What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

By: Kerstin Wolf

One of the biggest issues writers seem to face is writer’s block. Everything might be going great; words are just flowing through your fingertips and onto the screen (or paper, if that’s what you prefer), when suddenly your muse abandons you like the power in your house during a storm. What was once so clear is suddenly a pitch-black room where your toe keeps finding every piece of furniture, and you can’t find the flashlight. Little did you know, the repeated toe stubbing caused the flashlight to fall from the table and roll under the couch. Of course. It is the luck of many a person and figuratively thousands and thousands of writers. Don’t despair in your dark room though! The power will come back on at some point! But do you really want to wait?

If you are reading this, I assume that you are one of the antsy and impatient fellows How-Freelance-Writers-Can-Overcome-Writers-Blockwho don’t want to wait. Great! You shouldn’t wait! If you let writer’s block stomp all over you all the time, you’ll never get your writing done. While perhaps waiting a day or two won’t hurt and might make things better, but don’t wait more than a week. Anything after that is just precious writing time being thrown to the wind. It’s time you stand up to that bully known as Writer’s Block and win back your muse! Ironically, this blog post is the result of overcoming writer’s block. If I can do it, then so can you!

So what to do now? You’ve waited a few days, and there’s still nothing. Exercise of some sort is always a recommended remedy. But if you’re like me, you’ll find that it only leads to more eating and sleeping and still zero ideas. Showers or baths are also possible cures, but perhaps you’ve already taken a shower today or don’t want waste any more of your writing time. If that’s the case, here are two writing ideas to help get you going on your novel in no time.

Be Silly

Maybe the reason you have writer’s block is because you’re taking your writing too seriously. This is the most common reason for why I get stuck. Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you get your idea on paper. In all likelihood, it will be horribly, horribly flawed but fixable. Only fixable at a later date though! Don’t correct your writing as you go! For majority of writers, correcting while writing will only slow you down or bring you to a stand still. I understand that this is easier said than done. There are apps out there like Write or Die that are made just for those struggling to write continuously and without going back to correct things. This app is great, but may not help if you’re already partially through a manuscript and have hit a road block.

This is where my advice to be silly comes in. Wherever you are at in your manuscript right now, throw in something ridiculous. Say your main character’s mother just died, and you’re stuck; nothing you write fits how you think the scene should go. Add in a flying, pizza-loving pig wearing Dorothy’s ruby red slippers singing ABBA. Yes, you read that correctly. I want you now incorporate a fabulous flying pig into that scene. How would that work? Does the pig just crash through that hospital window and just keep on going? Perhaps the pig is a dear friend of the mother’s. Maybe the pig is secretly the doctor who has been disguised as a human all along. How do your characters react? Go nuts with it! The crazier you make it, the better! The only rule while doing this is that you can’t go back and change what you’ve written. If you go back in your writing, the pig will eat one of your characters! Do you want your characters to die? If yes, maybe you should be killing off more of your characters. Start channeling George R. R. Martin! If not, That’s good! You like your characters. No killing needed.

19614154_m           If this is a little (or a lot) too crazy for you, you can tone down this exercise. In place of a flying pig, you can instead have a more realistic surprise play out. Either way, this exercise should get you writing and take off some of the stress of having everything be perfect. You may learn a whole new side of your characters from this crazy encounter that will get you over this block and change how you envisioned the scene/story playing out.

Once you’ve finished this exercise, don’t delete the craziness that you’ve written. Copy and paste the section from your manuscript into a blank document and hold on to it. You never know when that craziness will be needed again. You may even have written something in there that is secretly brilliant and gets incorporated into your novel later on.

 

Side Stories

Another exercise to try is to write side stories as short stories! Is there some event, something, somewhere, or someone in your novel that you wish you could’ve gone into more detail on? Now’s your chance! Write a short story in your novel’s world following one of your characters and incorporating whatever you feel like you’ve missed or were unable to include in your novel in such detail. Perhaps in your novel, your characters were stuck on a ship for a few months. Obviously, you couldn’t include everything that happened over those months in your novel. Write a short story about that. It doesn’t need to be too over the top. Perhaps one of your characters pulled a prank on another character. What happened? How did the prank play out? How did the characters react?

Side stories are a great way to think about the world your characters live in and learn more about your characters and their interactions. Your extra “research” into this world may be what helps you overcome writer’s block.

 

Kerstin is an intern with Holloway Literary. Follow her on Twitter @Kerstin_Wolf.