Guest Blogger Jordan McCollum on Beating Writers’ Block

I’m delighted to welcome Jordan McCollum today. Jordan is talented in several areas but what we have in common is a passion for writing. She is an aspiring novelist, writing “mysteries to fall in love with, romance to keep you in suspense”. Today she shares some ideas about that dreaded enemy, writers’ block. – CG

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Beating Writers’ Block
by Jordan McCollum

The kids are in bed, the house is clean, you’ve spent some quality time with your spouse and you’ve watched your favorite show. Now it’s your time—time to write with nothing hanging over your head. You sit at your computer, fingers poised over the keys and—

Nothing happens.

What do you do? Spend the next two hours checking email and blogs, playing Text Twist and Minesweeper, coming back to your story every half hour without anything new to add and drifting away again until you can’t face your computer anymore and go to bed, strangely empty and guilty?

No! You don’t have to succumb to writers’ block—you can fight it, and you should. What makes a writer vs. a wannabe is perseverance (and the same is true about revisions, finding an agent, getting published, selling books, etc., etc.). Working through writers’ block makes you a stronger, better, more creative writer. And here are eight ways to do it.

Come up with more ideas
Easier said than done, I know, but try brainstorming new events and directions for your story. I recently came across an analysis of the story conference for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The surprising thing about this conference is the sheer volume of ideas—the writer, director and producer threw out ideas while brainstorming, not worrying about how outlandish or stupid they might sound—you never know if it could be made workable.

Recycle an old idea
Did you have an amazing plot twist you never got to use or used in another (preferably unpublished) work, or one you love in someone else’s story? Find a way to work that idea into this story. The mine cart chase scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom originally came from the conference for Raiders, but they didn’t use it there—an instant source for later ideas.

Look for more connections within your work
I got stuck in my latest WIP when I needed a task for my hero. He’d agreed to do something for the villain in exchange for a hostage, but I was drawing a blank. I tried to think of something he could send him after—but finally the right answer came to me. It shouldn’t just be something, it should be something related to the plot. And I had a subplot that could tie back into the main plot (and a minimystery that could be solved) right here.

Write something
You may have to take some time away from your WIP to get the creative juices flowing. You can work on another idea—writing or plotting or planning—or you can find writing prompts to get started. Sometimes focusing on another story idea will give you the boost or idea you need to progress in your first story—just don’t get sidetracked for too long!

Write nothing
Do something mindless—like playing Text Twist or Minesweeper, or doing house or yard work. Do something creative—if you play an instrument, practice. If you do a handicraft—knitting, needlework, woodcarving, knapping—make something. Occupying your hands while letting your mind roam can have great creative rewards.

Erase
As hard as this may be, maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner. Maybe there just isn’t anywhere for the story to go now, and you need to delete the last paragraph or scene or chapter. (Ouch!) Look at where your story took a turn for a dead end and brainstorm another direction.

Read (or watch)
Look for other ideas (and beautiful writing) in other works, in or outside of your genre. You can also watch a movie or TV show and play the “what if” game—what if something happened differently in this scene. (I came up with a whole story idea this way.)

Plot
You can often avoid getting stuck if you plan out where you’re going in advance. Not always, of course—I’m a plotter, and I can still get stuck in the gray areas of my outline. But back before I started plotting out my stories, I began with an ending in mind, but sometimes I spent weeks stopped in the middle, trying to figure out how to get there. Even loose plotting can help to keep the big milestones in mind to keep you moving toward your goals. Plus you can brainstorm in advance and save all those ideas for any lulls.

Beating writers’ block can be tough, but you can do it—and if you’re going to finish, you have to.

What do you think? How do you beat writers’ block?

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About the author
In addition to being an aspiring fiction author, Jordan McCollum works in Internet marketing. She is the editor of an Internet marketing news blog, Marketing Pilgrim, as well as the author of a blog on finding fulfillment in motherhood, MamaBlogga. She blogs about writing technique at JordanMcCollum.com. If ever she says anything about starting another blog, please shoot her!

