7 Writing Prompts to Help Beat Writer's Block

Writer's block can wreak havoc on your creative abilities, and whenever it hits me I struggle to get my mojo back. It completely stops me from writing a word; even conjuring up images in my head becomes difficult. And sometimes this feeling can take months to disappear.

When the right image or words inspire me, however, I'm suddenly able to write three pages in no time. So I'll scour the Internet looking for that one thing that will break my writer's block--and after hours and hours of searching, I'll usually find it. There are numerous websites out there that list journal-writing ideas or little snippets of a story to try and inspire, and they are the first place I look. I've done it so many times now that I've started to keep a running list of my own, so I thought I would share it with you here.

If you're fighting writer's block at the moment, I hope that these will help somehow:

1.  You're walking through the woods, it's dark . . .

2.  Ever felt like a dream was real? What would happen if dream world and real world collided?

3.  A woman revisits her hometown and bumps into her first love . . .

4.  A person finds out they have a new gift/superpower.

5.  A holiday island. Sun, sea, sand, and hidden mysteries.

6.  You're plagued by texts for weeks; then you find out who they're coming from . . .

7.  A young boy, hands stained red, walks into a police station crying.

At the moment that's all I have, but even reading them again now inspires me, and I have my own little scenes and short stories flowing around in my head.

Do you have inspiring words you turn to whenever writer's block hits you? What other techniques do you use to beat it?

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Comment by Cate Warren on August 11, 2014 at 2:58pm

One more suggestion from the wordy broad with lacklustre tech skills: if you don't know it, check out the Fran Lebowitz essay, "My Day: An Introduction of Sorts" from her dryly hilarious collection Metropolitan Life. It could be referencing writer's block, or poking fun at her laziness/procrastination, or was just a clever outlet for her usual sardonic wit, but it also provides a good template when a person is stuck and doesn't know what to write. 

Many, many thank yous to Morgan for starting it all, and your generosity!

Comment by Morgan Prince on August 11, 2014 at 7:49am

Well thank you ladies - it's great to get discussions going isn't it?

Cate - I haven't seen Tell No One but it's definitely one for my list and I'm going to check out that interview too. Thank you for posting the link (even the first one!) and thank you for coming in on the discussion.

Thank you Lisa, I try! I think you're right about doing something different too, it's always good to take a break.

Tyra - This book has been added to my list now - need to check it out.

Dora - For me writing another story, or even just a few paragraphs of something different, helps me break the block. Then I can return to the story I'm meant to be working on. But yes, music, reading or imagining scenes can help too. Thanks for commenting on this discussion. 

When I wrote this post I never realised it would get so much discussion but I love it. Like Cate said "We're all in this together" and I think it's great to share our tips. xx

Comment by Dora Gonzalez on August 10, 2014 at 7:52pm

I have had the unfortunate luck to meet writer's block in more than one occasion. I usually listen to music, read the past chapters, and or imagine the scenes I am having trouble with. If that doesn't work I pick future scenes and work my way back. Normally I am lucky to find a song that kicks me into gear and if I play out those scenes long enough I am excited to write again. I don't use writing prompts because they will give me the desire to write another story and I already have plenty to work on at the moment.

Comment by Mardith Louisell on August 9, 2014 at 1:22pm

Thanks, Cate. Will check it out. 

Comment by Cate Warren on August 9, 2014 at 12:33pm

Oh, I'm a ditz! That link below doesn't work. 

Let's try this one: http://www.cbc.ca/strombo/videos/guest-interview/interview-harlan-c...

Morgan, feel free to carpet bomb my page/blogs after the profound ineptitude I've displayed stumbling about yours!

Comment by Cate Warren on August 9, 2014 at 12:26pm

I couldn't agree more about Tell No One, Mardith. I can't hear the Jeff Buckley version of "Lilac Wine" without thinking of that film! Soooo good! 

If you're interested in Harlan Coben's work specifically, or even if you're not, please check out this interview. He does talk about Tell No One, but he also talks about the writer experience, like being tapped out, things all of us can relate to. I hope this link works as I'm not the savviest when it comes to techie stuff like this. 

Thank you, Mardith for your kind words to this overly wordy gal.

www.cbc.ca/.../interview-harlan-coben - 58k - 2013-04-10


Comment by Mardith Louisell on August 9, 2014 at 1:22am

Cate, I'm thrilled that someone else loves the movie Tell No One!  I've seen it several times to introduce it to others and one of its sequences even shows up in Christian Marclay's The Clock. Not many people seem to have seen this gem of a movie - one of the best plots ever with a terrible title that is hard to  remember. What parents will do for children couched in a thriller. thanks for your post and all your ideas about writer's block. They were great. Thanks to Morgan for starting the discussion.

