How to Overcome Writer's Block - Tips, Activities and Prompts

Thinking of ideas
Thinking of ideas | Source

Observations, Experiences and Connections

Like many writers, in the past I've sometimes experienced times when I've wondered what to write next. These periods of writer's block rarely occur today and never last for long. I've created a list of strategies that give me ideas for writing topics. The techniques should be helpful for other people, too.

Many of the activities that I use to generate writing ideas involve observing the world around me. Observations can stimulate interest, passion and imagination. Engaging in new experiences can have the same effect. Of course, not all observations and experiences are welcome or safe. Some of life is too tragic, painful or dangerous to observe or experience voluntarily. In general, though, by becoming more open to the world around us we can discover many new ideas to include in our writing.

Although making observations is an essential activity for writers, ultimately a piece of writing comes from within our mind. Therefore it's important to give the mind a regular workout. One way in which I like to do this is by playing games in which I have to find connections between words. Exercises like this give me new ideas to explore in my writing. I also find free writing and dream recall to be very helpful in accessing the power of imagination that we all possess.

Everyone can make observations!
Everyone can make observations! | Source

Make Observations

Here are some activities that may give you new ideas for writing themes. You'll probably find that the activities are fun to do even when you're not looking for writing topics!

  • Use a magnifying glass, binoculars, a telescope or a microscope to see new details of objects and new layers of reality.
  • In summer, a habitat such as pond water often contains an invisible community that is revealed under a microscope and can fuel the imagination. A telescope can reveal exciting details of space. Even an inexpensive magnifying glass can show structures that a person has never noticed before.
  • Change your perspective. Look at furniture or items in a room or building from a different eye level or angle.
  • Sit or lie on the sand, grass, or forest floor - or on a natural or artificial seat if you prefer - and look up, down and all around you. Make observations using your senses of sight, hearing, smell and touch. Close your eyes when you are using a sense other than vision.
  • Go for walks at different times of the day and in different weather.
  • Go for a walk in a part of your neighborhood or town that you've never visited before (as long as the area is safe).

Photos can stimulate the imagination, especially when there is something unusual about them. The reflection in this photo shows the Hotel Vancouver in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.
Photos can stimulate the imagination, especially when there is something unusual about them. The reflection in this photo shows the Hotel Vancouver in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. | Source

Get Writing Ideas from Your Photos or Art

  • Document observations in photos for later study. Photos serve as memory aids and can be inspirational.
  • Another benefit of taking photos is that you may sometimes notice something in a photograph that you didn't notice in real life.
  • Use photo editing software to alter images. The edited images may trigger your imagination.
  • Make drawings of things that you see. The act of observing an object in order to draw it can be educational.
  • Making quick sketches from life or from the imagination can open the mind to writing ideas.

For me, the link between photography, imagination and writing is strong. This is a digitally edited version of one of my great blue heron photos.
For me, the link between photography, imagination and writing is strong. This is a digitally edited version of one of my great blue heron photos. | Source

Experience New Activities

  • Participate in new activities that let you explore the environment in a different way. Examples of these activities include horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing and snorkeling.
  • Watch people in a public area (discreetly).
  • Try new kinds of food that you've never eaten before.
  • Take advantage of free concerts, exhibitions and special events near your home.
  • Explore online art galleries and museums if you can't visit them in person.
  • When you're on holiday, be sure to explore new areas on foot. Vehicle travel is useful to get to a destination. Once you've arrived, however, you'll see so much more if you walk than if you travel in a car or bus.
  • If you're unable to visit a country, explore it by using Google Earth and its Street View or take a virtual tour via YouTube.

Reading can fuel the imagination.
Reading can fuel the imagination. | Source

Depending on which accounts a writer follows, social media sites can be a good place to discover a wide variety of photos, art, news and other interesting information. The posts may give a writer ideas for their creative work.

Get Inspiration from Books and Audiovisual Media

  • Visit a library and read newspapers or magazines that you don't normally examine. Some libraries subscribe to an online service which displays newspapers from around the world. You may be able to read these newspapers on your home computer if you're a member of a library.
  • Read widely, not to copy another writer's ideas but to stimulate the development of your own ideas. Books and websites can both be enriching if appropriate material or sites are chosen.
  • Some television and radio programs can also be a source of inspiration. There are a lot of programs whose goal is purely to entertain, which is nice when we need to relax. Some programs contain fascinating, informative or unusual information, however. These are the types of programs that are most likely to be useful for inspiring writers.
  • Listening to music can be a source of inspiration, especially when it arouses emotions.

