You’re going along, tapping away on your keyboard or scribbling in your notebook, the story, the words, the ideas are coming to you at a good, creative pace.  And then all the sudden – your characters sit languidly on the couch, they drive down the street just staring out the window, or they take a nap. Now what?

When it seems that my beautiful writing muse has taken a lunch break, I need something to call her back, or at least a substitute until she returns.  I’ve found a few useful techniques to get the story going again.

Read what you’ve already written.  Maybe you are in a “no edit” mode, but this doesn’t violate that rule.  Reading over what you already have might show a hole in your plot or raise your own question of “why’d they do that?” or “how did they get there?”  Filling in the answers will get your brain cells firing for a while and then may push you to the next point in your writing.

Read something else – a book, the newspaper, the comics.  I have no scientific evidence of such, but I believe reading other materials gets your brain cells working, too, and often an idea, possibly not related at all to what you just read, will fly your way from left field.  But sometimes it is related.  Perhaps reading about the Ravens game on Sunday, you will decide to send your character out to throw a football with his son. Or his girlfriend. Or kick the relationship to the curb.  Or grab a crabcake for lunch on his way to Edgar Alan Poe’s house.

Consider writing prompts.  Elementary school teachers use them, so they must be good.  Prompts are generic suggestions of situations for your character or plot to spur your creativity.  There’s books, there’s online sites full of them. I’ve posted some on my Pinterest page.  For each story, for each writer, the prompt will veer the story into its own path.  For instance, a prompt may say “a stranger offers your character something to eat or drink.” In one story, the character may be a young girl who shrinks and wanders down a rabbit hole; in another, a man may be meeting the love of his life at a bar; yet another, the main character may awaken days later to find a tiger in his bathroom.  Or perhaps, your character will be the stranger.

Refer to writing prompts to get your creativity going again.

Refer to writing prompts to get your creativity going again.

Describe your surroundings.  Whether in a coffee shop or sitting in your office, describe what you see.  What kind of chair are you sitting on? Who else is in the room or area with you? What do you smell, hear?  Describe someone who has just walked by.  Where are they going, what are they leaving?  You’d be surprised what characters might walk into your next story.  Indeed, this is how I found “Michael” in my novel, Life in Spades.  He walked in and sat next to me in a train station.

Take a break, too. When the muse is gone, don’t futilely beat your head against the keyboard.  Hit “save” and walk away.  Check Twitter, see what your friends are doing on Facebook, go for a walk, call your mother, fix yourself a drink. Do something totally not related to the story. I’ve been happily surprised when the “perfect” line or turn of plot comes to me while swimming laps or wandering through the grocery store picking up dinner.  Sometimes your muse wants to sneak up on you and it can’t do that when you’re sitting there looking for her.

Will everything you right using these techniques be part of your next great novel? Not necessarily. But neither is whatever you were going to right while trying to break through your writer’s block. Perhaps, though, it will intrigue your muse enough to wander back and peek over your shoulder.  And if all that doesn’t work? Eat chocolate.


Share any other techniques to get your ideas going in the Comments below.