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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Breaking Through Writer's Block

I discovered a long time ago that I thrive on a good challenge. Double dog dare me, and I'm RIGHT there to take on whatever you suggest.

I use this character trait to break through writer's block by either setting myself a time limit to write a certain amount of words ("Write or Die" can help with this, but it's not for the faint-hearted) or I have a friend select a set of random words to include in something I write. During NaNoWriMo, I'll also use their "dares".

It's fun, it's challenging, and it forces my brain to think outside the box.

My first published short story, "Now That We've Found You" started as a dare from my then crit group to write a story using a list of astronomy words. My very young daughter was obessessed with dinosaurs, and the little girl in the story is loosely based on her. We were only supposed to choose ten of the 70 or so listed, but that wasn't good enough for me -- nope... I was determined to use ALL SEVENTY WORDS.

I almost did.

The end result has many of them edited out now, because my editor deleted the entire first scene, but it was the determination to use those words that got me writing. That story's first draft was completed in a matter of days.

My first published novel, "One Love for Liv" was a product of NaNoWriMo. I actually finished my 55,000 words early -- thanks in great part to dares. One of the characters in the story (who ended up being my favorite) was created completely from a dare -- have one of your characters trying to break a Guiness Book World record. Well... Frank ended up not trying to break one, but several, and I selected some of the strangest ones I could find. Liv's story ended up being pretty wacky in parts because of the dares, but they got me through and I think it actually made the story stronger.

What do you do to break through writer's block?

Visit Marianne Arkins at her website or blog.


  1. It's so funny to read this because just a few days ago I was wondering how to move a scene and dared myself to use a random word to jump start the next paragraph. It was ridiculous, but fun, and that was all I needed.

    Now That We've Found You is one of my favorite short stories from your backlist. So sweet!

  2. Sometimes as I tweak the outline, a few words of dialog spills out and it reignites the flame to get back into the novel.

    But losing my internet connection is still the best way to get me to focus. :-)

  3. Dares? I've never tried that, but I can see how it would work.

    I'm also going to try Write or Die!

  4. I go to bed asking for a dream to give me the right edge I need and all of my stories, short and long, have been conceived this way. I have a very active subconscious!

    Dares are challenges but even then I have to, 'let go and let all of my mind' get to work! It works for me.

  5. Sarita, I think challenging yourself that way opens your mind up to things you wouldn't have otherwise considered. Glad it worked for you (and thanks for your kind words about "Now That We've Found You").

    Maria, ... But losing my internet connection is still the best way to get me to focus.

    HAHAHAHA... isn't that the truth?

    Marianne Donley, I love dares -- if you've never used them you should give it a try.

    Marianne, challenges help my mind let go ... though I think most writers have a crazily active subconscious!

  6. Very helpful ways to overcome Writer's Block. Thanks! As for me, I do activities that use the left side of the brain, like balancing the checkbook (boring!), thus allowing the right side to rest. After doing arithmetic, I'm happy to get back to writing. :))

  7. Challenging yourself seems to work well for you!
    I have to do other things and back off for a period of time when "the block" happens.


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