what to do to get unstuck: advice for writers and artists
a partial index of techniques.
ALTER YOUR PHYSICAL REALITY
write by hand
write with a brightly colored pen, or a marker, or a crayon
use a different font (I recommend comic sans! no seriously. try it)
change your background color, mess with your document's formatting, use a different writing app altogether
invert the colors of your screen
move to a different room
take a long walk, go for a run, a swim, ride your bike— get moving
listen to music
listen to different music than you normally do
open a voice memo and talk through your thought process out loud
call a friend and ask to talk it through with them
KEEP IN MIND
don't sweat grammar, spelling, or finicky details of word choice. use the not-quite-right word for now, and move on
don't delete anything — just strikethrough and keep going
characters need to yearn for something
embrace contradiction and incongruity in your scenes, in your characters, and in your aesthetics. the same scene can hold both hope and despair. protagonists can be their own antagonists. descriptions can embrace both beauty and ugliness.
ask: “what could go wrong?” and write exactly how it goes wrong
it's opposite day: write down the essential beats of the scene, then flip them upside down, or inside out, or mirror them left to right, and see what happens
change your voice: shift tense. shift tone (try out a very elevated and antique diction, try out a plain and simple short-words-only style, try being filthy and vulgar and vernacular). shift to 1st-2nd-3rd person. write in a different language if you know a different language. mimic the writing or speaking voice of someone else— a friend, or an author, or a famous person, or a fictional person
switch POV to a different character
write the next scene instead
write the ending
write a "meanwhile" scene taking place somewhere else
kill someone (......in the story. do not murder a real life person every time you hit a block in your writing.)
write a sex scene. who cares. just go for it
write something ridiculous, silly, absurd. make yourself laugh
pile extra misery and setbacks on top of your protagonist and let them wriggle themselves out from under it (or: let them fail interestingly)
write badly. write clunkily. write the most terrible, horrible, awful sentence you can think of. now you have a sentence! it's very bad! good job. it can be edited later. for now, write another bad sentence. then do that ten more times. then keep going.
read a book or story by someone whose writing you admire — absorb their powers by osmosis
read something by someone whose writing you loathe so much you can't believe they ever got published — fuel yourself with pure spite
crack open your journal and just dump your brain out on the page for 15-20 minutes, or 3 full pages, whatever comes first
wake up early
stay up late
be out for blood
honour your errors as hidden intentions
look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify
make work that is so secret, so fantastic, so weird and disgusting, work that you can't show to anyone, work that you want to bury under a grungy old shed inside a time capsule and leave it for a far-future generation after you die so it can never be traced back to you
ANALYSIS & PROBLEM-SOLVING
the source of the blockage may be upstream. look back at what you’ve already written. when did the writing become difficult? look closely at that point and examine what you've written to see if it needs to be scrapped or re-thought.
refer back to your outline to see if you've diverged from it. if you don't have an outline, make one. find the logic in your story and draw a path from the start to the end. divergence is not necessarily bad— but it can be helpful to have a story map to compare your current position to, and see the possibilities laid out.
re-think the length. if you're bogged down and you don't have another 100 pages (or 3000 words) in you, can you end it in half that amount? some stories work better as short stories, novellas, or flash fiction. whittle it down, tighten the pacing, and see if that helps.
alternatively: if you're bored by your own story, instead of speeding it up, slow it down. take your time to marinate in every detail of your setting and your characters. spread out and stretch.
read your draft out loud. out loud out loud. don’t whisper your story, don’t murmur it to yourself. read it exactly as if you were reading it for an appreciative audience at a literary event, or as if you were an audiobook narrator. As you read, circle everything that doesn’t work, which might be a word or two, or might be an entire passage. the flip side of this: even in that one scene you're really struggling with, there will be things that DO work.
PULL THE PIN ON THE GRENADE
delete your last few thousand words. then rewrite it all from scratch.
treat yourself like you would treat a close friend, or a child, or a loved one. encourage yourself. support yourself. decline to participate in negative self-talk.
when your inner critic starts getting noisy, acknowledge their presence and their opinions as if they were a separate, real person, without identifying or agreeing with them. then gently reach out and turn down the volume knob.
set small, reasonable goals.
don't sit still at your keyboard praying for rain. write in the desert where you are. writing itself will bring the rain.