Finding Inspiration For Writing

A "writing prompt" is a word, phrase, sentence, question or set of instructions that gives people an idea for a writing topic.

Play Dictionary Prompt Games

Mind games that involve playing with words and trying to make connections between them can be both fun and mentally stimulating. The games can also generate writing ideas.

A dictionary prompt game is often very useful for writers. It involves the random choice of words from a dictionary, which are then used in a writing project.

A common procedure for the game is to open a dictionary at a random page, place a finger tip on the page with closed eyes, open the eyes and then copy the word written under the finger on to a piece of paper. This is done three times so that three words are chosen.

The next step in the game is to complete a poem or story that includes all of the chosen words. This is a great mental exercise because sometimes the three words seem to be completely unrelated to each other. The challenge is to connect the words logically in the poem or story.

This activity can also be performed with a newspaper, magazine or book. Words or phrases can be chosen randomly and then woven into a piece of creative writing.

A curious mind can find inspiration for writing.
A curious mind can find inspiration for writing. | Source

Play Word Association Games

Word association activities are often fun to do. The steps of one potentially useful game are as follows.

  1. Think of a starting word, such as the name of an object or a word chosen from a book, newspaper or magazine.
  2. Write the word on a sheet of paper.
  3. Write the word that entered your mind immediately after you wrote the starting word.
  4. Write the word that entered your mind immediately after you wrote the second word.
  5. Write the word that entered your mind immediately after you wrote the third word, and so on.
  6. Continue the process for the chosen time length.
  7. Once the time is up, examine the words that you wrote.

This activity can be done with a friend or in a group as well as by an individual. It's often very interesting - and sometimes amusing - to see what words popped into the mind during this stream-of-consciousness activity. Some of the words or word sequences may prompt more ideas and suggest writing themes.

Mind Mapping

Create Mind Maps

A mind map is a diagram that shows connections between words. It can be used for brainstorming, for the organization of ideas and as a memory aid.

When someone is creating a mind map for their own purposes, they don't have to follow any rules. They can use whatever type of diagram is helpful for the generations of ideas. The general steps in drawing a mind map are as follows, however.

  • To start the mind map, a word or concept is written in a box, circle or bubble at the center of a sheet of paper that is turned sideways.
  • Arrows are extended from the central box and linked to related words or concepts.
  • Arrows are extended from the new words and linked to additional related concepts. More than one arrow may extend from each of the new words.

I find that for brainstorming, a simple mind map with a pencil, colored pencils or felts works best. As in a word association game, new ideas can be revealed by mind mapping.

Mind maps created by school students are sometimes elaborate and may contain images as well as different colors. They may follow specific rules and may be created by using mind mapping software instead of by hand. A spontaneous and free-form mind map is probably more useful for writers.

Free Writing for Teens and Adults

Do Free Writing and Focused Free Writing

The goal of free writing is for a person to write continuously for a specified time, on any topic or topics. The person writes whatever appears in their mind, without stopping to judge or edit their work. The writer is allowed to move from topic to topic as new ideas enter their mind.

While free writing, a person can write phrases as well as sentences. Spelling and punctuation errors aren't important. In fact, the person needs to keep writing even if they see an error. Corrections and deletions aren't allowed. If the person's mind goes blank it's suggested that they write something like "I don't know what to write" over and over until a new train of thought enters their mind.

Five to fifteen minutes is often suggested as a time limit for free writing. A timer with an alarm is used so that the writer can keep writing and avoid watching a clock.

Free writing stimulates the flow of ideas and is useful in overcoming a person's fear of writing or reluctance to put pen to paper. It may produce interesting ideas that are worth investigating further.

Focused free writing is a form of free writing that is related to a specific word, idea or theme. This type of writing isn't completely "free", since the mind needs to be pulled back to the key idea if it wanders too far. It may be more useful in generating new writing ideas, however.

