Unblock the Blocks

Blogger Hannah Heath has begun doing YouTube videos also.  In a recent one (Oct 2017), someone asked her about “writer’s block”.  She replied that she didn’t believe in it, and went on to explain that too often writers use that excuse for not writing.  In the normal work-a-day world, most of us have paying jobs.  We don’t have the leisure to simply say, “I have CPA block”, or “I have brain surgeon block”, or “I have auto mechanic block”.  We have to show up to work and do the best we can anyway.  Allowing ourselves to ‘enjoy’ the leisure of writer’s block frees us from the responsibility of dealing with it.  Accountants do accounting and writers do writing.

Her point is interesting, and well made.  Writer’s block does conveniently allow us to stop writing for a while, and it sounds so creative and grandiose in the bargain.  But as Hannah points out, instead we need to examine what our ‘block’ actually is, and then actively do something toward removing it, or getting around it.

Are we lacking inspiration?  If so, are we doing anything to gain inspiration?  Research?  Writing out every possible idea we can come up with to see if something workable presents itself?

Are we just burned out on writing and need a break?  If so, are we setting aside a fixed amount of time to take that break, with a firm deadline of when to come back to it?  This would be the equivalent of scheduling your vacation in the regular working world.  At the end of the vacation period you DO have to return to work, whether you ‘want’ to or not.

If you can point to something more concrete than ‘block’, then you have a better chance of overcoming it.  If I tell you “the road is blocked”, you have no idea how to respond.  Is the road flooded, but in time the water will drain and it will again be passable?  Was the road washed away entirely in the flood and no passage will be possible until the road is rebuilt?  Is a tree down and blocking the road, and a chainsaw could quickly remedy the situation?

Finding the source of the block lets you make a plan for dealing with the delay or setback.  It’s difficult to fight against the unknown.

Name your problem, then work to resolve it.


Writer’s Block, Right?

At one time or another, it seems like every writing blog tackles this issue.  BUT, they don’t have the super-duper-miraculous-writer’s-block-cure-of-the-millenium that I do!

Okay, no I don’t have that – at ease.  I get “block” just like everyone else.  There’s really not a whole lot of point in looking at why (unless you think that will help you resolve yours – then go ahead).  And, truthfully, I don’t always smash through it to finish every story that I start.  I have at least 6-12 (or more) unfinished stories.  Some only have a line or two, some only have a basic idea sketched out and some fill numerous pages before they stop.

On the off chance that it helps you with yours, here are some of the things I do:

  1. I try not to go off into another world.

For instance, if I’m writing Lord of the Rings stories, I try not to read Harry Potter.  It shifts my focus and makes it all the easier NOT to knuckle down and finish the Lord of the Rings story.  If you aren’t writing in a specialized universe like I do, it would be easier for you, I would think – it would be harder to get pulled off course, and there would be more likelihood of ideas that might spur something in your story.  That would apply to anything:  if you’re writing romance, getting wrapped up in reading mysteries may not fill you with usable ideas for your romance.  Reading other romances, might spark something, though you need to be careful about snitching ideas.  If you keep it “vague” enough, however, it is acceptable.  No one has the copyright on “love at first sight”. 

While you are reading or watching these other things, whether they be classics of the genre or mediocre, consider what does and does not work in the storytelling.  Does that book have a great plot, but it’s poorly executed?  Do you have instances in your story where you do something similar?  How does the storyteller pace their story?  How, and how well, are the characters developed?  If you can’t connect with the characters, why not?  (One of the things about the movie Thor – I never really believed the romance in it.  I wasn’t sold that these two were all of a sudden desperately in love with each other.)  Does your story have the same or similar problems to those you see elsewhere?

  1. If I’m not writing the actual story, I try to stay in the story by doing supplemental research.

Geography, climate, how to correctly use a bow and arrow (really, not much like you see in most movies), effects of certain injuries, and so forth.  Sometimes in the course of researching one or two things, I get ideas of more to do with them.  In the story I am currently working on, I wanted to map out a route for something, but since I play in Tolkien’s world I found that realistically it simply wouldn’t work.  BUT, I could still use some of that research to have the character trying to find a route, and using my failure to find what I wanted as part of her failure to find what she wanted.

