Those who say there is no such thing as writer’s block have never faced a blank page with an equally blank mind as the complete absence of ideas suggests it’s time to give up writing altogether. At times like these, your blank document seems to be the size of Texas, your computer seems to be run by a malicious entity that is sending signals to block your creativity and your internal editor won’t stop nagging at you to just get on with it already. As Gustave Flaubert complained to a friend, "You don't know what it is to stay a whole day with your head in your hands, trying to squeeze your unfortunate brain so as to find a word."
Saying there’s no such thing as writers block is similar to a child closing their eyes and claiming because they can’t see you that you aren’t there. It doesn’t matter that you are tapping them on the shoulder while telling them you are there. They will continue to insist you are not there and in fact don’t even exist. When writer’s block prevents you from writing don’t try to fight it by insisting it’s not there or ignoring it. It will continue to tap you on the shoulder to remind you it is real and still there no matter how long you keep your eyes closed. Ignoring it will not make it go away and will likely only make it worse because the fact is, for whatever reason, you have no ideas and simply can’t write, which is generally the definition of writer’s block. Instead collect some strategies, writing prompts and exercises that work for you and keep them in a notebook or file on your computer. (If you use the latter make sure to back it up! Also go to your settings to make sure the automatic backup is on and set for as short an amount of time as possible just in case. This will at least ensure you have a backup of everything written prior to the last auto save point. Collecting a bunch of writing prompts that you have found successful for generating great ideas only to lose them all due to a computer failure is a sure way to have writer’s block move in with you for an extended period.)
The purpose of this article is to provide exercises that will hopefully shake some ideas loose and provide a place to start when writer’s block leaves you lost for words. While these ideas can be used just as exercises to limber up the creativity muscles, they can also be used to generate ideas for poems, short stories or even the plot for a novella or novel. While there are instructions for each exercise, don’t limit yourself to them. This is about creativity after all. If the exercise takes you in a different direction from the instructions as you write, go with it. So if you create a poem as part of an exercise, for example, and in the middle a few lines you just wrote generate a great idea for something else it’s fine to switch to jotting down notes or starting to create a new piece based on the new idea. You can always come back to the poem later if the desire hits you or there’s no need to if the goal of generating a new idea that inspires your writing has been achieved. There are no hard and fast rules to generating new ideas and beating writers block as everyone has different things that work for them. I have attempted to list as many different kinds of exercises as possible so you can discover what types of writing prompts are useful for you when trying to generate new ideas.
The 10 X 10 X 10 Exercise
This is a type of “found” exercise, meaning you take something you find that already exists and use it to generate a new idea that doesn’t yet exist. Every writer has a home filled with books. For this exercise go to your bookshelf and pick a row. Take out the 10th book on the row and flip to the 10th page. Scan down to the 10th sentence and write it down. Use that sentence as the beginning of a poem or piece of fiction that has 10 lines or sentences. This can be done with any number and you can vary it anyway you choose. Use the sentence as the last sentence instead. Limit each line to 10 words as well. Don’t use the sentence verbatim but choose 3 – 5 words to create your new first or last sentence. Try to express the exact opposite of the 10th sentence as your opening or theme.
Twist the Ordinary
Sit in a public place that is used for some type of errand or chore such as a grocery store, coffee shop or retail establishment. Write down a conversation you overhear between a cashier and a customer. Take the conversation and adding to it but including all or the actual conversation twist it so that it becomes a love story, a horror story, a crime story or a mystery. Can you write it four times, once in each genre?
Beginnings and Endings
This is another found exercise. Select a short story or poem. It can be your favorite, written by your favorite author or poet or one something you have never read before that you randomly find on the internet. Take the first sentence and use it as your last sentence. Write until you find a way to arrive at that sentence. You can also take the last sentence and use it as your first sentence. As with all exercises, don’t get overly rigid and lock yourself into the story you first select. If it’s not working select a different story poem. No one’s watching, and you won’t lose points for changing your choice
Not So Happily Ever After
Rewrite a fairy tale telling it from the villain’s point of view. See if you can switch the plot with the villain telling the “real story.” Create a reason that the original is told in favor of the hero/heroine and how the villain got blamed for everything. See if you can write a story that would make the reader take the villain’s side, where the villain is sympathetic and the hero evil in some way. For a bigger challenge flip the story back again, telling it from the original hero/heroine’s point of view only base it on the account of the villain. How did that become the story that was told and how did the original hero/heroine get blamed for everything? How different can you make this “re-flip” it from the original? Love this exercise and want to keep going? Tell the story from a different character’s point of view, making them seem like the opposite of the way they are originally written. If this exercise works for you, try to keep flipping it through as many characters eyes as you can and see how many version of the same fairy tale you can write. You may end up with a great original tale from your own imagination that bears no resemblance to the one you started with.
