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Creative Writing: Overcoming Writer's Block

Updated on August 31, 2017
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The author of this article is an ex-adult education lecturer and retired expat who has lived in France since 2001.

Where do you start?

Everyone has a story to tell. Some of us feel inspired to write it down. Others would like to write it down but don't know where to start, or how.

There are no hard and fast rules, but starting off with a writing pad specifically for the purpose and a good quality writing implement might be a good place to begin. A decent fountain pen which glides over good quality paper can make the process of writing a pleasurable experience; or you may prefer to use a pencil so that you can easily erase and amend your text.

Alternatively, dictate your words into a recording device such as a mobile phone and get the recording transcribed by a typist. This service can be surprisingly inexpensive.

Of course, many people now like to write directly onto a computer, but what if you've already set yourself up with your computer or writing pad in front of you and the words just won't come? In short, you may be suffering from the medically recognised syndrome called Writer's Block, and if you want to get your story out there, you need help.

Let it all out

One of the best times to write can be when your feelings are elevated in some way; e.g., you are very happy, very sad, angry, or even in love. If you are going through some such time in your life, not only can it be very therapeutic to unload the emotion onto paper, but it's possible that your words will pour out in a particularly spontaneous and effective way..

Once finished, however, always put the work away for a time. Come back to it at a later date. Re-read it and adjust it carefully before you make it available to anyone else.

If in a calmer frame of mind you re-visit some such piece of work and find the personal nature of it uncomfortable reading, you can change the style of writing to the third person. The important thing is that you have captured vivid emotions which you can then incorporate into other work.

Tips to Get You Started

  • Keep a pencil, paper and eraser by your bedside. Your best ideas may come at night or in the early morning when you are relaxed and pensive.
  • Keep a diary or journal, daily or weekly, or even irregularly, but record notable events, including the way you feel about things at the time that they happen.
  • Limit yourself. Start with a title rather than writing the story first. The fact that you are imposing the discipline of a constraint upon yourself can actually keep you focused and force you to be more inventive.
  • Use images of any subject matter that appeals to you, artistic or photographic, as material to inspire you. For example, old buildings, animals, landscapes, etc.

Use an interesting photograph

An interesting face and a photo to inspire.
An interesting face and a photo to inspire.
  • Use an interesting portrait photo from a magazine and build a personality profile for that character. Or perhaps you have come across characters in the past that stand out in your memory. Obviously, you must be careful never to name or allude to anything that may identify individual people without their permission.
  • How about taking ideas from conversations that you've had? Politics, philosophy and religion come immediately to mind, but the subject matter is limitless. Take notes, if not at the time, directly after the conversation while the memory is fresh.
  • If someone says something funny, or a humorous thought comes into your head, note it down. You might not have ideas about how to use it at that moment in time, but it's useful to have these thoughts recorded for possible incorporation into your writing at a future time. Or you can use a particular quote as a title or develop a piece of writing around it.
  • Take your notepad and pencil or Dictaphone out with you when you go out on a walk and record your thoughts as you go along. Many mobile phones also have a recording and video facility, so you can record your thoughts and film sequences which you can write about later.
  • Get a friend or a writing partner to set you a project, or the two of you could tackle a project separately to see what each of you comes up with. Sometimes, the discipline of having a set of criteria to meet and a deadline can force the mind to focus and produce results, and of course there is that element of competition which can be a motivational factor.
  • Scan through a newspaper, or through some of the many newspaper websites to identify a news item and develop a story around it.
  • And, of course, read the work of others to gather inspiration. That's not to suggest engaging in plagiarism, but seeing what others have done may trigger the formation of new ideas in your own mind which could send your thought processes in a new and exciting direction.


Get into the habit of collecting notes of conversations, recordings of your thoughts, photographs and images of artwork. When you sit down to write, you will have a rich source of material to refer to in order to unblock the blockage and get those creative juices going.

Good luck to you!

A Handful of Chestnuts by Anne Cartwright is a perfect example of a book that has been produced from a collection of stories that has been built up over several years from collected resources. Having had an eminent career as an opera singer, she has now retired to France, and In her own words, she spends a great deal of time 'madly scribbling' into her notebook and recording events. The book has been produced from notes she has made since she arrived in France in 2006 which provided her with a wonderful foundation to build upon.

A cure for Writer's Block?


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