Dreams can provide great ideas for writing projects!
Dreams can provide great ideas for writing projects! | Source

Remember Your Dreams

Dreams can be a great source of ideas. They can sometimes be so entertaining or such wonderful adventures that the dreamer may not want them to end. At other times they can be strange, surreal or even frightening.

It's important that a writer records what happened in a dream as soon as they wake up if they want to receive inspiration for writing. Memories of dreams quickly dissipate once we waken. Paper and a pen should be kept beside the bed for the best chance at retaining a dream memory. This enables a person to record their dream before they get out of bed.

Some people can't remember their dreams. People in this situation may be helped if they tell themselves that they are going to remember their dreams shortly before they fall asleep. This strategy may eventually help their dream recall if it's repeated every night.

Dreaming of the Tiger
Dreaming of the Tiger | Source

Keep a Writing Notebook or Journal

A writer should always have quick access to a notebook in order to record their thoughts, ideas and observations. Scraps of paper work too, but I find that these tend to get lost. A notebook is useful for some of the activities described below.

  • Record observations, facts, quotations or questions that you find especially interesting or that you want to investigate.
  • Makes sketches, diagrams, drawings and charts as well as written notes. Graphics don't have to be great works of art. Their purpose is to store information or to help you explore your ideas.
  • Stick photos in your notebook.
  • A notepad is useful for activities like free writing and mind association games. Anything that you'd like to save from these sessions can be cut out of the notepad and glued in the notebook.
  • You might like to use a binder for a notebook so that material can easily be added or taken away.
  • Digital notebook programs are available If you would like to use them. One problem with an electronic device is that the power may run out at a very inconvenient time, however.
  • Store completed notebooks together so that you develop a library of information.
  • You may prefer to use index cards instead of a notebook to store information. It's important that the cards are stored in a file box or in another organized way so that they aren't lost.

A notebook is a very useful tool for a writer.
A notebook is a very useful tool for a writer. | Source

Overcoming Writer's Block

I find that all the strategies described in this article are useful in my writing. It helps if I enjoy the activities for their own sake. Sometimes all that's needed to provide the "spark" for new writing is a change in environment or a period of relaxation.

Participating in the activities that I describe often produces writing ideas as a by-product. I record these ideas for possible use in the future or use them immediately. If you have ideas for overcoming writer's block that I haven't described, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section below.

© 2013 Linda Crampton

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Comments 62 comments

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

This is invaluable! So many suggestions and so many of them are so exciting. I absolutely adore your very first suggestion such as looking at pond life with binoculars. Oh it is rich.

Thank you.

Posting to FB, tweeting, sharing and voting on HP, and pinning.


theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 3 years ago from Wales

Excellent. Love your suggestions. It's funny, the more you write, the faster the ideas come. Voted up, etc.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much for the comment and all the shares, Goodlady!! I appreciate your visit very much.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, theraggededge. Thanks for the comment and the votes! That's an interesting observation. I find it's true for my writing too, except for occasionally when I have a temporary slow down in the arrival of new ideas.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great suggestions! I never have a problem finding writing topics...have no idea what writer's block is. However, if I ever do, I'll bookmark this excellent group of suggestions.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Bill. I'm glad that you never have writer's block. That's a wonderful situation for a writer!


pinto2011 profile image

pinto2011 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

Hi Alicia thanks for writing this hub as there are times when our brain goes blank. With your ideas, I will try to make it going.


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

These are excellent, realistic suggestions, Alicia, for any writer that needs help finding new topics to write about. And that covers just about every writer in the known world. Thanks, m'dear.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, pinto2011!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, drbj. I appreciate your comment!


Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 3 years ago from Oklahoma

This is an amazing hub! So many ideas in one place! I found this at a particularly good time. I realize I am stagnating some by trying to only read news for ideas, because I get hung up on worrying about what will draw better traffic, etc. You have give some fresh insight about seeking out inspiration.

I do keep a binder handy, with clear sheet protectors. I can save photos, news articles, business cards...whatever might inspire an idea. I dutifully put stuff in in it..but rarely take anything back out. Think that will change now. Thanks for the great tips! Voting this up and sharing!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the share, Sharkye11! Your binder sounds like it would be very useful for a writer. The protectors are a great idea, too!


