Beating the Block

I usually post my big weekly musing on Monday morning. But as you can see from the time stamp at the top of this entry, it is now Tuesday morning. So what gives?

Writer’s block, my friends. A heavy wall of it as thick as a barge and more impenetrable than steel. That I didn’t manage to break through it yesterday is obvious. But that failure, to me at least, is also surprising.

Because over time I’ve become pretty good at fighting writer’s block. A lot of this has to do with my background in journalism. Deadlines aren’t patient. They don’t wait until you feel like writing. You have to produce something — anything — within your alloted time. So over the years, I’ve devised a few ways to deal with it and, hopefully, beat it. They (usually) work for me, and I hope they’ll work for you, too.


This is the first trick I use when writer’s block strikes, and it usually works. I go to one of my many bookshelves and grab something by a writer whom I respect and enjoy. There’s something about excellent writing that gets those creative juices flowing again. Lately, my go-to authors have been Laura Lippman and Dennis Lehane. Those two can write like nobody’s business, and seeing their effortless prose inspires me to try to keep plugging away.


I know, this is easier said than done, especially when you’re staring at a blank computer screen with no idea how to proceed. The key is to write something with the knowledge that it’s utter crap and that it won’t ever see the light of day. It’s a mental trick. Knowing that what you’re jotting down will be rewritten very soon frees the brain to start thinking of words and forming sentences. Before you know it, you’re writing again. And nine times out of ten, that crap you have no intention of keeping turns out to actually be pretty good.

Exercise (physical)

This one has been hard this spring, when it’s been raining more often than not. But if the weather is clear, it doesn’t hurt to get outside and go for a nice, long walk. The fresh air clears your head. The time spent walking gives you time to think about what you’re writing that day. As an added bonus, you burn the calories you’ve amassed while sitting at your desk eating cookies. (Please tell me I’m not the only writer who does this.)

Exercise (mental)

This is another good trick that I learned from Naomi Epel’s THE OBSERVATION DECK: A TOOL KIT FOR WRITERS. Instead of sitting there and writing nothing, give yourself a little mental exercise. It could be something as simple as describing the room you’re in, doing a brief character sketch or writing a six-word sentence that tells a complete story. These mental calisthenics tap into that creative part of the brain and lets the words leak out again.

Give up

This one is a last resort, but sometimes it comes to that. There are days when you just know, deep down in your gut, that the words aren’t to come. The muse has left the building and you’ve got no choice but to give up for the day. When you get to that point, it does you no good to sit there and beat your head against your keyboard. Just vow to try again and go do something else. To paraphrase Lawrence Block in his amazing book WRITING THE NOVEL, some days it’s best to just give up the ghost and go to the movies.

So there you have it, folks, my five ways to deal with writer’s block. I’d love to hear how you handle those horrible blocked days. If you’ve got a good tip to share, tell me in the comments section below.

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings, On Writing

5 Responses to Beating the Block

  1. Kristen Ness Ayers

    Thank you for these tips! I have The Block right now. I’m writing my first novel and often – especially when I finish a chapter – The Block strikes before I can start the next chapter. I’m going to try your tip: read a favorite author. That should give me some inspiration. I also find that going back to read some of the earlier chapters that I’ve already written gets me back into the story and brings words to the page (though I have to try, try, TRY not to go back and edit or I really get stuck!).

  2. Byron Suggs

    Hey Todd,

    For anything but dialogue, I think your five ways are dead on. For blocks with dialogue, I do something a bit different: I act it out. “Improv”. I close my office doors and walk through my characters. Since my office is isolated, I can do this without the risk of being committed. I’m a lousy actor, and the insanity of it usually breaks my block.

  3. Todd

    You’re welcome, Kristen. I hope some of them work for you. The between-chapter block happens to me, too. I heard somewhere (I wish I could remember the source) that the best way to avoid that is to jump into the next chapter as soon as you finish the one before it. Don’t wait until the next day to tackle the next chapter.

  4. Todd

    Another good suggestion, Byron. I’ve done a lot of talking to myself over the years. (But only some of it is related to my writing.)

  5. Bev Freeman

    Don’t laugh- when I need ideas, I sleep. No kidding. I’ve had the most amazing dreams all my life. When I was a young child my older brother accused me of making up stories when I’d tell my dreams. I always remember them. I’ve even had warnings in dreams. Family learned when I was a teen to respect those dreams; they often came true. But I’m not psychic. I have a over active imagination gland, or something…
    I’ve been known to get up in the middle of the night and write chapters, not pages. I absolutely love to write.