Writer’s Block: 8 Strategies to Bust Out

In my last blog, A Picture is worth a Thousand Words, I talked about free writing. The pictures I used sparked my imagination, but pictures aren’t the only way to get out of a creative rut, they were just one example.

Writers know that a slide into the white abyss of a blank page will eventually happen; the dreaded writers block. We also know how to influence our writing style for the best results, what exercises we can use to push our thoughts into a colorful explosion of images created by our words. Even if we’re trying to start a new project, develop a new character, or find a crazy and different meet-cute that will attract readers, we all have certain exercises we like to use. Or we find the ones that help our creative process unfold.

Here are some of my favorite ways to break down walls that are stalling my creativity, or what I use to come up with something fresh.

Tarot Cards

A few years ago, one of my favorite mystery writers was having issues with character development. Her main protagonist in her series is a psychic. The first idea that came to mind was to suggest the author pull a tarot card and use it to develop character traits.

Zach Wong, Revelations Tarot

Zach Wong, Revelations Tarot

I randomly pulled one of my own tarot cards while writing this and drew The Hermit card. In Zach Wong’s depiction of The Hermit from Revelations Tarot–based on Arthur Edward Waite’s and Pamela Colman Smith’s tarot deck–the image represents “a teacher, someone wise, or an old soul who can point you in the right direction.”[1] The card, “recommends wisdom and forethought before making a decision.” [2] If I draw the card in reverse (upside-down), “the card reflects the need to run away from situations and to hide from problems.”[3] The interpretation of the card is completely up to the author. My take on the card is the character could be on an internal journey that will lead to answers that he/she has been searching for, finding happiness. In reverse, it could mean the character mired in his or her mind, morphs into an unreality that threatens them or others. Hero or villain, draw your own conclusions.

Word Association

Another exercise I like to use when I’m stuck is word association. Even though in your own work you’ve developed everything down to the single gray hair that your character can’t seem to get rid of, he or she might not be moving in a direction you foresaw. So what do you do? Try listing words in a column, by hand—a change of medium might help too—that relate to an inner turmoil or flaw your character has that is keeping him from getting to the end of his journey. In an adjacent column, write down where you want your character to end up, what place you might want him to go physically, or something he might need to find, a person he needs to see, things that make him feel good, or bad, etc. It’s all up to you. Nothing may come from the exercise, but you might also light a fire that you don’t want to extinguish.

A book that shows a slightly different take on word association is Plot & Structure: Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish by James Scott Bell. Bell talks about the use of mind maps.[4] He breaks it down into three steps: ready, fire, and aim.

  • Ready, invites you to pick a concept you want to develop. Pick a word the story should revolve around. Bell gives baseball as his example.
  • Fire, inspires a scrawl of words with connections and associations to the one word concept.
  • Aim, allows the writer to sift through words they have written down. Bell’s exercise inspires the writer to find direction to their thoughts and gives a good sense of the journey the writer might want to take as the story unfolds.


A great place to find writing help are the old trusty books about writing. We all have them. A few I’ve found very helpful are Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld, which I spoke of in an earlier post, Clarity, and Write Starts by Hal Zina Bennett.

In Writing Tools, Clark gives clear editing tools allowing us to improve on what we’ve written, which once done helps engage the reader more. With the use of chapters like, Tool 6, Take it easy on the –ings, or Tool 28, Put odd and interesting things together, he helps us in the editing process. For the latter, Clark gives an example from Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. The author uses ironic juxtaposition to enhance a scene and make Madame Bovary oblivious to Rodolphe Boulanger’s true intentions.[5] What if you did this with your own work? Take one of your scenes and change it up. How can the background give you focus to the mood or motives of your character, while leaving the other character in the scene in the dark? It might allow you to richen your dialogue or give a dull scene a glow that never would have come about if you hadn’t taken the time to look into tools that work for you.

The examples above might not be perfect for you, but they could give you a jumping off point to do your own search on the internet. Below are a few places you might want to start your search.

  • Fiction University by Janice Hardy takes you through several areas of the writing process and answers many questions that might motivate you to write again.
  • One Minute Writer – This blog is a place where writing from a prompt can help you get words on the page; any words.
  • 13 Famous Writers – Read about famous authors own solutions for writers block.
  • A Map to Get Out of Writer’s Block – A great diagram of questions you need to ask yourself to help clear your thoughts and get writing again.

[1]Zach Wong, Revelations Tarot Companion, Llewellyn Publications, 2005, 29.

[2]Zach Wong, Revelations Tarot Companion, Llewellyn Publications, 2005, 29.

[3] Zach Wong, Revelations Tarot Companion, Llewellyn Publications, 2005, 30.

[4] James Scott Bell, Plot & Structure: Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish, Writer’s Digest Books 2004, 45-46.

[5] Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools, Little, Brown and Company, 2006, 137.


Skip to comment form

    • Claire Murray on November 26, 2014 at 10:08 pm
    • Reply

    Interesting piece. I got several new ideas from it. Thanks!

      • Wendi on December 4, 2014 at 11:40 am
      • Reply

      I’m glad you liked it. Thank you.

    • Kelly Bixby on November 26, 2014 at 9:44 pm
    • Reply

    Wendi, I don’t think I would have ever thought to use a tarot card for ideas, but now I can appreciate its influence on a writer’s creativity. Your article is loaded with great resources. You have a lot of experience and I appreciate your sharing so much helpful information.

      • Wendi on December 4, 2014 at 11:39 am
      • Reply

      I’m glad you found it creative. Finding a way to stir things up with things that haven’t been done before always gets me more motivated.

    • Book Lover on November 23, 2014 at 9:14 pm
    • Reply

    Wendi, thank you for the useful ideas to help us overcome writer’s block. I’ll have to try some of them.

      • Wendi on December 4, 2014 at 11:37 am
      • Reply

      I’m glad you liked it. Good luck!

    • Sue Remisiewicz on November 16, 2014 at 4:53 pm
    • Reply

    I found mind mapping to be very helpful in revealing something very important about one of my characters. A trait that surprised me but turned out to be essential to how she reacts to the antagonist. I’m sure I’ll check out these suggestions next time I’m looking to mix it up on creating characters.

      • Wendi on December 4, 2014 at 11:36 am
      • Reply

      Cool! I’m glad you were able to dive in to the process. I’m glad it helped.

  1. Great references, Wendi, thanks for sharing… Sometimes, you just gotta get the fingers moving across the keys. You can always change it later.

      • Wendi on November 11, 2014 at 7:32 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you Phil. Another reason I am doing NaNoWriMo http://nanowrimo.org/ this year is it forces me to work a new idea. I’m really enjoying a lot this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.