Writing With Writer’s Block (With 4 Useful Writing Exercises)

Writer’s block is possibly the single most frustrating feeling any author will have whilst working on a fiction project.

If you’ve been lucky to avoid it thus far, imagine it like a wall that you can’t seem to climb over to the other side. You may know the road your story will take on the other side of that wall, but the ideas and the words won’t come to you. No matter how long you sit and think, sometimes you can’t get past a writer’s block.

Whilst it may be tempting to abandon your project, there are other options! In my opinion, the only way past a writer’s block (besides waiting it out) is to write through it. Even if you are stuck on your current project, there are writing exercises to help you wiggle out of that quagmire.

Here are some ways that you can write through a writer’s block.

Short stories

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

– Neil Gaiman

As a lover of short stories, I may be a little biased when I say that I think short fiction is vital to a writer – any writer. We need the rush of ticking the ‘done’ box on our to-do list, and novels can’t do that for us very often.

If you’re usually a long-form writer, don’t be overwhelmed by the constraint of your word count – if you’re deliberate enough with your word choices, you can create an entire world in just a few pages. Start with a comfortable length, something you can manage in a day (for me, that’s anywhere between 2000-4000 words). If that feels natural, challenge yourself further with a restrictive word count – 2000 words or less.

If you’d rather not stick to a word count, why not try using prompts? Reedsy prompts are updated every week with hundreds of prompts already on the site. They also run short story competitions.

Prompts are a great way to avoid that “blank page” feeling – you’re starting with an idea already in your mind. Once the ball’s rolling, think about how long you’d like the piece to be and what you’d like to achieve.

You may find it useful to go back and forth between your short story(ies) and your main WIP. I often find myself thinking of ideas for my other projects whilst writing something new. Even if you don’t find lightbulbs sparking in your mind, the act of writing will help you to feel productive and the completion will help you feel confident whilst you’re taking a break from your WIP.

How does this help writer’s block?

That wonderful feeling of flying through a piece of writing and tying it up in a neat bow with far less time commitment should help you to feel confident and inspired for your main WIP.

Like reading short stories? You can purchase my debut short story collection The Weight of Rain on Amazon in ebook or paperback form here.

Microfiction

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.”

Voltaire

Sometimes, what you choose not to share is just as poignant as what you include. There is beauty in restraint.

Microfiction is short form prose, usually defined as being 300 words or under. Microfiction really can be as short as you like! Why not start with 53 words if you’d like to challenge yourself with this short story competition?

Or if you’d really like to test your ability to pack lots of meaning into a short phrase, give my #7days7wordschallenge a go on Instagram or Twitter. Can you create a story or a character in only seven words? You may be surprised at how much imagery you can cram into half a dozen little words.

How does this help writer’s block?

When concision is forced upon you, you can bring out some of your best ideas. It’s a sprint rather than a marathon, and that can really blow away the cobwebs if you’re feeling stuck.

Character cul-de-sacs

“Writing characters is like raising kids, only more work – because you have to do everything for them.”

Steven T. Seagle

Perhaps starting a short story or experimenting with microfiction aren’t for you, but there are still exercises that you can do with your WIP to get rid of your block.

The first is playing around with your already established characters (or if you’d like to learn more about creating new characters, read here). I call these exercises “cul-de-sacs” because they don’t have to go anywhere; write the piece, use it to spark new thoughts and abandon it. Just because it won’t be in the main WIP doesn’t make it a waste of time. There are lots of avenues that need exploring before you can finish a long piece of writing.

The advantage to this is that you’re working with characters you’ve already put at least a little time into creating. You could take two of your characters who never meet one another in your story, put them together and see what happens. You could put a character into a vulnerable situation and see how they react.

My favourite character exercise to take a well-developed character – that could be your MC, or one of the others – and put them into a conversation with a completely random new character. The less like your character they are, the better.

If you’re feeling completely dried up for new character ideas, you can use this board I’ve made. Use a random number generator (like this one) to choose a character, a trait and a setting. You can take the prompts as literally or figuratively as you like, and you can use them as a springboard to build upon. Then, get writing!

How does this help writer’s block?

You may never use these characters again. You may writer 2000 words and immediately delete them. But, you also may find out something you didn’t know about your character that will help you go back to your main project.

Change the timeline

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

Frank Herbert

Fairytales have a very formulaic, book-ended style of narrative that show us the events from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after”. Whether you’re writing a fairytale or not, your current project will have a start and an ending, but if you’re struggling to find your way through to the “ever after”, why not try this simple writing exercise.

In a notebook or piece of paper, draw a line. Add “opening” and “ending” to the left hand and right hand ends of your line, respectively. Then, add in the gist of your plot – character introductions, relationships forming, big events, deaths etc.

How different would your story be if you started in the middle of the action? Or if it began where it ended? Or if it finished where it started?

Here’s a condensed version of a plot. Consider each big moment in your own narrative and have a play around with it to create another scene. You might be surprised by just how much changes when you move the timeline.

How does this help writer’s block?

You may not want to keep these changes for the actual story, but playing around with the timeline is a great way to get your imagination working on the plot when you’re struggling to break through a block.

Working through your timeline when you’re in the middle of writing will also help you to have a clearer sense of plot. When writing long novels, especially ones with lots of characters and sidelines, it’s illuminating to take a step back and look at the threads of your story from a distance.

Conclusion

Whether you find yourself currently struggling through your plot, or you’re thinking of a rainy day, these writing exercises will help you to keep writing through a writer’s block and find new inspiration.

I’d also highly recommend checking out a writing workshop. Sitting down with other writers and working through prompts can be a good kick up the bum for your imagination. I’d highly recommend Adam Z. Robinson’s workshops for really engaging prompts and exercises.

Next time, I’ll be talking about character relationships, how to make them feel real and how to avoid awkward chemistry.

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