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Posted by on Nov 4, 2013 in Writing | 5 comments

Two Words That Kill Writer’s Block

Two Words That Kill Writer’s Block


It usually strikes somewhere just after the first quarter of your novel. Your story is cavorting around, kicking up its heels with the contagious ecstasy of the young and carefree. You’re watching from the playground bench, smirking like any proud parent. The world is good.

And then, just as you’re looking around to see if anybody else is noticing just how easy this writing thing is going for you, pow. Some big meathead with a tire iron lays your happy little story out on the wood chips.

And you have to admit, you did deserve it just a little. But it still stinks. 

Most people call this thug Writer’s Block. Some say he doesn’t exist. This sounds a little like Christian Science to me. I will, however, reluctantly admit that writer’s block is not what we would like to think it is: an unexplainable, terrifying plague that goes around randomly striking writers with weak immune systems. (Imagine being able to ward off writer’s block by taking a daily supplement. Now there is one multi-marketing scheme I would totally buy into.)

Writer’s Block comes in many forms. Probably the most recognizable one is procrastination. But there are others, too, stemming from problems like underdeveloped characters, underdeveloped plot, and even an underdeveloped setting.

I’ve heard many strategies for battling writer’s block. Probably the most tried-and-true is the BIC (Bum In Chair) rule that I’m sure we’ve all heard of, but… easier said than done. One of the more amusing ones I’ve encountered was to turn your story into an interpretive dance and seeing where the instinctive movements of your body took the plot. This might work if you were writing the novel adaption of Highschool Musical. (I hope most of you just threw up in your mouths a little.)

But the most revolutionary tactic I’ve ever tried, the only one that has consistently worked for my writing, comes in the form of a simple, two-word question.

What If?

What if Dalton’s fiancee was actually involved with the secret government plot he’s trying to expose? What if a freak car accident forced him to come out of hiding and confront the secret agents he’s been running from? What if his hippie mom decided to start a Romanian folk-pop band after only two-and-a-half accordian lessons?

The weirder and farther away from what you had in mind, the better. What you originally had in mind was what put you here anyway, right?

Let your imagination go wild. Don’t be afraid of scribbling every random idea that comes to you–none of this is set in stone, no one’s watching over your shoulder. Best case scenario, you’ll come up with a brilliant new twist that will completely revolutionize your story. Worst case scenario, your outrageous brainstorming will be applying a good defibrillator shock to your out-cold story and getting it back on its feet again.

So try it. The next time you get waylaid by Mister Tire Iron, lean back in your chair, take two deep breaths, and then start What Iffing.

Or if all fails, you could try making the whole thing a ballet. Who knows, you might just discover a new calling.




  1. Seriously on the interpretive dance thing? That is a new one. But, yes, “what if” – possibly my two favorite words in the English language!

    • Yeah, it was for me too. And what’s funny is I had just been reading the book A Soprano On Her Head, which suggests doing the same thing to figure out where you’re trying to go with a song. But that makes a whole lot more sense to me. :p

      • I shudder to ask if you’ve actually given this a try? :p

        • I shudder to think of me giving that a try. :p

  2. Great advice! Thanks so much for posting it! I think I suffer from B.I.M., regrettably. But I’ll start using “what if” to get me places!

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