When the Propeller Stops Turning, Or 17 Ways to Defeat Writers’ Block

Photo taken by Kate D.
Photo taken by Kate Dudman


I got my boating license before I got my drivers’ license.  It’s kind of a tradition in my family, being that many of us take refuge on Georgian Bay each summer when the city starts to blister and burn.  Even the wind as it whips through the bent pine trees is hot most days on the Bay, but the place to be is on the water.  Being on the water in the early morning, racing across the Bay with the cool spray hitting my face is divine.

This is exactly what I was doing when I got stuck.  On a rock, that is.  The engine died with a clunk.  Shaking a little and clutching my old school flip phone to my chest I peered over the rim of my tin boat and had to sit down.  The water had been unusually clear that day and I could see all kinds propellers glinting like abandoned treasure on the rock that seemed to go down for miles.  It wasn’t just any rock.  It was the mother of all rocks; what sailors like to call “widow makers,” because they have the ability to sink large ships at sea.  Even worse, I was in the middle of nowhere.

I’ll tell you a little secret about the Bay—as beautiful, deep and mysterious as it can be there is one known truth:  you have a better chance of meeting Robert Pattinson in the buff out there than you do of getting cell phone reception.  I was stuck, alright.  Stuck on a rock in the middle of nowhere.

So why am I telling you about old smelly rocks?  Because *writers’ block is pretty darn similar, if you think about it.  Picture this: you’re a genius.  You’re writing the next best seller, typing furiously away at that unfinished manuscript when suddenly out of the blue it hits you like, well, a big freakin’ rock.  You didn’t see it coming and here you are, stranded in the middle of what might be the best book you’ve ever written, but you have no way of getting from point A to point B.  That layover on Point C island where the plot has spluttered and died is so not what you need right now.  Yes, the propeller has stopped spinning, but don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.

While some authors swear that Lapis Lazuli stone is the best known cure, just in case that lets you down here are some other “cures” that I have enjoyed:

  1. Go see something new
  2. Channel your thoughts—take a moment to reflect
  3. Writing warm-ups before you start
  4. Write a sentence that lasts one page from a prompt
  5. Write just one scene—from anywhere in the novel (This is a favourite of mine.  It’s the ultimate non-committal way to write something—anything—without feeling like you have to finish a whole damn magnum opus.  Because let’s be real here—sometimes our brains just don’t want to do that).
  6. Make a list of “what ifs”—sometimes I just get bored of what I am writing so I try to think of new scenarios.  Write down all of them—even the weirdest ones you can think of! You might just find your next plot twist.
  7. Write down all of the facts about the scene you know on a big piece of paper
  8. Give your scene a name—I love to write headings instead of chapters for my books, because it gives me clarity for where each scene is going.  Sometimes it’s just purely for entertainment.
  9. Give yourself a time limit—set an egg timer and write as much as humanly possible for that time length.  Then, when your fingers are burning from so much typing, go do something else.  Like buying shoes.  Go ahead, you wrote today—you deserve it!

10. Hold back the judgment—I am my worst critic (also kind of my only critic, but still).  One thing that I think is important to do is to remember that writing is a process and if we are judgmental about everything we write down we just won’t want to do it anymore.

11. Do some research—some may call it procrastination, but I prefer to see it as solid background work for the book (or short story, poem…whatever you are writing).  Who knows? Maybe a new idea will spring from all of that research?

12. Phone a friend—no really, call someone up and talk to them about your idea.  Or, if you’re too self-conscious about your idea, pretend that you’re talking to a friend and it will help bring new ideas to the surface.  When I’m stuck I like to call my mom and tell her all about my latest idea.  She keeps it pretty real, so I know that she’ll tell me when an idea needs more work.

13. Writing is a job, (even if you are woefully unpaid) so set up some hours.  Then go pay yourself with some rewards!

14. Take time off once you finish a project—This falls under the “rewards” category, but is equally important.  If you don’t give your mind some space to breathe, it will suffocate and punish you with writer’s block.

15. Read something you wouldn’t normally read—like the tabloids at the grocery store.  Who knows what wild story might jump into your head when you read about the latest bearded lady?

16. Exercise—I may hate running, but I hate not being able to write even more.  So instead, I go for a run.  Lately, I’ve been intrigued by that app “Zombies, run! “ because what better way to be motivated than when you are being chased by moaning, drooling, brain-munching zombies?  I think it’d be pretty darn effective.

17. A.S. Byatt suggests copying out the whole last page you wrote—I haven’t tried this one before, but it seems like an interesting solution to get those creative juices flowing.  Sometimes, when I feel like I can’t write anymore, I read to myself and this makes me feel like a genius.  Then I give myself a pat on the back and go back to work.

So there you have it.  Seventeen ways to try and get off of your own personal writers’ block island.  Oh, and I did manage to escape that horrible rock, by the way.  After a few hours of stagnation, a nice old couple putted by in their dinghy…and I waved my arms like a crazy person.  In a way, I think that writers’ block is the extreme desire for something extraordinary to happen (in a literary way).  Maybe we just get daunted by the fact that anything we could write in that particular moment would never be as awesome as ____________.  But I think, in the end, you have to make extraordinary things happen for yourself.

What do you think? Should you force yourself to write when you are stuck?  Do you stay in the boat or wave your arms like a crazy person?

*Did you know? The phrase “writer’s block” was coined in 1950 by Edmund Bergler

Note: thanks to Eugene Stickland for the tip about Lapis Lazuli.  His article can be found below:

Stickland, Eugene. 2004. On eggs and the cure for writer’s block. Calgary Herald, Jul 31, 2004. https://www.lib.uwo.ca/cgi-bin/ezpauthn.cgi/docview/245191346?accountid=15115 (accessed December 5, 2012).


  1. A good post. You write well. You’ll go far. I’ve been writing for four years. In that time I’ve completed five novels and had many ‘false ‘starts and I have never been plagued with WB. (I don’t want to say/type it in case I get jinxed.) Probably because I’ve never suffered, I can’t appreciate it.

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