The question I hear most frequently as a writer is, “How do you overcome writer’s block?”

There are two answers to that question. One is my tried-and-true, ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-do’ answer: “Give yourself permission to write poorly. Stay at the computer and type. Stop judging what’s coming out, and sooner or later, the right words will come to you.”


The other is what I really do: Procrastinate. Clean my office. Take Mabel for a walk/run. Play Hearts, or FreeCell. Peruse Facebook.

These are not the habits of a highly effective writer.

Occasionally, I overcome these and do the right thing. I recently purchased Freedom, a program that disables my internet for periods of time while I focus on writing. It’s kinda sorta like buying a computer virus, which is weird, but I must say this has proven to be a useful tool. The weakness of the program is that I still have an iPhone. Freedom does not automatically turn that off. I can do that, but sometimes I forget.

So what to do with this common problem? Let’s say, for instance, I was struggling with a chapter of a new book and doubting myself and my ability to write an actual sentence. Let’s say that was happening today.

What I might do, after writing a blog entry about being unable to write, is open a new document. I sometimes find that a blank page helps. Especially if I’m in the middle of a chapter and there are notes and ideas I’m trying to include, I take them off the screen. And then, I might focus on my characters.

Who are they?

What do they want in this scene?

Is it possible that I’m stuck because I am pushing my characters to behave in ways that they might not behave?

Is it possible that I’ve had my car-less and bike-less 17-year-old boy travel to a coffee shop  that is two miles from his home in summer without mentioning that he’s sweating?

Is it possible that my secretly homeless female is sitting in said coffee shop without her belongings next to her?

And there it is. Unstuck. Sometimes I just need to let my people be who they are rather than what I want them to be in order to move my plot forward.

What really happens when the barista is a homophobe and the secretly homeless female (SHF) is an out lesbian? Does the barista openly antagonize, as might help the plot, or does he do so in a more subtle way, in the way that people often do things so that they don’t get fired? order to move my story forward.

Back in business, baby! Now do the same with your book. Who are you manipulating in ways that are unnatural for them? Might you be stuck because your characters won’t budge?