The Solution to Writer’s Block

What is my solution to writer’s block?

I think every author has a different approach to handling writer’s block.  Some of the things I’ve heard have varied from ludicrous to simply impractical.  “Write drunk, edit sober” may have been Ernest Hemingway’s solution, but I find it particularly inane.

Pretty much every writing site has their own version of the “15 Best Ways to Eliminate Writer’s Block!” list.  Most of them are just bad, with a few nuggets of wisdom thrown in.

Getting exercise is generally a good idea, but won’t solve your plot holes.  Drinking water and eating healthy helps your mind function, but won’t spawn new ideas.  Writing when you’re high/drunk/exhausted/etc. just makes more work for you and your editor.

It’s easy to criticize what other people suggest as solutions to writer’s block.  It’s harder to come up with something that will actually work.

The Solution

I’ve never had writer’s block.  Occasionally I might slow down during a tricky part, or get hung up for a few minutes while I puzzle through a plot.  But I’ve never been unable to write anything for days on end.  I’ve never sat down to write and been unable to get words out onto the paper.

So, what’s my trick?

There’s a drill that I do every once in a while, that never fails to keep the creative juices flowing.  You can do it by yourself or with another person.  It’s fun to do if you have a writing group, or during long car rides.

Here’s how the drill works.  First, you pick two things at random.  The things can be anything.  Bats.  Building Codes.  Rubber.  Chalk Cliffs.  Database.  Mosque.  Gym.  Livestock.  Sponge.  Eclipse.  Wind.  Pastries.  Foam.  Paint.  Paper.  Manhunt.  Minion.  Acupuncture.  Mountain.  Personality.  Clothing.  Medication.  Oatmeal.  Or whatever pops to mind.

Once you have your two subjects, now try and create a story from those subjects.  It doesn’t have to be complex or fleshed out.  Just try and find some connection between the two subjects and come up with a short plot.  As a note, try and avoid verbs.  They’re too limiting.

Let’s try an example.  So you know I’m not cheating, I’ll use Merriam-Webster’s word of the day calendar.  Going back in time to the first two nouns, I get “instauration”, which means a restoration after decay or lapse, and “mnemonic”, which means assisting or intended to assist memory.

That’s almost too easy.  Fiction is full of memory restoration plots.  So, let’s go back one more and get “embargo”, meaning a prohibition against commerce.  Mnemonic Embargo.  Hey, now we’re on to something.

Immediately, I get plot threads coming to mind about trading memories and how there’s a market for the memories of athletes winning the big game or the mental processes of a genius.  I have to work embargo into the plot, so let’s say the memory trade is illegal as it can be addictive and is treated as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the same as meth or cocaine.

And then a story plot: the protagonist comes across a memory chip that contains an extremely valuable or dangerous memory.  The last moments of an international spy, or the secret to cold fusion.  The protagonist gets dragged into a plot arc trying to stay alive and eventually doing something with the memory.

That took me all of 20 seconds to come up with.  This drill is something that you can do over and over, fleshing out your ideas as much as you want, or keeping it quick and dirty before someone else has to come up with the next story.  For added challenge, you can try and come up with multiple unique story plots using the same words.

Why it Works

Doing this drill gets you into the habit of forming connections between things.  I find when my writing slows down, it’s because I can’t make the jump connecting two plot arcs, or I’ve written my characters into a hole and can’t figure out how to get them out.  This drill builds flexibility in your mind and helps you come up with creative solutions.

It’s also a great tool for coming up with new story ideas.  That bit with the black-market memory chips could be developed into a novel.  It needs some more fleshing out and a handful of adjacent plot arcs to complicate things, but that’s something easily accomplished in an afternoon of thinkering.  (It’s like tinkering, but in your mind.)

Give it a shot!  Tell a friend the rules and make a game out of it.  You’ll be astonished how quickly you pick it up and how creative you can be.