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

Superb advice for finding ideas for writing topics. I often get the brightest ideas while I am driving, or halfway between being awake and asleep, just to lose my enthusiasm to write about it the minute I get the time to do it. Getting our ideas out of our minds onto paper or a computer screen is hard work.

Thanks for all the great tips, Alicia :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Martie. I get ideas just before I fall asleep, too. The problem is that if I force myself to wake up enough to write down an idea I find it hard to get to sleep afterwards! Thank you very much for the visit and the comment.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

These are all fabulous ideas to give one a different slant on old views. I once tried a virtual art gallery, and it was great to see everything from the comfort of my home. There is so much to do out there, and we don't need money to do it anymore.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Deb. I love visiting virtual art galleries! My favorites are the ones that let the visitor enlarge the paintings and view the details. Thank you for the comment.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

Great ideas Alicia. This should certainly come in handy for many a write out there. I do sometimes have trouble coming up with new ideas so I'll put some of these tips to work. Great job. Voted up and shared.


baja2013 profile image

baja2013 3 years ago from Sarajevo, Bosnia

My ideas come in a row, several in one minutes. Then nothing for days. Before, I was unexperinced and didn't write down. Then after, tried to recall, I knew it was something really good, but in 90% wasn't able to remember.

Since I get smarter :), I put every thought immediately in my mobile. Later check and decide whato to do about it.

Great hub and thanks for new ideas.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, the vote and the share, Bill. I appreciate them all!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, baja2013. It's a great plan to write ideas down as soon as we get them. I do this too, even if I'm so rushed that I can only write one or two words.


baja2013 profile image

baja2013 3 years ago from Sarajevo, Bosnia

It's easy today, just two times press some touch pad and anything is already memorised. You can do that while you walk, drinking a coffe or on a borring meeting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, baja2013. Yes, mobile devices are very useful! I have an iPod touch, but I always carry a small notebook around with me too in case the iPod needs to be charged or stops working.


baja2013 profile image

baja2013 3 years ago from Sarajevo, Bosnia

:) "Old school" is the best one!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Yes, it does have definite advantages!


elske profile image

elske 3 years ago

Brilliant ideas. I like the dictionary one, might give that a go soon. Thanks for the inspiration. Look forward to read more.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, elske. I appreciate your comment.


Claudia Tello profile image

Claudia Tello 3 years ago from Mexico

I didn´t realize though one could be so proactive in getting inspiration back when experiencing writers block. I find that getting involved in different activities always sparks up my imagination, one of your suggestions as well. And then I can also go back to recipe hubs because food is a never ending passion of mine.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit, Claudia. New activities give me writing ideas, too. It's great if one is passionate about a subject - that makes it so much easier to think of writing topics!


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 3 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

What a fine and resourceful hub. Great ideas for stimulating more ideas! The world has a myriad things to show us but sometimes it just takes a little prompting to get the old senses fully adjusted and on the right wavelength.

Votes and a share.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, chef-de-jour. I appreciate the vote and the share, too!


hawaiianodysseus profile image

hawaiianodysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

Linda, this is a remarkable literary bulletin board of great ideas. I find it fascinating that you adeptly use both sides of your brain. Your compelling spectrum of topics are as much a melting pot as is my state of origin, Hawai'i. You're an advocate for coffee, and you have a passion for walking that transcends the need for physical exercise. Suddenly, I'm the white rabbit that fell into a hole and discovered Wonderland. Lucky me!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, hawaiianodysseus. It's so nice to meet you! I appreciate your visit and your comment.


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Wonderful and useful ideas. Thanks for sharing, Alicia.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Rajan. I appreciate the visit.


billd01603 profile image

billd01603 3 years ago from Worcester

Great ideas Alicia. This is a good and useful Hub.I find that just by observing people, I come up with good ideas for Hubs.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, billdo1603. Yes, observing people is a very good way to get writing ideas!


Educateurself 3 years ago

Some great ideas Its very helpful for me. I am gonna apply some of this ideas to get vast idea of writing.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Educateurself.


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 3 years ago from london

Very good advice on observations. I also enjoy travelling on foot. Great Hub.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, manatita44. I appreciate your comment.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

My documents are full of ideas that I want to write about but I just can't seem to get it together and do another hub. Thanks for all the advice I'm sure it will help me.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, moonlake. Thank you very much for the visit and the comment.


