Unblocking the (Writer's) Blocks, by Chris Tebbetts

Here’s my tiny contribution to the lapse in creative focus that so many of us seem to be experiencing at this time: a few thoughts on how to creatively unblock when the writing just won’t flow. 

- Don't take it too seriously.  There's a fine line between "blocked" and "I don't feel like doing this right now."  One of the tough things about writing is doing it when you don't feel like doing it.  In that way, for me, it's like any other job, and some days I write good stuff, and some days, I write terrible stuff -- but I make a goal of  showing up, either way.  

- Write a scene you are really clear about in the story -- something with a lot of energy to it. Even if it's a really bad first draft, and even if you end up throwing out that version later, it will help get you started, and into the story.  

- Give yourself a certain amount of time—5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, whatever—and start writing your story.  It doesn't matter how bad it is. Just keep writing until the time is up.  Whenever I do this, I ALWAYS come up with at least one little thing that I like and can use.   

- Try the above idea when you FIRST wake up, when your mind is clear and you haven't started your day. See what comes out then.

- Do something that is related to your story, but isn't necessarily about drafting the story itself.  For example(s):

Make a list of things you know for sure have to happen in your story.  Then write as much as you know about each of those items. It can be in a list, or paragraph form.  What is the setting? Who is there? What happens in that moment/scene?  What has changed by the end of that moment/scene? (I find things like making lists, and brainstorming, can be a great way to stay productive, especially when coherent prose seems to be out of my reach at the moment.) 

Write a journal entry as one of your characters--something you just make up as you go along, without any need for it to be good or bad.  

Write a dialogue between two or more characters -- just the spoken words, like a script.  Put them in a setting and/or a situation, and just start writing.  Again, it doesn't have to be something that winds up in your finished story, but it can help you explore and figure out their relationship, the way they relate to each other, etc.  

Do some research. Make it easy, but productive -- like googling for news stories that might relate to your story’s subject; or looking for images to illustrate your ideas in progress; or reading up on some part of the story that fascinates you (or conversely, some aspect of the story you know the least about).  For me, casual research like this almost always sparks some new story idea.

- Lastly, as a bit of a tangent, here’s a link to the webinar I recently offered through the Highlights Foundation on the subject of Visual Outlining. That’s something I’ve blogged about on this site before, but this video is a kind of hands-on re-visitation of that topic, and also, for me, includes several techniques that I find useful when drafting that manuscript, or moving that story a bit further along feels out of reach. 

And here’s to a productive Spring-into-Summer, wherever you may find yourself hunkered down! 


  1. Thanks for sharing your process Chris. I enjoy learning how others "get the job done".

  2. This is so great. So many of us find ourselves creatively "stuck" during these times.


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