Comment by Cate Warren on August 7, 2014 at 10:08pm

I do not call it writer's block, as I believe it too distinguished a title for such a layabout blaggard. It's just a know-it-all voice in my head that natters incessantly, occasionally taking control of my conscious thought, with unhelpful tidbits such as, "You're a hack! What were you thinking try to do this? You have no business trying to write! No one will EVER want to read this tripe!" I leave my work area immediately, as my presence there seems to prompt it to keep chattering away like it has consumed all of the coffee in the free world.

First, I hit the books, all of my favourites, novels or not, (even The Velveteen Rabbit), and review the passages that made me want to write in the first place. I marvel at what I read, sometimes becoming absorbed, and wonder what it must have been like for that writer to have written those words, the high of having been on that roll, and know they'd hit such a sweet spot, (though they were probably like the rest of us, tearing out their hair at various junctures, thinking they'd never write again, that no one would ever want to read this crap, blah, blah, blah, unless of course they're one of those superhuman knobs who think that every word they put to paper is fabulous and flawless and a gift to mankind).

Then I remember an interview I saw with the crime fiction writer Harlan Coben--a writer whose work is extremely successful worldwide, and even had one of his books made into a superb French film, Tell No One--when he said that despite the fact that every book he writes sits on The New York Times Bestseller List for weeks on end, while he's writing them he vacillates between thinking he's a genius and a hack. He's just like the rest of us, AND he gets through it!

I think about what Samuel Beckett said: "Fail. Fail again. Fail better."

I think about what Maya Angelou said: "If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it."

I think about what Groucho Marx said: "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog is too dark to read."

Then I take a walk, practicing mindfulness, being present and in the moment. I have the good fortune to live in a town along the St. Lawrence River, so I walk the waterfront with my five senses on high, listen to the ducks squabble, the Cardinals and Robins sing, watch a Great Blue Heron land, hear the frog chorus strike up nearby--getting competitively louder, notice the smell of the river, its own particular scent, see a fish jump, the international and laker ships making their way up or down the seaway--depending on the time of year, if the seaway is open or not--overhear delicious bits of conversations from passersby, and enjoy my spontaneous visits with neighbourhood dogs, some of whom have become acquaintances over the years, though I can tell you very little about their owners, as I like animals more than people. Once the five senses have been given a thorough workout, I head home.

If there is not some dull, horror-show household chore to be done, then I head back to my desk. Just as the talkative twit is about to wind up the victrola for more derisive gibberish, I employ my last line of defence and tell it to exit pronto using the most overused phrase for such a task, (hint: it starts with "f" and ends in "off'"). I hope I haven't offended anyone. I'm sure most of you are much more ladylike than this broad, and can come up with an equally effective cleaner rebuke; however, you must be firm and use a slightly elevated volume. It will try to regain control, but repeat your brief "shove off", this time at an even louder volume, escalating to hollering if you need to--who cares what the neighbours think! Imagine what they're doing in their house: probably something a lot weirder! Repeat as necessary, even while mid-typing. I find this liberating, as really, what good is this dedicated moron: if you're going to hang around, at least do something useful like wash the dishes or clean the toilet!

Now I'm no expert, but the gal who asked, "What about if you're revising a novel?" For me, I find that process can become a little bit of can't-see-the-forrest-for-the-trees. I put the manuscript away for several months, and then I read everything I can possibly get my hands on--novels, articles, short stories, essays, biographies, the ingredients on my body lotion--anything to replenish the well, cleanse the palate, help you begin anew, so that when you pull out that manuscript, it's a bit like seeing it for the first time, albeit with some deja vu--as we all know that doing draft after draft can inadvertently burn passages of our own work into our minds. I find this tremendously helpful, the distance and replenishing the well bit. Suddenly those parts that seemed so brilliant look a bit thin and limp, and you know just what to do to fix them!

I must add that I feel it is a tragedy I don't live near the lady who bakes when she's stuck, as I could help her out by selflessly volunteering to taste-test her goods. Oh, well!

Thank you, Morgan, for your marvellous blog and getting us all talking and sharing ideas. We're all in this together!

Comment by Tyra Brumfield on August 7, 2014 at 6:42pm

I have had good luck with The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood. Since using this little gem over the past few months, I completed two short stories.

Comment by Lisa Thomson on August 7, 2014 at 2:48pm

If you're stuck do something completely different. Paint, bake or go for a walk.  It will stir up thoughts and ideas.  I like to paint every once in a while. The problem solving and creative process there sometimes will transfer to my writing.  I also love prompts though and these ones are fantastic, Morgan.  Great topic, too. 


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