  1. I keep reviewing and editing what I have written.

Sometimes that sparks new ideas, and if nothing else I make progress on the editing side of it.

  1. I try to ask myself questions.

What else needs to happen?  How do they get from here to there?  What happens along the way?  Why didn’t they just…?  You get the idea.  Anything to keep me working the story.  I have to get them over that mountain to a different city?  How far is it?  How rough is the terrain?  What are the options for travel?  How long will it take?  Does something slow them down so that they are in danger of not arriving to the other city by a certain time?

Don’t worry if you think you’re writing junk.  Just write it.  You can edit junk.  You can’t edit a blank page.  Something is better than nothing.  If you have a trusted friend who will read it for you, they may ask you questions (since it is unfinished) that will help guide you in knowing what more you need to add. 

Hopefully some of these things will help you keep plugging away.  Good luck!


also see in Category “Writer’s Block”:

Spell It Out, January 21, 2017

Choices, January 27, 2017

How To Be Inspired When Writing

  1. Try to go to bed
  2. Be incredibly busy with other stuff that must be done
  3. Need to go to school/work right now
  4. Be driving in your car so that you are unable to write anything down
  5. Decide to write on something other than your WIP (work in progress) [to get inspiration for your WIP]
  6. Plan to spend the entire day with family or friends
  7. Be trying to ‘sleep in’ on the weekend or a day off

See?  Easy.  Whenever it’s inconvenient, inspiration comes.


There used to be a popular series of books for kids that involved “Which Way?”.  Depending on which of two options you chose, the story took a different turn.  Because there was the option for “which way” at several points in the story, you could end up with several different stories that all started at the same place.  It was possible, theoretically, for all or some of the stories to end in the same place, but get there by different paths.

In our own writing, there is a huge element of “which way” going on, even if we are not consciously aware of it.  At any given moment in the story, things change based on what the characters do or do not do.  It may be something as simple as walking around a building on the left side versus on the right side and still ending up on the other side, but seeing different things along the way.  Or it may involve much more.  Think of the first line of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”:  Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

What if one of those paths is merely a scenic trip home, but the other has a wounded grizzly bear who attacks and kills the traveler?  Quite a different outcome simply from which path was chosen.

Further to what I discussed in a previous post (Spell It Out), you can use this to your advantage, whether because of writer’s block or simply plotting out your story early on.  There may be some things that are fixed in your mind, that you absolutely want to have happen.

Below are some variations of “which way” (certainly not all that there could be).  Suppose you know A and you know you want to get to Y.  Then you start figuring out how to get there.  What path is taken?  What happens along the way?

You start a list of your various options at each point, and then note what options disappear/become available based on each one.

As you begin to write these ideas down, you either come up with more ideas and keep going with it, or run into problems and decide that choice isn’t working.  So you go back to your sticking point and choose another path.  For instance, you start at A and go to C and go to J, but somehow S is a boring way to get to Y.  So you either back up to J or even C and start down a different path and look at the possibilities.

If H is a farm in present-day upstate New York, and I is a castle in Medieval times, and J is a futuristic settlement on Mars, it is unlikely that all those paths could end up at the same place (Y).  At least, it would take a whole lot of writing and creativity to include all those elements in a single story, probably involving time travel or such.

But smaller changes can give more flexibility to a single story.  A is the hero.  He lives in a small farming community (H), or in a small town (I), or in a bustling, large city in the heart of things (J).  Q might take him to the next town over.  R might lead him into a dark forest.  And S might send him on an epic journey across the land to some distant place.  The land, the people, the environment, etc. that he/she meets along the way to any of those three will play a part in the story, and impact what happens.  Does the hero meet only nice, helpful people, or is he/she constantly having to hide/avoid evil, mean people/creatures to safely reach their destination?

A  –>  B –>  E –>  N –>  W

A –>  B –>  F –>  O –>  W

A –>  B –>  G –>  P –>  X

A –>  C –>  H –>  Q –>  X

A –>  C –>  I –>  R –>  Y

A –>  C –>  J –>  S –>  Y

A –>  D –>  K –>  T –>  Z

A –>  D –>  L –>  U –>  Z

A –>  D –>  M –>  V –>  AA

So this is an additional element to working through writer’s block or story problems, or just writing the story in and of itself.  Start mapping it out.  What happens?  What is/could be the result of that?  If the hero is headed through the dark forest and the person they need to meet is in the next town over in the opposite direction, there’s a problem that needs to be fixed if you want to get them together.

