FACT: every once in a while, the ol’ brain noodle goes limp. You stare at the screen…stare at the screen…stare at the screen. And then you remember…oh hey, there’s a pile of laundry downstairs. Or, the car needs gas. Or maybe you get a sudden urge to scrub those nasty grout stains in the bathroom because right now? It’s a get out of jail card. A reason to ditch the keyboard. And when your ideas dry up, doing something else—anything else—sounds like a GREAT plan.
It’s hard in these moments because guilt tags along. Guilt that we should be writing. That we shouldn’t have given up. And then worry sets in, followed by fear. Is this a sign that all the ideas have dried up? That we’re not cut out for this? Maybe the magic is gone. We’re broken. It’s time to switch careers.
Whoa there, self-doubt. Not cool.
MORE FACTS: You are not a fraud. You are not broken writer. You just need a creative kick in the pants, and me being the list-maker I am, you’re going to get a cornucopia of them.
Get Up and Move
- Go for a walk. It’s okay, the outside world won’t kill you. It’s bright and shiny out there, full of smells and sounds and tiny bits and bobs that you are usually to busy to notice. Challenge yourself to see these things. Hear them, smell them, touch them. How would you describe them on the page? Bring something home with you—a detail that can be woven into the scene you are trying to write.
- Go for a drive, somewhere you’ve never been. Life is busy. How often do you come last in the chain of priorities? Probably a lot, I’m guessing. So take a small trip, just for you, somewhere you’ve wanted to visit or check out. A park along the river that you often pass but never stop at. A coffee house with the funky tables out front. Go for a drive and experience that new place. Pay attention to your emotions. What do they feel like in your body? What type of thoughts enter your mind? Is there a moment in your story where you can ground a character using this emotion, showing it the same way?
Surf, Baby, Surf
- Pinterest is a great source for ideas when you need them. Plunk out a few search terms and start exploring. Then, create a board for the scene you’re trying to write. Choose images of scene’s location. The weather. Find pictures that symbolize the action that will unfold between characters. Include an image or two that gives you ideas on something unusual or unexpected that could happen.
- Find a quote that epitomizes how your character feels and the inner questions they are wresting with. (BrainyQuote is a good place to search by idea or theme, like “letting go of a relationship” or “betrayal” etc.). Find a few good quotes that help you slip into your character’s mindset. Many quotes have been made into images, and you could add this to a Pinterest board for your character.
- If you are in the planning stage for a new novel, take your surfing skills to Netflix. Scroll through the descriptions for different movies and when you find one that grabs your imagination, stop and imagine what the story might look like based on that one-line pitch. What premises, characters, situations, ironies, etc. speak to you? Write them down.
- Netflix again…this time, look at movies that are NOT in the genre you write. Read the one-liner blurbs. What situations, characters, and settings grab you? What ideas excite you and how could you tweak these to fit the genre you do want to write in? Trello is a great tool for organizing ideas. Make a column add all your ideas one by one on cards, and then drag them into different combinations. Play with ideas, see what comes together. Don’t be surprised if your next novel (or three!) come together rather quickly.
Shake Up the Routine
- Sometimes we get in a bit of a rut. If your ideas dry up, shake up your setting. If you’re writing at home, try heading out somewhere. Think about what fuels you – do you need absolute quiet? A library might be a good fit. If you like a bit of noise or want to people-watch, try a coffee shop, a pub, or a picnic bench at the park.
- Some people like to write at home, and that’s fine. But cast a glance around to see if your space is inspiring or not. We can’t all have stunning libraries to write in. Sometimes it’s the kitchen table, or facing the corner in the laundry room. Wherever you are, try to do whatever you can to feed your creative spirit. A screensaver that inspires the imagination. A candle that smells awesome. Soft lighting, music to write to. Make it as inviting and inspiring as possible.
- Protect your space. If you are trying to write and there’s lots of distractions (kids, a blaring TV, texts, notifications, etc.) it’s hard to hang onto a creative mindset. Move to a place where you have privacy, talk to family members about respecting your writing time, and consider investing in an app like Freedom. You can block everything, or make it so you can only access the sites you use to write. We all know that the internet is great for supplying us with ideas but it can also be a black hole sometimes.
Get Creative with a New Medium
- If you’re stuck and the words won’t flow, express your creativity another way. Surprise your spouse with a homemade dessert. Take a sketchpad outside and find something to draw. Take a painting class like I did (that requires zero skill). Sometimes we need to just let go of the pressure of making words and make something else instead. Fill your well and then come back to the keyboard!
- If you’re determined to push through your creative block with words, swap your keyboard out for a pen you love. (Hello, colorful gel pens!) Or, if you want to stick with your keyboard, switch fonts or colors. I find this really helps me and it’s great for editing, too.
Turn to Books
- Reading, so obvious, right? And yet, sometimes we just need to set everything aside and get lost in a book or three. Make time to read. Choose books you’re excited to experience. And don’t be afraid to read outside your genre!
- When the idea tank is empty, pull a book off the shelf that caused you to fall in love with writing. Pick an iconic scene and write it yourself. Or, choose an alternative ending. Write a backstory scene for one of the characters. Explore the world of another writer for fun, for you. Don’t worry about quality, just let your imagination run wild.
Think Outside the Box
- Turn to a library of ideas, something that will help you sort out any story struggle. One Stop for Writers is all about making sure you NEVER get stuck staring at the screen. It’s filled with tools that will help you brainstorm fresh stories, dig deep into the layers of your characters, and find your way out of any plot problem. Check out the Idea Generator for quick help, our crazy-helpful Tip Sheets & Checklists or explore the powerful descriptive database and other resources using One Stop for Writers’ Free Trial.
- Sometimes the story needs time to breathe. Stepping away can be a good thing, either literally, or just moving to another part of the story. I know, some people get itchy when it comes to the idea of writing out of order, but sometimes by skipping ahead you free your mind to work on the problems you’re encountering now. Working on a scene down the road that you can fully imagine will keep the momentum going so you don’t feel like you’re blocked.
So, BOOM. 15 ways to get those creative juices flowing through that incredible brain of yours. If you ever get frustrated, stuck, or stumped, work your way through the list. You’ll be back at the keyboard in no time at all!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Andrea Charles says
Thank you for this Angela! I found you in the nick of time when I was having the writer’s block. I often deviate from what is to be done mostly due to overflowing thoughts. A friend once adviced me to focus with the mind. But at the end of the day, the human part kicks in and tries to un-trick my mind!
Barbara keevil Parker says
Great article. Thanks. Barb
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Thanks, Barb–I hope it gives you lots of ideas. 🙂
Kay DiBianca says
Great list, Angela! I bookmarked this page for those “sticky” days.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
Awesome–I hope these ideas are a help 🙂
Ingmar Albizu says
Great tips, Angela.
And yes, a change of scenery can inject new life into your writing.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
It’s so true. I think getting outside is really important, too. We can really end up going from work to home too much in our routines and we forget to connect to nature. Getting outside and noticing the world unspools our creativity 🙂