10 Tips for Beating Writer's Block

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As a writer, I know there is nothing more maddening than staring at a blank page or white screen for hours on end when you know you should be writing something... Anything! Instead, procrastination sets in and you find yourself playing mind-numbing games online and drinking an insane amount of coffee. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately all writers suffer from a complete mind-blank every so often, but how can you keep the dreaded writer's block away?

Follow these smart tips and you can become more productive as a writer and actively beat writer's block.

My Top Ten Tips to Beat Writer's Block

1. Keep a writer's notebook or journal and write in it daily

Use it to jot down ideas, to develop characters before committing them to a story and to do free-writing and brainstorming exercises. You can even record actual bits of overheard conversation (discreetly, of course) which you can use to improve your dialogue writing. Carry your notebook with you always, you never know when you will be grabbed by an idea, like when you are sat on the bus on your way to work.
Whenever writer's block sets in, you can look back through your notebook and try to develop an idea you have written in there.

2. Use Daily Prompts

You can find prompts in creative writing books which you can buy or borrow from your local library, alternatively you can find them for free online. Many writing sites offer daily writing prompts. Prompts can get you thinking in an entirely new direction, inspiring plots, characters, settings and so much more.

3. Word association brain-storming

Use keywords in a word association brain-storming exercise. Brain-storming (also known as word clusters) work by putting the keyword in the middle of your page and branching off with words, phrases or ideas that word conjures up. For e.g. the keyword 'Mirror' used in the brain-storm exercise below. Try doing a brain-storm or cluster yourself and see what interesting ideas you can come up with.

4. Free-writing

Often the most daunting thing is a blank page, just getting a few words down can let you move forward. Try using a keyword or starting sentence prompt to begin a free-writing exercise. Free-writing is writing without the restriction of serious writing. You don't have to think about where it is going, or be concerned with punctuation or correct grammar. Just let the words flow onto the page and if at the end of the exercise you find you have written something that has potential, you can call it a first draft and tidy it up with some editing later. You might find that you have come up with one gem of a sentence which you keep for another project, in which case you scrap the rest or keep it in your notebook.

5. Getting something on the page

Sometimes when I can't think of a way to start, I find it impossible to move forward. When that happens I just write down some nonsense words like 'blah blah blah' or 'I'll get this story finished if it's the last thing I do...' and then I begin where I can, perhaps with a half-formed sentence. Or if I'm not sure how to phrase the first paragraph, I write down some guideline words to remind me of what I want to say, and then move on to the next paragraph.
Just allowing myself to move past this first obstacle lets me continue writing what I can, then I go back and edit it later. By the way this works amazingly well with first drafts of essays too!

6. Keep a snippet file

Keep a file of newspaper or magazine clippings. They can be articles that you found amusing or interesting, which are great for inspiring stories at a later date. Or you could keep torn out photos of random people, these can help you to build character descriptions... it's always easier to describe something you can see.
Perhaps look for a writer's notebook or journal that has pockets where you can keep your snippets, or you can always paste them directly onto the pages and brain-storm around them.

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7. Don't be afraid of writing absolute rubbish.

The great thing about writing is that it can always be edited, re-worded or completely re-written later. Once you have the bare bones of your story down on paper, you can go back and spend time finding the perfect turn of phrase, or pick out flaws with your plot and rectify them.

8. Make some changes

If you start out writing a story and you get stuck or feel it is a bit dull, consider going back and changing the point of view, e.g. from omniscient narrator to first person narrative or vice versa. Or try telling your story from another character's point of view. Sometimes changes like these can really stir up new ideas.

9. Read

To be a writer you have to read, and read as much as you can: newspapers, short stories, novels, poetry. You can find inspiration everywhere, and it always helps to know what is new or popular in your chosen field. Taking a break and reading other people's work can take away some of the pressure you pile onto yourself, and your brain will tend to solve those niggly little problems when you're not so focused on them.

10. Keep a dream diary

Yes I know it sounds like a strange thing to do, but try keeping a notepad near your bed and write down what you can remember of your dreams when you wake up. While dreams are notoriously unreliable for building plausible plots (think of the great big gaps when you instantly transport from one place to another, or things magically appearing), they can provide a great starting point to build on. They are a particularly good source of ideas for fantasy and science fiction stories.