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Break the Blocks and Kick Your Muse

Writing was going good. Sentences flying from your fingers as you watched your story come to life around you. Half sight half dream your characters play out the scene and you watch and describe and take notation. The scene ends. You take a drink of coffee. The world focuses around you once more. And then...

...nothing. Not a thing comes to mind. The last scene was perfect, you had been building it, layer by layer for a week, but now... nothing. Your Muse has left the room, with a cheeky wiggle of distain. 

Maybe it just happened or maybe that was two weeks ago. Maybe your Muse is sleeping on the couch or watching soap operas. What ever is going  on, one of these three tips will get you back in the chair and into the story. 

After learning these three techs I haven't had writers block for more than 12 years.

1. Skip it. -- if the scene you are working on isn't flashing up into the visual cortex --  skip it and jump to the next scene, or another chapter altogether. This is one of the reasons I love Scrivener. It allows this kind of jumping with no effort at all, and allows the creation of notes and tags to keep track of your thoughts as you flip back and forth through versions and chapters. So, open up a new document, pick a scene that is in the future that you know needs to happen and begin. 

As you are writing, what needs to happen back at the spot you got stuck at will start to be filled in. As you MC does something -- that action will depend on actions happening prior to you jump. Most of the time this is called inference, this deriving what something is because of what something else is. 

If your MC puts his feet up on the table in the future scene, then in the previous scenes, there needs to be a table in the room, a chair, boots, perhaps a bottle of beer, maybe wearing a hat... so we need all of those as well. As you finish this scene, you'll see a trail of things that need to occur to get from the last scene to this one. 

2. Jump Start -- take out a book from an author you really love. Someone whose prose engulfs you. You can feel the words across your cheeks.  Open the book to a random page somewhere in the middle and then type/copy three full pages. Don't stop no matter what ideas come flashing up in your mind. Your Muse had her chance, now she can wait.  

Once you are finished, get up, get something to drink, clear your mind and sit back down. Start typing whatever comes to mind, whether it is inline with the current scene or not. Very soon, within a paragraph you'll know what needs to be written. Erase what you started with, and continue with the scene.

3. Write what Isn't -
 I got this idea from the folks at Pixar. An amazingly creative bunch they have over there. One of the head editors Tweeted 22 tips for building  creative stories. This comes from #9, of that list, and it is great for breaking up blocks.
Story basics #9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
If the scene isn't flashing, then start writing what would definitely not be happening in this scene. For example,  your MC is standing on the front lawn of a great estate, trying to come to grips with what "He" said -- suddenly your mind goes blank -- because this is suppose to be a profound emotional moment and you can't seem to find the right direction or words to convey the depth of what the MC is going through. Your muse has left the room... start typing what would definitely not be happening
She gazed into the starlight... but was distracted from her thoughts by  a soft thumping sound coming from across the trees to the south. The  thumping grew louder, and more distinct. The helicopters, three of them brushed the tree tops as they came in fast and hard, landing as their side doors were thrown open,  and a rush of clowns exited onto the great lawn, with automatic weapons in hand. The thought to duck exploded into her mind but her body was already hurtling itself into the grass....
In no time at all your Muse will come rushing into the room screaming "No, no no no no! Clowns?! You went to Clowns?!"

works every time... 

Now, how about something else, something for learning the deep building of 
Short Stories by one of the best short stories authors around, Mary Robinette Kowal.   This lecture taught me more than the twenty years before ever did. Amazing that she put this out there for free. Actually the whole semester with Brandon Sanderson is on YouTube and this is Lecture #7...enjoy, don't stay up too late. 


  1. I do like point 3. I get bored sometimes too, and the words don't come because I'm trying to push a scene that's not working. I will try something way more exciting next time to get me going. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Lana, it has always worked for me. And hell... it's a lot of fun. There've been more than a few times this has come up with some great ideas I used in the story or another. Never wasted time, that's for certain.

  2. I'm definitely going to try #2. This should be interesting...

    1. I use that one quite a bit. In fact I use it before beginning a new story or novel...just to get my mind geared up. These days I have a lot of trouble sticking with the two pages, because my brain starts pouring 'ideas' in, by the end of the first paragraph. So far I've never regretted waiting. The churning is worth the deluge

  3. Good ideas. Don't often get blocked, more stuck! I often do no. 1 but never tried no 3 which looks like a great idea.

  4. I don't often get blocked but sometimes get stuck. Often use 1, but never tried 3 which sounds like a great idea.


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