11 Novelist-Tested Ways to Defeat Writer’s Block

I’m super excited to welcome Warren Adler to our blog. He’s the author of The War of The Roses and Random Hearts, which you’ll likely recognize as major motion pictures from the 80s and 90s. As a successful career author, Warren has accumulated some tried-and-true methods for getting un-stuck, and he’s here today to share them with us…

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PhotoSteve101 @ Creative Commons

1. Reread your favorite novels, the ones that once inspired you to be a writer. One of my favorite books is The Red and the Black by Stendhal. Not surprisingly, it makes an appearance in my new novel Treadmill.

2. Rewatch your favorite movies, the ones that made you hope your work would follow suit. No one can deny that electric feeling of inspiration that sparks up after watching a great movie.

3. Take long walks and concentrate on observing those things around you. Change your focus from inside of yourself to outside. Never underestimate the power of leaving your writing desk for a quick tango with nature. 9 times out of 10, you’ll return with a fresh palette of ideas and a renewed sense of motivation.

4. See a stage play or musical revival that you once enjoyed on film or on live stage. My all-time favorite musical and film is My Fair Lady.

5. Don’t frustrate yourself by starting something new until your imagination reveals a new idea for a story. Never force an artistic endeavor. When the muse comes to visit, you’ll know it right away.

6. Fantasize sexual activity and take action if possible. I discuss the craft of working sex into one’s writing in Writing Sex Scenes for the Non-Genre Novelist. Sex has always been present in great literature. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out, for example, that the Bible is replete with the taboo subject including examples of every conceivable exercise of the venery. Shakespeare was a master at presenting sexual desire, its consequences, and its power impacting his language. For the great Victorians, the fabulous Russians, and the wonderful continental novelists of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, sex was an ever-present life force and its characters indulged in it with great energy and zeal. It was, however, presented in language that would hardly make a spinster blush.

7. Exercise frequently, avoid alcohol or drugs, and avoid any negativity – It leads to depression and locks creativity. I am a great believer in the benefits of Pilates and do it twice weekly.

8. Read newspapers. Many great novels have come out of newspaper stories. My third novel, The Henderson Equation, was inspired by the Washington Post’s relentless pursuit of President Richard Nixon, which became the political scandal of the century known today as Watergate. It made the careers of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and brought lifetime laurels to the publisher of The Washington Post (Katherine Graham), the editor at the time (Ben Bradlee), and a host of writers who have since analyzed, parsed, recounted and fictionalized the episode ad infinitum in hundreds of books and media, including the Academy Award winning film, All the President’s Men.

9. Keep your antenna circling, looking for story ideas. It is always difficult to describe to people how a story idea enters a novelist’s consciousness. By the time I began to write The War of the Roses I had already published nine novels and my antenna must have been circulating feverishly searching for a new idea until it finally came to me.

10. Listen carefully to conversations. Don’t shut off contacts with friends and acquaintances. I am always writing a story in my head and I never pass up the chance to listen in on a good conversation (even bad ones). The idea for The War of the Roses came to me at a dinner party in Washington in 1979. One of our female friends was dating a lawyer, who was her guest at the party. At some point, he looked at his watch and announced that he had to get home or his wife would lock him out of the house. When asked why, he said he was in the process of getting a divorce and was living under the same roof and sharing facilities and that part of the agreement was a strict set of rules on coming and goings and the division of living quarters.

The dilemma expressed by this dinner guest might be called the “eureka” moment. The story quickly formed in my mind and, with the exception of a brief conversation with a Judge who was an expert in domestic law, I did no other legal research on the subject of divorce. Oddly, many people have become convinced, including said dinner guest, that somehow I had burrowed into the legal files of their various divorce actions. I cannot tell you how many times, over the years, people have accused me of “stealing their divorces.” I tried countering this accusation by explaining that a novel’s story grows out of a novelist’s imagination and the amalgamation of his or her observations and experiences, but to little avail.

11. Above all, don’t whine to your friends and acquaintances about your problem. Instead, try using the tips listed above, and you’ll be back to writing in no time.

Do you have any personal tips for overcoming writer’s block? Please share them in the comments section.

