Stupid Writer Tricks (that actually work) – Ruth Harris unblocks writers’ block.

I always say there’s no such thing as “Writers’ Block”. Just switch the television off and get on with it.

But of course life isn’t that simple. Sometimes, even when you’re honestly not procrastinating, the words just won’t come.

Now if you’re just setting out on your writing journey that’s not too surprising. Nor is it too worrying. Just walk away and deal with it another day.

But for anyone planning to write for a living the dreaded writers’ block is not something you can just worry about another day. No work means no pay.

And even if you write solely for pleasure, time still matters. Wannabe writers will tell you they’ve been working on their book for three years. Of course what they mean is they’ve been working on their book over a period of three years, and likely as not months at a time have gone by when nothing has been written at all.

Professional writers, and writers who aspire to becoming professionals, do not have that luxury. When the creative urge dries up they have no choice but to deal with it.

Ruth Harris

Enter zillion-selling author Ruth Harris, who is moonlighting on her new job as resident blogger over at Anne R Allen to share her tips on how to deal with the dreaded writers’ block syndrome.

STUPID WRITER TRICKS (that actually work)

Well, not all of them all the time. After all, nothing’s guaranteed in this world but here are “tricks” that help me when I’m stuck. When the plot mystifies even me, when a character just lies there like wilted lettuce, when the language is flat, boring, uninspired. You know what I’m talking about here—the dead ends that inevitably come up in the course of writing a novel. I’ve been writing fiction for years and here are some cures for the common block.

1.  Take a walk. Get away from your desk and move. I’ve told my DH a million times (at least) that a body in motion is a mind in motion.

2.  In more desperate cases, go to the gym or get on your bike. Give yourself—and your brain—some oxygen.

3.  Coffee works for lots of writers. For me, it’s tea. Always hot & freshly brewed. A mug of Darjeeling, Assam, Keemun or Green Jasmine contains mild caffeine. I have also come to think that the actual process of making tea—getting up from my desk, going into the kitchen, warming the teapot, boiling the water, measuring the tea, waiting for it to brew—offers a brief, relaxing and often productive break.

4.  If you write on your computer, switch to a pen & pad. Or vice versa. Sometimes the physical change is all it takes. Sometimes slowing down or speeding up makes the difference.

5.  Talk the problem out with someone. Almost always, it’s not what they say. It’s what you say. You have the solution; you just don’t know it yet.

6.   Read something you don’t usually read. Sports writers are great at conveying action. Fashion magazines, style blogs and catalogs are filled with descriptions of clothing. Beauty and grooming sites focus on how people look. The business pages are a source for occupations & careers: your characters have to make a living, don’t they? The tabs are an endless wellspring of sex and scandal. Niche magazines or blogs—bass fishing, ice climbing, stamp collecting, arctic biology—might jar you out of your impasse.

7.  Write an outline, query letter or blurb for the book you’re currently writing. It will force you to figure out what you’re actually trying to accomplish. Sometimes I get lost in the trees and need to see the forest again. Writing some kind of overview can be a way to re-focus.

8.  Distraction can be an ally: Take a nap. Or a shower. Knit or crochet. Build a model airplane. Pull weeds in the garden. Try a new recipe. Go to a party. Watch a movie. Go to a concert or the ballet or a baseball game.

Then go back to work. It’s gonna be OK. Really.

Thanks, Ruth.

For the benefit of my teen readers Ruth is one of the stars of fiction writing, selling millions, translated into nineteen languages and sold in twenty-five countries.

And the great news is, they’re available on Amazon at indie prices! For anyone wanting some great reading here’s the links:

Modern Women$1.41 on or 86p on

Husbands and Lovers$1.41 on or 86p on

Decades$1.41 on or 86p on

Love and Money$1.41 on or 86p on

The Last Romantics: $1.41 on  or 86p on


Okay, back to writers’ block.

One solution I would add to Ruth’s list is to have more than one project on the go at any one time. Saffi and I are currently juggling a half dozen half completed works that we are constantly in and out of, and our future WIP folder is a book in itself.

When one of us really cannot face another hour of the latest crime thriller (Rose Red Book 2: Rapunzel) we simply switch across and pick up where we left off with the dark fantasy trilogy Equilibrium, or the YA school series St. Malory’s Forever! or the new chicklit mystery China Town series, or one of our non-fiction projects, or…

Well, you get the picture. Writer’s block dare not show its face with so much to be getting on with.

And the real beauty of this approach is that they all get progressed bit by bit, until suddenly one takes off and consumes all our energy and races to the finishing line.

Literally yesterday we did the absolute final, final, final edit on our latest release Rose Red Book 1: Snow White. It had just come back from proof-reading but we still spent an entire afternoon tweaking two paragraphs before finally hitting send. As I write this the new book is literally just back from the format guys and will be live in the next day or two.

No links yet because it’s not quite out there. But any time now…

Of course for many writers finishing one novel and starting the next is the biggest writing block of all.

You’re mentally exhausted. You want to take a year off to recover. And yes, you’re pleased as a lamb with two tails to have finished it. But in between rushing off to the Kindle page to see if anyone’s actually bought a copy you’re sat there staring at a blank screen knowing you’ve got to do it all over again. From scratch!

Do you even know what the next books will be about, let alone what the first word will be?

Exactly. You deserve that break. Let’s start the next book tomorrow.

Or next week.

Or next month.

Not us. Instead of staring at a blank screen and wondering what we might write next, we’re hard at it on the other books which are already part-way to the finishing line, and we’re making a point of starting two or three new projects along the way so we’ll always be halfway there with one book or another.

So what about you guys?