A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words. Or 100. Or 50 – Whatever You’ve Got in You
People are different in the way they process information. Some people are more responsive to visual information than verbal information. For these people, pictures can trigger more creative ideas than verbal prompts. Try searching for certain types of pictures and when you find one that speaks to you copy and paste it into a blank document or print it and paste it into your journal. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write whatever the picture calls to mind. Again remember that you can always choose a different picture if the first one is not working out. You can also choose more than one picture if that helps. Try this link for visual writing prompts. If you are a video or movie fan, put your audio on mute then try searching Youtube for some video clips that provide ideas. Some ideas for search terms for specific types and genres of pictures or video include:
- Science Fiction
- Steam Punk/Diesel Punk
- Gothic/Southern Gothic
Take out a dictionary and open it to a random page. Find a word you don’t know the meaning of and make up a realistic sounding definition for the word. Repeat until you have five words. Look over the words and definitions and write a story including all five in the way they would be used based on your imaginary definition. You can also completely fake it by making up the words and the definitions.
Create an imaginary animal. Give it whatever characteristics you want whether it is gentle or monstrous, beautiful or ugly, intelligent or stupid etc. Then create an advertisement to sell this animal as a pet in the classifieds. Does this suggest a story to you?
How'd I Wind Up In Here?
Find a short story with a strong narrating character. Based on this story, write the story as if this character is a real person who reads the story about themselves. The story they read should include an accurate portrayal of some past experience and a future event that they either want to speed along, change somewhat or prevent. How do they find the story? How do they react as they read it? Show this without narrating it based on their actions and other characters (in this case other real people in the main characters real life) responses to their behavior. No other person/character is allowed to ask them direct questions about why they are acting differently. They have to try to figure it out indirectly whether they do so or fail to do so. The main character/person cannot tell others directly what is going on but can ask vague or subtle questions to try to figure out if anyone else they know has had a similar experience or get help with the future event.
It All Ads Up
Have you ever used an online translator tool to translate something but what it came up with was totally off the mark and made little sense? While annoying when you need a good translation, sometimes a bad translation can be the source of ideas. Find an advertisements or slogan either from a different country which when translated into English doesn’t translate well or when translated from English into another language means something totally different than what was intended. For example, the Pepsi slogan “We bring you back to life” resulted in a national scare when it translated into, “We bring your ancestors back from the grave.” Choose an ad that has already been translated or use a translator tool to translate it yourself. Two good translator tools are Google Translate and Bing Translator Find one that doesn’t make complete sense or is amusing. Use the bad or amusing translation as the basis of a poem or story.
These writing prompts should provide some relief for your writers block. We all have plenty of ideas from the multitude of experiences we are exposed to on a daily basis. We just may not be able to remember them or at least remember them in a way that provides inspiration for our writing. Use one or more of these exercises to call some of your experiences to mind and help you write regularly. You don’t have to avoid writing any longer due to fear of facing the blank page.
Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on August 09, 2018:
I'm glad you found the suggestions useful, Tajwer. Some people find more description helpful some people less so I try to include a mix of both types of exercises to cover everyone. Check out my writing prompt articles for more suggestions., Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.
Tajwer Shakir on August 01, 2018:
Very well shared article! I agree that a writer does experience being blank but your writing prompts even are helpful to novice writers like me to learn what to write and how to practice writing. That fairy tale retelling from a villain's perspective & that 10×10×10 from a book are amazing ideas! Thumbs up!
Kat on February 10, 2017:
Another great article . I'm so glad I found you writing! I'll make sure to keep an eye out for other articles of yours. Thanks for writing this.