Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Even the best writers occasionally run into writer’s block, and fiction writers are no exception. If you’re stuck in your story, here are 5 suggestions to get your creative mojo back:
While usually used for non-fiction writing, this technique can work wonders for fiction as well. You simply write the topic you’re stuck on in the center of the page – say, a character’s name, or a plot event you can’t quite figure out. Then you start writing down any ideas that come to mind, clustering them on the page according to their relationship to the main idea. The closer the relationship to the starting idea the new thought is, the closer to the center of the page you write it. When you have exhausted your ideas (or filled up the page), then you go back and draw lines between ideas that are connected in some way, circling ones that seem to be topics in their own right. In this way, you end up with an amazing visual of your ideas, and you might discover new connections you hadn’t previously thought of. You can even re-organize it into something easier to follow once you’re done.
Below is a sample thought-map I created with to show you what this looks like.
Here’s the initial version:
And here it is after some quick organization:
These maps aren’t from a real story, just off the top of my head, but after creating this I’m thinking maybe I could actually do something with it! It’s amazing what ideas just come when you start free-associating on the page like this. And the best part: it’s actually kind of fun!
Outlining is very similar to thought-mapping, except in linear form. You can outline to whatever level you feel works best for you, whether that’s simple bullet points of the main plot elements of the story or layer after layer of sub-points breaking down the details of each scene. What I love about outlining is that it gives you a chance to think through the details of your first draft before ever writing it. For me, a lot of the creative magic actually happens in the outline, as I ask myself what will happen, how/why/when it will happen, and how the characters will respond. If you invest in detailed outlining, not only will you prevent writers’ block (because you know exactly what to write next!), you will also save yourself a lot of time and headache in the editing process, since you’ll figure out the plot glitches up front before you’ve invested hours (Days? Weeks?) of time and tons of mental and emotional effort in writing sections that may later have to be cut from your story.
Freewriting is basically the paragraph/prose form of a thought-map. You simply begin writing down whatever comes to mind on your story or topic, resisting the urge to censor yourself or to edit in any way. This works best when you set a timer, and commit to writing non-stop until the time is up. This quiets the inner critic, and gives your creative brain a jump-start. By the time you’ve completed your freewriting session, most likely you will find that some great ideas emerged on the page. And even if they didn’t, just the simple act of freewriting usually breaks through the writer’s block, leaving you ready to jump right back in to your writing while your creativity is already in high gear.
4. “Rainy Day” Journal
This technique requires some forethought, but it can be extremely beneficial. A “rainy day” journal is a notebook full of thoughts, ideas, snippets of overheard conversations, etc. – anything that caught your attention or piqued your curiosity. If you write them all down as soon as you encounter them, you will have a fabulous resource saved back for a “rainy day,” – in other words, the day you are fresh out of ideas and need a little help getting started.
5. Talking It Out
Sometimes the problem is the page itself, and simply changing up your method can bring new ideas. If you feel stuck writing, try getting up from your computer (or paper, if you like it old school!) and walking around. Find a quiet place, and start talking through your ideas out loud. Go back to a part of your story that works well, and talk through up toward the place where you’re stuck. Record yourself if you can. (I use the voice recorder on my phone.) Sure, it can feel weird to talk to yourself at first, but giving your eyes a chance to fall on new scenery and the act of speaking out loud both switch your brain into a different gear and can bring new ideas as a result. Once you feel the ideas start to flow, you can choose whether to continue talking in outline/bullet-point form, or to begin actually narrating your story as you would write it, at which point you can either record to transcribe later, or go ahead and hop back to your computer to start typing again. A bonus for this technique is that it works great for multi-tasking. You can talk out your story while showering, doing laundry, making dinner, or my favorite – going for a walk outside. With three small kids, I can only find time for writing if I maximize my efficiency, so I love that I can write while also getting my exercise.
This is not an exhaustive list of the possible techniques, but I hope that some of these might prove helpful for you the next time you’re stuck with your story. Though I wrote this specifically for fiction writers, most of the above are also excellent techniques for nonfiction and even academic writing.
As always, feel free to comment below or contact me if you have any questions. Please let me know how these ideas worked for you.
Thanks for reading!