. It doesn’t have to be connected to anything yet. The point here is just to make it arresting, intriguing, and make the reader want to turn the page—even if the reader is just you.
Here are some ways to do that:
Open on an arresting image.
This is a great technique because it sparks instant intrigue and excitement.
Consider making the image seem out of place at first to arouse curiosity and wonder. Is the Statue of Liberty’s head lying in a garbage heap? The Mona Lisa on fire? A foreigner surrounded by masses of seemingly identical locals? There are no rules, only imagery.
Describe something visual.
By opening on the description of something visual, you can draw the reader in by setting the scene and starting small before expanding their view of the scene. Begin by describing the image in detail, along with the action, and then exploring outward from there to pieces of the world, other characters, and events that may have occurred off-screen.
As with the arresting image, you may find it helpful to take inspiration from art, such as one of the innumerable collages on Pinterest, artist pages on Facebook, Deviantart, or classic works of art found in museums around the world.
Begin anywhere but the beginning.
Really. Many writers find themselves unable to dive into a new novel or screenplay because they can’t figure out how to start the book. Here’s a secret: start it later.
For now, pick a part of the book you know you want to write and start writing there. Is it the description of a character? A place? An exchange of dialogue? An action?
Don’t let yourself be held back.
Open with conflict.
Another favorite choice of writers, especially in the movies. If you’re writing a screenplay, jump into the action in media res without lapsing into direct exposition. If you’re writing prose, start on an action and dive right into the scene conflict. Many great stories start with action.
Conflict is the bread and butter that keeps readers glued to the story. So why not open the story with some type of conflict? Physical, social, purely internal—again, don’t limit yourself.
Start with dialogue.
This is a riskier tactic but opening up on the right line of dialogue (or even a voice over in film) is a way to make the audience stick around to see what happens next. Dialogue that’s outrageous or obviously out of context works well here. So does tying the dialogue directly to the middle of a conflict: “What do you mean you’ve lost it?” or “Like I said before, you wanted a problem, now you got a problem.” Et cetera.
If you can make it work, it’s a great way to go. In general, however, opening with action or description is a stronger choice, so use this technique carefully.
4. Start with research.
Many writing projects require research. Personally, I find my best ideas come to me directly out of the research I do—while I’m doing it. Making notes and scribbling ideas down as I go, in no time at all, I end up with a stack of material that helps me get started. I like to think of these as tent pegs I’ve put in the ground, and when I get to the writing phase, my task is to connect with pegs with canvas until a cohesive structure is built.
Here are some ways you start with research:
- Stick your nose in some books. Good old-fashioned research technique. I keep a separate notebook I can write ideas down in, page numbers, and other notes so as to avoid defacing books (yes, I am that kind of person).
- People watch. Go to a public place and write descriptions, behaviors, backgrounds, or whatever you like about the people and groups you observe.
- Make a visual board. Using websites like Pinterest or a more conventional corkboard on the wall can help you bring together characters, images, settings, and ideas to make the world feel more real. Start by selecting one image. That way, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed.
- Watch or read interviews. This approach is overlooked far too often. By looking at interviews from subject matter experts and survivors of very specific experiences, you can garner details for your story that you might not be able to get anywhere else.
5. Start by concepting with a friend.
I love this approach. Personally, I find it very helpful. Two brains are better than one. The simple act of verbalizing and articulating your ideas in front of someone else and getting their feedback helps you sort out what works and what needs work. Let the ideas flow freely. Don’t worry about ideas being “too big” or “too crazy.” You never know what will stick to the wall.
Think of this strategy as a creative brainstorm with someone who will act as your sounding board. Your hype person. Your confidant. Your friend you owe a coffee after putting up with your insane story ideas.
Another advantage to this strategy is that being put on the spot to articulate an idea verbally helps you “hear” it out loud more like a stranger would. It also forces your brain to suddenly connect dots and make observations you might not have consciously known before.
If you have a friend who’s willing to take the extra step with you, set up a few ground rules for the concepting session:
- Use as many “what ifs” as possible.
- Agree that no “what if” is a bad idea.
- Try to explore each “what if” as far as possible.
- Always respond with “yes and” —meaning you must agree to the “what if” and add another element, detail, twist, or “what if” on top of it.
- Don’t shy away from the big “what ifs”—what if the genre was X instead of Y; what if the main character was the opposite gender; what if the story started at the end; etc.
Overcoming writer’s block can be a challenge, but by using these five tips and tricks, you can break through your creative roadblocks and start writing your next project. Whether it’s changing your writing environment, warming up with a writing exercise, starting with a dramatic hook, starting with research first, or you simply need to brainstorm with a friend first, these strategies can help you approach your writing with renewed energy and focus.
Use as many (or as few) of these techniques as many times as you need to pop the cork on writer’s block. By this time next year, I’m confident you will be well into your creating your best work yet.
And, of course, never stop writing!