Going back to the example in the previous post (and here think Lord of the Rings):  the evil magician has a magic ring.

What can the ring do (what magic does it possess)?  Can anyone wield that magic or is it specific?  (Anyone could possess the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, but it was just blank parchment unless they knew how to use it.)

If there are words that need to be said to make it work, how does the person finding the magic ring discover what the words are?

What is the hero trying to do with the ring?  Use it?  Sell it?  Destroy it?

If he wants to use it, he must learn how.  (Or maybe only learn how to control it when it acts on its own.)

If he wants to sell it, he must find a buyer, and keep it safe from someone who might want to steal it rather than pay for it.

If he wants to destroy it, how can it be destroyed?  The One Ring in Lord of the Rings could only be destroyed in one specific way.  That one way required a trek to a certain place (through hazardous terrain crawling with dangerous foes).  If your hero wants to destroy the ring, what challenges does that present to him?

Perhaps these ideas will give you even more food for thought in getting your story from your head to your fingers to written.

[Basic sample of Which Way story:


(While the url above is correct, possibly because it is a pdf, clicking on it or even copy/pasting it won’t work.  I found it by googling:  “which way” stories

Be sure to put the quote marks around “which way” or you get each word searched.  In my search in Firefox, this came up as the first item.  Look for the englishforeveryone entry.)

Spell It Out

One of the things genealogists are told to do when they hit a brickwall is to either write out the problem, listing what they know, or tell it to another person.  The reason for this is that sometimes in the course of explaining it, to ourselves or someone else, we see things we miss when we focused just on the problem itself.

Similarly, that might help you get going if you are ‘stopped’ in something you are writing.  Start writing down what the problem is, even if the question is merely ‘What happens next?’.  Then consider the possible choices – list them.  Sometimes that effort alone – the mere act of writing – gets you moving and gets your mind working the problem better than just staring at a blank page thinking ‘What do I write?’

I’ve often seen writing advice that when you have writer’s block you should simply write.  That’s all very well and good, but if you could do that you might not be blocked.  So focus on something you CAN write, then embellish it a little, then a little bit more and so on.  Hopefully that will start your fingers moving, with the pen or the keyboard, as you choose.  Find something in your story, or that you want to be in your story, or about your story and commit it to paper/screen.  Describe characters.  Describe the finale.  Jot down ideas on the environment they inhabit – what is around them?  Skyscrapers, barns, castles?

For instance, Main Character finds a Magic Ring

  •    Where did he find it?    (I don’t know)
  •    Where did it come from?     (an evil magician)
  •    How did the magician lose it?  Or did he hide it?  Or did he place the ring FOR someone/the Main Character to find?   (the Evil Magician is about to be captured so he hides the ring in order to keep it away from his captors)
  •    Based on the How, where might the Evil Magician and the Main Character both happen to be to make this possible?     (a forest that is between the lands where each lives)
  •     What brought the Main Character to that forest so that he could find the ring?  If the ring is hidden, how does he/she happen to find it?
  •     Who is about to the capture the Evil Magician?  Why?
  •     How did he come to be in the forest while trying to elude capture?
  •     What does this Magic Ring do?  Why do the Magician’s captors want it?  What can the Main Character use it for?

Those questions can help you see what is still missing in your story, and perhaps guide you on what to write.

And, personally, I don’t feel compelled to write in a straight line.  Sometimes when I’m stuck on one part of a story, I work on another part – even if I only do a few lines or paragraphs.  I try to insert them roughly in the correct order so they essentially form something of an outline for where I’m headed.  This will sometimes mean that later you need to tweak details in order to fit the pieces together, but it keeps you moving.

Maybe we should think of Writer’s Block not in terms of block=wall, but rather block=blocks.  As in children’s blocks.  With the alphabet on them.  Don’t try to tear down the wall.  Try to rearrange the alphabet blocks into words.

Try it.  See if it helps you.


[image found at:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/%5D