With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I’m battling anxiety and feeling stuck on my current project, so I thought I’d share some of the ways I combat writer’s block. I prefer character-driven stories, so most of these exercises focus on character development, but I’ve found them helpful with setting and pacing as well.
Write scenes from you characters’ past. I do this a lot when I’m frustrated with a scene or unable to write my way from point a to point b. I’ll take anything from a strange quirk to something I know happened to a character before my novel begins and write that out. It helps me to understand the character better, and gives her a chance to talk to me outside the confines and pressures of the book itself. Often I’ll gain new insights about the character and setting by doing this, and the scenes usually seem to write themselves.
Write something you know you’ll delete. Whether it’s a lengthy conversation between two characters that you’d love to write, but that has no place in your story; an info dump about a fantasy world; or development of a secondary character who plays a minor role, somehow knowing that those words will never make it into the final draft can be freeing. It may seem unproductive, but I wind up better informed about the characters and setting, and sometimes I like the scene so much that I’ll work something from it into the final draft.
Put your characters into a tense situation. This is especially helpful if you throw your protagonist and your antagonist together. Other writers have suggested placing the two in a stuck elevator and letting them verbally — or even physically — duke it out. It’s amazing what you’ll learn about them, and how they perceive one another, from the interaction.
If you’re still stuck, or if you’re completely fed up with all aspects of your work in progress, consider my last-resort trick to get your creative juices flowing:
Write bad poetry. Or, better yet, write good poetry. But even bad poetry (the only kind I consider myself capable of writing) gets you thinking about sounds and rhythms, and focusing on alliteration or assonance or those other literary terms your English teachers quizzed you about. Good prose has its own rhythm, and the best prose often sounds poetic on some level. Plus, even horrible, angsty poetry counts as words on the page, so at the end of the day you can still say you wrote something.
What are some of your tips for combating writer’s block?