Treadmill Cover (A10).jpgWarren Adler is best known for The War of the Roseshis masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito. In addition to the success of the stage adaptation of his iconic novel on the perils of divorce, Adler has optioned and sold film rights to more than a dozen of his novels and short stories to Hollywood and major television networks. In recent development are the Broadway Production of The War of the Roses, to be produced by Jay and Cindy Gutterman: The War of the Roses – The Children (Permut Presentations), a feature film adaptation of the sequel to Adler’s iconic divorce story, and Capitol Crimes (Sennett Entertainment), a television series based on his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series. Adler’s forthcoming thriller Treadmill, is officially available. You can learn more about Warren Adler at his website.

HEADS UP!

Angela is posting over at Writers In the Storm about a Planning a Story’s Set Pieces. If you’d like some help prepping for NaNoWriMo, or just want a bit of clarity regarding Inner and Outer Conflict as well as Inner & Outer Motivation, check it out!

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

This entry was posted in Experiments, Guest Post, Uncategorized, Writer's Block. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to 11 Novelist-Tested Ways to Defeat Writer’s Block

  1. Pingback: Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Oct 12-18, 2014 | Writerly Goodness

  2. Calisa Rhose says:

    What a great post! Nice to meet the author of one of my all time fave shows! I’ll try these next time I get stuck, which happens regularly. lol

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  4. Pingback: Defeat Writer’s Block! 11 Novelist-Tested Ways – Writing Rightly | jack & Liz

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  6. Julie Musil says:

    This post actually gave me a couple of great ideas! Thanks so much for the nudge.

  7. These are great tips in defeating writers block. Thanks for sharing them.

  8. I really like these ideas for getting un-stuck. I’ve read that true writer’s block is often connected to fear in some way—fear of getting the scene wrong, fear of putting in time and effort and wasting those resources, fear of people not liking what you’ve written. So I would add another tip to this excellent list: identify what exactly you’re afraid of—why you’re unwilling or unable to write what it is you’re trying to write. Name the fear, then give yourself a better mantra to focus on. Instead of What if it’s crap?, tell yourself, “Every first draft is crap.” Give yourself permission to suck so you can just get the words down, then go back and pretty it up during revisions. Another example: “I’m afraid I’m going to write all these words, but they’re going to be wrong and I’m going to have to cut them all later.” Turn this into a positive that’s true: “I’m going to grow as a writer from the process of writing these words down, so even if they end up being cut, they’re worth writing.” My two cents. 🙂

  9. Appreciate your ideas and suggestions. Where I get stuck is in the midst of a story, despite having plotted out the whole thing. Getting from one part of the story to the next and keeping the dates, etc. in order. I’m a slow writer since I edit as I go. Letting go of a so-called final version is the hardest.
    I love the recommendations of reading, exercising, walking and listening. Perfect. Thank you.

  10. This is all great advice! I’m rereading “Girl With a Pearl Earring” because that got me out of a writing slump once. So did the movie “Midnight in Paris.” I need to exercise more, anyway, so will add that to the to-do list. And walks in nature sound refreshing 🙂

    Many thanks to Warren Adler.

  11. This is great advice from Warren Adler. Thanks for posting it here. I will be posting the link on my blog soon.

  12. :Donna Marie says:

    I still haven’t gotten to focus on writing my novels in the way I want and need to, so most of my writing is more on the picture book/board book and illustrating levels. I don’t think I’ve ever actually experienced what one would call “writer’s block.” I’d say the closest I’ve come is simply having a hard time seeing what the missing piece or pieces are to make what I’m doing work. I think any kind of block comes from a narrow-mindedness or sort of going around in circles, retreading the same type solutions or ideas that come to our minds first. That’s why so many of these type suggestions are valid since they encourage a writer to step outside their own head and world. You need “fresh” and varied ideas, images and experiences to expand on your own and create roadways out instead of driving around the same block repeatedly. It’s all good stuff 🙂 Thank you, Becca and Warren! 🙂

  13. This was very helpful, Becca and Warren. Thank you! So nice to get permission to watch my favorite literary characters on screen and in the theatre, and be admonished yet again to READ, READ, READ!!

  14. Great advice – thanks! Love how you got the idea for Wars of the Roses and I really enjoyed Random Hearts!

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