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 3 years ago

You have listed down plenty of excellent ideas. Just what I need. Thanks a million !


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, Ingenira!


Rolly A Chabot profile image

Rolly A Chabot 3 years ago from Alberta Canada

Hi Alicia ... thanks for writing this, one I have bookmarked. You have some great thoughts and ideas here... well done.

Hugs from Canada


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Rolly! I appreciate the comment. Best wishes to you.


Gail Meyers profile image

Gail Meyers 3 years ago from United States

Thanks for all of the great ideas and suggestions, Alicia! It seems as if I either have so many things I want to write about that I cannot seem to write fast enough or I am searching for ideas. These look like some great tips for those times when I am searching for ideas. Voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Gail! I appreciate your comment and vote.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 3 years ago

Well my most esteemed fellow Canadian I certainly do love the diversity in your hub presentations and naturally this title and the words which follow caught my eye and imagination. I will bookmark your guidelines as a reference guide for myself and also link and share your wonderful research here on my FB wall for everyone to see -

I am sending sincere warm wishes to you from Colin and his cats Tiffy and Gabriel at lake erie time ontario canada 1:27am with waning moon over the lake and do you know of another nice lady VICKI W also from B.C. and if you could do me a favor and check out ROSE THE PLANNER - she has a hub you will love - 100 years of the wedding gown - thank you for that.

And as you can only imagine Epi usually isn't stuck for ideas to inspire his writing but I really did learn a thing or two for you here .....


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, Colin. Thanks for sharing the hub on Facebook, too! I follow Vicki and enjoy her hubs. I enjoy Rose the Planner's hubs too, but I haven't read the one that you mention. I'll read it soon!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

Hi Alicia, I found this hub extremely helpful and interesting. I oftn have an urge to write but sit at my desk pen and notebook in hand and come up with absolutely nothing. You have provided some great tips here. thank you. Voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Jodah. Thank you very much for the comment and the vote!


whittwrites profile image

whittwrites 2 years ago from the Philly area

Great Hub full of good ideas


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, whittwrites.


techygran profile image

techygran 2 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

Hi Linda... this is also just what I was looking for.. a friend and I had a discussion recently about finding ideas for topics, and voila! Synchronicity? I tend to keep a list of topics that I am interested in and challenge myself to pick one a week to write on. Quite often, mid-way through the writing, I will find my mind shifting into another perspective that appeals more than the original. As a result, I have a number of hub URLs that appear to be totally unrelated to the name of the hub-- I haven't been able to find how to change the URL once one is on a roll. In any case, thank you so much for this very helpful hub-- voted up and sharing with pride! ~Cynthia


Relationshipc profile image

Relationshipc 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada

This is an exciting hub for a writer! It makes you want to go out and try all of these methods for an idea.

Ever since I was young, I've always been curious. I remember being a young adult, partying with friends, and asking questions that my friends could have cared less about. So, I think that curiosity in my daily life inspires me to find topics to write about. Considering I write on three different blogs full-time and try to write here once a week or so, I need all the inspiration I can get!

I also find that scrolling through social networks, such as Twitter, StumbleUpon, or even HubPages, helps me think of ideas and then it is just a matter of research.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Cynthia. Thanks so much for the comment, the vote and the share! I have a similar problem with my hub URL at times. It can't be changed once it's created, but sometimes as I write a hub the theme drifts away from the original URL! Luckily, the hub title can be changed. If I feel that the hub's URL is too misleading, I start a new hub with a new URL, copy my old (and not yet published) hub's content to the new URL and delete the old hub.


techygran profile image

techygran 2 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

ah yes, Linda, that's the cool-headed thinking person's way to handle it! Thank you for the tip!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Relationshipc! I love the idea of using Twitter and other social media sites to stimulate the imagination. Some tweets could definitely generate new ideas for writing topics!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Cynthia! I hope you have a great day.


adevwriting profile image

adevwriting 16 months ago from United Countries of the World

The hub was instructive. I found it very useful and have to bookmark this page. Voted up and useful!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 16 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and votes, adevwriting.

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