Attitude Plot & Structure Writer's Block

How to Start Writing When You’re Stuck

Tal Valante
Written by Tal Valante

It happens to everyone. The fountain runs dry, panic sets in, and the words don’t come. How to start writing when faced with a blank page?

There’s more than one way, actually. Choose the method(s) that fits you best, and you can kiss your writer’s block goodbye.

How to Start Writing When You’re a Procrastinator

  • Set yourself a time limit and a word-count target. Keep it sane and doable. Some people write uncommonly fast, while others make progress like a crippled snail plodding through half-dried cement. Find out what’s reasonable for you, and demand that of yourself.
  • Not enough accountability to pull it off? No worries. Ask for the help of a friend, a family member, or a mentor. Schedule together a strict time when you have to submit at least X written words.
  • Still not enough accountability? Choose with them a punishment you would have to endure if you miss your deadline.
  • Make it a habit to write first thing or last thing in the day, every day. Work hard to keep that habit for 30 days. It becomes easier afterward.

How to Start Writing When You’re a Perfectionist

  • Write at the top of the page, “Terrible First Draft.” Then try to write a bad story. Or write your story in bad style. Seriously. You’ll be amazed how many gems begin with a terrible first draft, and editing is much easier than gouging new words out of your brain. Besides, it’s so relaxing to write badly, because the only way to fail at it is by writing something good, in which case, you’re golden.
  • Instead of writing your story, try writing about your story. Write about why you love it and what’s your motivation to write it. Write about how you will feel when it’s done. By visualizing the end of your project, you prime your mind toward completing your story.
  • Try writing in sentences no longer than 5 words. Skip style and voice, and simply write down the action beats. For example:
    Joe opened the door. It was cold outside. There was snow. He saw a bear.
    Later, you can smooth the sentences together:
    Joe opened the door onto a white plane of snow. The cold wind slapped him in the face and made his nose sting, but he forgot all about that when he realized that ten meters from him stood a massive bear.
  • Try telling your story to someone else, or better, to a voice recorder. Tell it like a campfire tale, with hand gestures and over-the-top enthusiasm. Make a show of it. Imagine you’re a great actor in a film. Changing the medium from writing to speaking can trick the words into getting unstuck. Later, write down the words you’ve spoken and start editing them into shape.

How to Start Writing When You Don’t Know What to Write

  • Write words on paper in a stream of consciousness. Everything that goes through your mind goes onto the paper. “I don’t know what to write” and “This is stupid” are very acceptable lines, and you can repeat them as many times as needed. This method is best done with pen and paper, not a keyboard. There’s something in the mechanical movement of your hand as you scribble that unlocks the mind. Keep at it until your words become unstuck.
  • Borrow. Take the title of a story you like, or the first line, or the first paragraph, and continue from there. (Hey, it worked in “Finding Mr. Forrester.”) Don’t be afraid to borrow from the best. Just be sure, when you’re done writing, to double back and change the beginning or title to something original.
  • Start with a writing prompt. If you can’t find a prompt that excites you, pick one at random and stick with it nevertheless. Don’t try to reach for a story that refuses to materialize, though. Start asking questions about the prompt. Question everything about it. Brainstorm as many questions as you can. Then, one by one, brainstorm answers to these questions. Only when you’re flooded with possibilities, choose the best ones, and try to turn them into a story.
  • Think up two random characters. You can use characters from movies or books that you like, or you can come up with your own, as long as you get to know the two characters well. Then assign them conflicting motives, and let them clash on the page before you. Conflict tends to roll forward on its own. Take advantage of this momentum.
  • Grab a random scene or writing prompt. Brainstorm three different options for the next step in the plot. Think only one step ahead. Then, for each option, brainstorm three more options for the next step in the plot. In the end, choose the end result you like the most, and write down the story of the route you’ve chosen.

Whatever you do, write, and never destroy anything that you write. You may not be in the mindset to appreciate it at the moment you write it, but coming back to it later can prove useful, illuminating, inspiring, funny, or downright nostalgic.

Happy writing!

About the author

Tal Valante

Tal Valante

Tal Valante has been writing science fiction and fantasy from a young age, and she can't seem to kick the habit. When she’s not busy crafting fictional worlds, she’s developing new software for writers, like a website builder and a writing prompts application, as the CEO of Litwise Ltd.

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