Is writers’ block just the ultimate luxury in procrastination, or is it real for you? And if it is, how do you cope?

  1. No. Never. There’s always another book in rough draft or second draft or away being assessed. Then there’s the ‘ideas’ file.
    And there’s also real life which interferes on a 24/7 basis. No TIME for writer’s block.

    BUT… I really really would like recommendations for a good proof reader!

    • Good for you, Ms Mes! As for real life… That should be banned when we’re in writing mode.

      Good proof-readers are worth their weight in gold, but unfortunately charge fees to match.

      Good beta readers will normally proof-read as they go, and the more beta readers you can get on board the less likely any errors will slip through.

  2. I’m in a serious case of Writer’s Block at the moment – much to my disgust, as I’m desperately trying to kick some more of SMF! into the world. However, I’m compensating by writing poetry (most of it rubbish), editing some old works, and talking to loonies by email. That always helps get my juices going.

    This is going to sound really weird and geekish, but I sometimes find that RP-ing the characters in bizarre situations can help you work out what they’re about, and how they can go on with their story. Last night I put one of mine into a supermarket because I was having so much trouble starting the story (still haven’t managed to start yet!), but I know how I’m going to do it now, with a little help from my bizarre dream last night xP

    However, I can totally attest that those writerly tips from Ruth up there DO work wonders. I use them a lot, and most of the time they’re fantastic 🙂

    P.S. That Charles Dickens comic made me giggle so much xD

    • “and talking to loonies by email.”

      Hmmm… Hope you didn’t have anyone special in mind?

      RPing characters in bizarre situs is a great kick-starter, I agree, and one I often recommended to my students in days of yore.

      • I belive that at least one of those loonies is me *grin*

        You wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would, being a writer yourself) some of the things our characters get up to togehter… and they don’t really care how compatable their worlds are either.

        :} Cathryn Leigh

    • Miriam
    • August 14th, 2011

    You mentioned our book! It now actually has to exist at some point or you just lied! Ha ha ha 😀

    For me, writer’s block happens if I write too much for too long. Well, not exactly. I’ll have a month of super productivity, and then I’ll take a month off and recover, and then I’ll begin editing. I think the amount I write in a month, four weeks’ break is allowed, don’t you?

    (I had to type up 9k last night, and it was NOT FUN! Took me, like, three hours or something!)

  3. I’ll be revealing more about St Mallory’s Forever! here on MWi later this week.

    Bashing out a huge draft at top speed and then going back and editing afterwards is great if you;re confident what the storyline is, but for serendipitous writers like Saffi and I we never know what will happen in the next chapter until we write it, and will often change direction totally as we edit.

    What works for one may not for another. The golden rule is always to find out what works for you. All other rules are negotiable.

      • Miriam
      • August 14th, 2011

      Thing is, I never plan either, I just make it up when I’m lying in bed at night and add it all in the next day. I plan when I’m walking along, and when I get stuck and suddenly realise I’ve no idea what’s happening. But that works with the books I write, and I can imagine would probably not work at all with a mystery, lol. I generally have an idea of the outcome, although it might change slightly, for example:

      they’re going to get separated, forever, from someone. there’s always the possibility of seeing them again but they can NEVER use it because the whole world will die, blah blah blah.

      The fun bit is working out who that person is, and why the world will die.

  4. Congrats on finishing the final, final edit of Snow White. Look forward to seeing it on the Kindle lists soon.

    Love Ruth’s stupid writer tricks–and thanks for the shout out for our blog.

    The tricks that work especially well for me are #7 (It really helps to write an imaginary query) and #8. Gardening always helps. I think because the garden is such a mess that after a couple of hours my brain will think up anything to get me out of there and back to the computer.

    Your suggestion of having multiple works going is good too. Sometimes just writing a blogpost will do it.

    • Thanks, Anne.

      Where I live gardening isn’t much of an option. All Saharan sand. Your garden sounds great for remedying writers’ block. Not to so great for gardening.

  5. I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. When I get ‘stuck’, and I do, I go back to long-hand like Ruth suggested in number four. Just like you, Mark, I have several projects going at once. When one book is done, it’s on with the next one. I do take a couple days off between the actual writing between books, but that is spent cleaning up files, marketing and promoting the one that just was finished.

    • Long hand is my nightmare. I always carry notebooks, but unless I type up everything within an hour or so of writing it down my handwriting mutates into illegible scribble.

      I think in days of yore when being published was akin to climbing Mount Improbable the idea of having multiple projects was less endearing. You could be wasting your time on all of them.

      But now there are only two gatekeepers to worry about: You as the writer, being satisfied the next book is as good as you can get it. And the readers who will buy it or ignore it.

  6. For me writers block isn’t caused by lack of new ideas, but by a necessary scene I’m working on that just isn’t coming out right. I can’t move on until I’ve got it, so I do other things until something clicks.

  7. For me, there’s no such thing as writer’s block either…not for this chick!

    What do I do when my muses are feelin’ a bit under the weather?!

    I use my own “therapy”…as in MUSE THERAPY: UNLEASHING YOUR INNER SYBIL – my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book On-Writing!!!

    Here’s the scoop:

    Great post, Mark, Saffi and Ruth!!! Wavin’ atchy’all!!!

  8. Good list! I don’t usually get blocked, though sometimes I have to pause and figure out how to get my characters out of a tricky situation. A walk or jog on the treadmill will usually help with that.

    I also like having two series going at a time (for me, that’s a series of novels and a series of novellas), so I can take a break from one set of characters when I need to and work on something else.

  9. Thanks for joining us, Lindsay.

    For anyone unfamiliar, Lindsay writes great fantasy fiction and has a must-read blog which is always full of useful info for aspring writers.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: