5 Strategies to Un-stick Your Stuck Words

by Suzannah Freeman

Man with writer's block

Some deny that writer’s block even exists, but it’s difficult to deny that lack of inspiration exists.

What does a writer do when her words cease to flow? When—sometimes mid-sentence—the fingers stop typing or the pen stops scrawling, and the ink figuratively runs dry?

Here are five strategies to help you un-stick your stuck words:

1. Retype words from a story or song you admire.

I’ve heard this advice many times: when you’re utterly stuck for what to write next, retype someone’s else’s words. You can choose a novel, an article, a poem, a short story, a song…whatever is most appropriate to your situation.

The act of retyping famous words and paying attention to how they feel and sound can re-spark your muse.

2. Freewrite.

Freewriting is writing without censoring yourself.

Set a timer, sit down with a pen and paper or your computer, and write whatever comes to your mind until the timer stops. You can choose a theme or topic, but you don’t necessarily have to.  Even if you do begin with a topic, if you are truly allowing yourself to freewrite, you’ll probably deviate from it at some point.

Don’t stop to think about what you should write next; just write it. When you’re finished with this exercise, you might find yourself unblocked and ready to get back to work on your manuscript.

3. Write a letter to your character.

Does one of your characters seem to have a mind of her own? Is she refusing to do what you’d like her to do?  Are you having trouble figuring out where she should go next?

Why not write her a letter?

Tell her your concerns. Ask her questions. When you’re done, write back to yourself from the perspective of that character.

You might be surprised at what she has to say, and you might be surprised at how sure you become of what should happen next in your story.

4. Sweat it out.

Nothing gets the mind working like a bit of exercise. If you simply can’t think of another thing to write, throw on your shoes and go for a run or a brisk walk. Alternatively, if you have a treadmill or exercise bike at home, you can hop on that.

Even a short exercise burst of 10 to 15 minutes can help you re-energize and think of what to write next.

5. Force yourself to write for five minutes.

Five minutes is a very short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. You might not feel like you have anything to say, but try telling yourself you only need to write for five minutes.

Set a timer, choose what part of your manuscript you’ll work on, then just start. It may feel forced. You may end up deleting everything you wrote at the end of the five minutes. It might be absolute rubbish.

But, at the end of it, you also might find that you’ve picked up momentum and no longer need to stop when the timer goes off.

How do you un-stick your words when you get stuck? Have you tried any of these strategies, and which work best for you?

Today’s Challenge: At the first sign of feeling “stuck” during your next writing session, challenge yourself to persevere by using one of the previous strategies, instead of giving up for the day.

About the Author: Suzannah Windsor Freeman is the founder of Write It Sideways, a blog where writers learn new skills, define their goals, and increase their productivity. She is co-founder of the Better Writing Habits challenge.

  • Two strategies come to mind, for different kinds of stuck. For plot-stuck, I refer to my story outline or plan. Then I don’t need to sit around wondering what is going to happen next. For word-stuck, especially in a first draft, I just put down the word that comes to me first. There will be time in editing to get out the thesaurus and find the best replacement word for ‘got’.

    • Thanks for these extra strategies, Kelly! I’ll have to try them out.

  • My favorite tip is #5 “Forcing yourself to write for 5 minutes” I find that when I just start writing ideas just naturally flow to me and I can’t stop.

    • I find getting started is the hardest part. Once I’m writing, I’m usually okay.

    • Especially setting a timer. We can do anything for a period of time. I like the times when I go beyond, because I’ve gotten back in my rhythm.

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  • I normally struggle with this problem when I am unsure of which direction to take my plot. Normally just reading a page or two before the point at which I am struggling helps. Also, I find myself plotting my book out in my mind when I am doing activities that don’t require my entire mental focus.

  • Mathilda Wheeler

    I agree that 5 minutes is wonderfully un-intimidating (I actually stretch this to 10, because my snotty inner critic refuses to believe that 5 minutes is enough time for anything). I’m curious about what others mean by getting stuck with plot. If it’s that they don’t know what to write next, I suggest not tying yourself down to “what comes next.” Even though I’m not much of an outliner, I can usually come up with an “I know I need a scene like this to happen sometime.” Maybe it’s a confrontation between two characters or a piece of narrative description of a setting. Then I use a combination of these strategies you discuss to jump in. The trick is to jump!

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