Ten Things To Do For Writers Block

By Nancy Martin



Do you think you have writer’s block?  First ask yourself if you’re just wasting time.  Are you scrolling through Facebook? Doing “research” by looking at websites?  Watching television to “get ideas?” Do you find yourself doing housework as an excuse not to write? Let’s face it.  Those problems aren’t writer’s block. They’re forms of procrastination. 


If I’m making an honest effort to write and still having trouble with my work-in-progress, I sit down and write myself a two-page letter about why I can’t write, or why I don’t feel like writing. 


Try it. If the answer is that you’re sick, it’s time to take care of yourself. Be pro-active. Get some rest.  Or take a walk. See a doctor.  If the answer is emotional in nature, you need to dig deeper. Are you fearing failure? Fearing success? Worried about what happens when the darn thing is finished?  A talk with a friend can help alleviate those concerns.  Or maybe it’s time to re-read some of those feel-good, supportive books for writers.   


Last year, I discovered one reason I wasn’t generating a lot of pages was simply that I was physically uncomfortable.  My desk chair didn’t feel good anymore.   My office was cold.  The dining room table made the laptop keyboard too high.  Finally I found a comfy sofa on the warm second floor and got down to business. Problem solved. 


Well, part of the problem.


At other times when I am dutifully writing that two-page letter to myself, I realize the problem is craft-oriented.  If my answer is, “I don’t know what to write next,” or, “I don’t know where the story is going,” or, “my characters aren’t talking to me,” it’s time to take practical action.  An outline is in order. 


Or maybe I just need fresh ideas.  Rather than pluck ideas from my own depleted imagination, I cheat and go looking for help. 


Here are some strategies for beating writer’s block:



  1. Read a magazine you’d otherwise never pick up. (Bust was an eye-opener.  Vanity Fair, Beekeeping, Horse Fancier, motorcycling magazines—there’s inspiration lurking in all of them.) But as you flip through your new magazine, try to divine how its content appeals to its audience.


  1. Read the 69th page of ten novels you loved once and haven’t read in a while. If they still grab you, define how.  If they don’t appeal anymore, what has changed?


  1. Start keeping a running list of evocative words you can use in your current work.  (“Becalmed” is the word I found this morning. Isn’t it a wonderful word?)  Come up with ten words every day. Not necessarily new words---just multi-purpose words that can heighten the reader’s experience.


  1. Cruise around a bookstore.  Write down 10 observations about current releases. Cover art, story elements, blurb content, anything. Investigate every genre. What have you learned?


  1. Watch a ½ hour sitcom you normally wouldn’t watch.  But don’t just sit there allowing the art to flow over you.  Outline the plot.  Note the moment the protagonist is rendered sympathetic to the viewer.  Keep track of the 2 major plot points.  When does the climax occur?  What happens in the denouement? When the action is over, write down what you think the theme of the story was.


  1. Pick up a how-to plot book (Donald Maass, Evan Marshall, Robert McKee, Christopher Vogler) and read one chapter.  Just one, preferably in the middle of the book.


  1. Go to a public space where a lot of people come and go. (Coffee shop, a hardware store, a school parking lot—any place where people are interacting.)  Observe three people.  On paper, describe them using three unique details. Then imagine a way each of those three characters can change the life of the other two.


  1. Spend an hour watching a soap opera you’ve never seen before. Keep track of how many times characters say what they want.  (Soap writing has come a long way.  There’s a lot of plot going on.)  Then write a list of your own characters along with a single sentence describing what they want.


  1. Think up ways to make your story more “epic” or “upmarket.”  Put the protag’s values at stake.  Figure ways to make the end of the book inevitable. Characters who love each other must be willing to sacrifice for each other, so what important thing will they sacrifice? Be sure the theme of the book also has a counterpoint—a secondary story that contrasts the theme. Think in opposites—and make things happen that are the opposite of what your protag expects. Think of ways to give the audience an emotional experience.  Research, research, research. Talk to an expert. Seek information your reader will enjoy learning.


  1. Read something good.  And keep a notebook on your lap.  Jot down the best words that appeal to you.  Words that are good verbs, that evoke an emotion or paint a mental picture are worth keeping by your side as you write.  One of them might stimulate an idea.  Or fit into a spot when you’re vocabulary fails. Doing a little advance wordsmithing is always worthwhile.

Don’t blame “writer’s block” when you find yourself unable to write.  Get to the bottom of your specific problem and find some practical solutions.




Nancy Martin is the author of nearly 50 popular fiction novels, including the bestselling Blackbird Sisters mysteries. She serves on the board of Sisters in Crime and teaches writing workshops around the country. Her most recent book, OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, was released last week.