Photo credits: paper ball—Mutasim Billah; empty page—flickrFelix.; I can’t think—Alyssa L. Miller

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15 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Jordan McCollum on Beating Writers’ Block

  1. Thanks again for being a guest here today, Jordan. What a lot of great ideas! I don’t seem to be one who encounters writer’s block but I know people who do and they find it terribly frustrating. I keep up my novel writing momentum by also working on non-fiction items. Having a deadline is good motivation to just sit down and write whether or not I’m in the mood.

  2. Shari says:

    Great post, Jordan! If I start to get blocked when I’m first-drafting, I remind myself that it’s okay if I get things wrong — I can fix them later. I guess that appeases both my internal editor and my fears and allows me to move forward. Going for a run and letting my mind zone out can also work wonders (like your “write nothing” point). 🙂

  3. joylene says:

    What I like to do may sound like a lot of work for nothing, but it always gets me in the mood. I take the latest TV series or movie that I wasn’t totally swept away by and rewrite it. Whether it’s the ending, beginning or middle, rewriting part or all always gets my creative juices flowing. Not at night tho. For some strange reason, come nightime, all I can think about is ‘bed’. I love my bed!

  4. Carol Benedict says:

    One of my favorite ways of coming up with new ideas is to sit in the shopping mall and watch people walking by. I jot down notes about them, and imagine what their lives might be like. Once I envision a character, a plot usually follows.

  5. Thanks for inviting me, Carol!

  6. […] Posted by: Jordan on her blog… “Gearing up for NaNo? That’s okay, I don’t begrudge you, even if I won’t. In fact, I’ll even do what I can to help you prepare. The series on plotting will be in PDF form this week (by some miracle) and today I have a guest post on frequent-commenter-and-guest-poster Carol/Careann’s blog. Check it out: beating writer’s block.” […]

  7. Thanks for all your comments. I’m glad everyone has been enjoying Jordan’s suggestions.

    Shari – Running is beyond me, but a walk in the fresh autumn air is always a joy. You have the added delight of the ocean nearby. A run along the shore is bound to blow away any cobwebs and stimulate the brain. 🙂

    Joylene – Re-writing a TV program or movie is a fantastic idea! If you come up with any fresh scripts maybe you should consider submitting to that market, too.

    Carol B. – I agree, people watching in malls, or on a bus, train or plane is always fascinating. Lots of potential characters and interesting traits to adopt!

    Jordan – You’re very welcome. It’s been fun to “blog swap”!

  8. Dave Ebright says:

    My biggest enemies are time & surroundings. I rarely work more than a 3 or 4 hours during the week on a MS & then it’s generally edits & refinements. Friday & (mostly) Saturday nights are set aside for this folly that is writing.

    Surroundings – When I changed writing rooms at home – that messed me up for weeks. New computer? Another block wall. New chair? Fuggeddaboudit. On the road / traveling – I need a week or 2 to ‘marinate’ (actually drove 500+ miles round trip to get my writing chair from home for this latest excursion). Once I adjust – not a big problem.

    Now I did find a really cool ‘writing room’ in my present locale. Posted the pics on FaceBook – A Tiki Hut surrounded by palms at the beach only 20 or 30 yards from the surf. I’m productive as can be in that spot.

    • At least you recognize what blocks your creativity, Dave. But driving over 500 miles just to get your chair? Wow! That’s some kind of dedication! I saw the pictures of your current writing locale and I’m jealous… what a gorgeous place to write!

  9. Jody Hedlund says:

    Thanks for those wonderful ideas! I usually force myself to write something! And that eventually does get the juices flowing! And I also like the idea of brainstorming, even outlandishly! Because we never know where those ideas will lead!

    Thanks for the wonderful interview Carol and Jordan!

    • Jody, having rewrites to do under contract must put a different light on fighting writer’s block. You can’t afford the time to indulge it. I’ve never been really blocked. I may not produce my best writing at certain times but, as you mention, by just forcing myself to write anyway I eventually work through the sluggishness.

  10. […] we have for writing. If you’re stuck, you can check out my article at Carol’s blog on beating writer’s block, but until then, here are some of my favorite tricks for upping my […]

  11. Steve says:

    Interesting points here Do you write for any other blogs? Nicely done, Steven.

  12. […] post originally appeared as a guest post on Carol Garvin’s blog, Careann’s Musings. I realized I never shared it […]

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