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The Dreaded Writer’s Block

I have attended numerous writer conferences in the past twenty plus years. While I

enjoyed author workshops and learned a great deal about the writing process as well as the

publishing business, one particular presentation by an agent stayed with me. He is now president

of his own agency, has authored several books on writing and represents over 100 authors, so he

apparently knows what he’s doing.

The best advice he gave in his wonderful presentation concerned an aspect of writing

most authors have difficulty with on a regular basis. It’s writer’s block and before I outline his

suggestion on how to deal with it, here are several other ideas I’ve heard of and used with spotty


From an article by Penguin Random House, their authors gave this advice:

  1. Get up and move, whether it’s a walk, run or other type of exercise. This may not be an immediate cure but it does help some of us.

  2. Write something else besides the project you have problems with. Or, write trash, no holds barred. My suggestion is to get off the computer and write longhand, like Amy Tan, Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling do with certain aspects of their writing.

  3. Let your project sit for a day or two. It is always helpful to me to stop thinking about the story for a few hours or overnight. Then, come back and read what you wrote but don’t waste too much time editing. Move forward and save the editing for later, after you’ve finished the first draft.

Another article from Mental Floss mentions how several other well-known authors dealt

with writer’s block. Ray Bradbury and Orson Scott Card believed it was a sign you were on the

wrong track, either the way you wrote something, or maybe the entire project. John Steinbeck’s

advice was to forget you write for an audience and instead concentrate on writing for one person.

I’m not sure this would work for me because the first person I thought of was my mom. I doubt

Mom would want to read the sex scenes in my romance books. I also found Joan Didion’s

method of dealing with writer’s block a little, uh, weird. She printed her manuscript, put it in a

plastic bag and stored it in the freezer. Didion was a great writer but I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t

be my way to move ahead. Finally, Maya Angelou agreed with the “write trash” idea, until the

muse returns and the trash turns into good stuff.

As for the agent, here is his suggestion on how to overcome the problem. Review the

scene you just wrote and imagine everything that might happen next. Don’t limit yourself to

previous plot ideas, your character’s motivations or personality traits, or even the setting. To

explain what he meant, Mr. Super Agent gave examples. I don’t remember what they were,

specifically, but I did understand his point. To help you understand, the following are examples

taken from the fruited plain of my brain. First, a basic plot setup:

Dylan Kraft arrives early morning at his cabin in the mountains of eastern Tennessee.

He’s just started to renovate the cabin, left to him by his grandpa. When he walks in the front

door, he finds a young woman, a stranger, asleep on the floor.

The woman, Jesse, is a fugitive. She has run away from her hometown in Virginia,

because she suspects someone wants her dead. A car followed her after she left work one

evening and intentionally ran her car off the road. She manages to escape, leaves her cell phone

in her car and walks the Appalachian Trail for several days until she finds a deserted cabin near

the trail, where she finally feels safe.

You’ve stopped writing because the original plot no longer works. The idea in your mind

sounded good as you traveled the trail with Jesse but something told you to leave her in the

cabin, and let Dylan discover her. Now, you’re lost among pine trees, in the dark, where black

bears are looking for their next meal.

Cue Super Agent. Here’s what he wants you to do. Is Jesse really from Virginia, or did

she and Dylan grow up together or meet in college? Why didn’t Jesse take her phone when she

escaped her wrecked car and call the police? Make Dylan a former ATF agent who always

carries a gun. When he sees a person on the floor of his cabin and the person makes a furtive

movement, he shoots them in the arm and must then take “her” to the hospital. Or, Jesse attends a

party in a nearby cabin the night before, where she overloads on alcohol and wakes up with a

strange guy standing over her. She doesn’t remember anything from the previous night but has

blood on her jeans and knows something bad happened. Put yourself in her jeans, look up to see

Dylan glance out the window and watch the flashing lights from outside bounce off the cabin

walls. You, as Jesse, hear the sirens, notice Dylan’s frown and scramble to your feet, ready to


I could fill another ten pages with ideas, but you get the picture. Stretch your imagination

way beyond the plot you first dreamed up. Even if you wanted to write romantic suspense or a

thriller or the next Pulitzer Prize winner, take it in several directions in your mind and see what

hits. Trust yourself when it strikes a chord.

Some writers find a particular method effective one time and ineffective the next. If that

happens, keep in mind the advice of Mr. Super Agent. His suggestion has almost always worked

for me, especially when I combine it with a good walk on a sunny day.

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