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Writer's Block? Exercises to Clear the Block

Updated on September 15, 2015
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

The Dreaded Writer’s Block

We writers all suffer from this curse from time to time. How do we get though it, past it, over it, and get on with the business of writing? There are many cures out there, and here are some that have worked for me. I hope you will find them useful as well.

Can't think?  No ideas? Calm down and read on
Can't think? No ideas? Calm down and read on | Source

Write Anything!

Sit down and write. Write any old thing, stupid or not, sensible or not. Coherent or not. It does not matter in the least. What matters is that you are putting words down on paper. Heck, start out by writing your frustration with having writer’s block in the first place. Here are a few other suggestions of things to write just to write:

  • a grocery list
  • a silly poem--it does not need to rhyme
  • copy dictionary entries
  • journal a stupid dream
  • make out a bucket list

Any of these things can help get your juices flowing, and may, in fact, end up turning into a topic about which you find you can write an article or short story.

Source Material

Where are the writing ideas and inspirations? They surround us daily, of course. You can make up a story around any number of things, including snatches of overheard conversations while standing in line.

Jot them down; combine them later. What did you overhear in line at the grocery store? At the pharmacy? At the vet’s office? At the gas station? Mix them together, and invent a back-story for what was going on in the lives of these individuals. Make them interact with each other.

Remember--at this point, you are not trying to create a masterwork, and it need not make any better sense than the offerings of a first-grader’s make-believe story. It is merely an exercise to start putting words to paper.

Do not, however, throw away these efforts. Put them aside for a bit, and re-read them later. You may find a single sentence or quote that is the spark for your next masterpiece.

History of the World Mad Libs
History of the World Mad Libs

Listed as a childrens'-level game, that doesn't matter; being silly, childlike and playing with things from younger times can also act as thought triggers


Just Words

Above, I suggested just copying words from the dictionary. Sometimes that will do the trick. Browse the dictionary--you may find a new, intriguing word you did not know, or for which you never had much use before. Make note of it. find a way to use it in a sentence.

I remember my mother and I used to frequently “get lost” in the dictionary. We’d look up a word, but then get sidetracked reading other, nearby words and definitions, and often as not, flipping to other pages to look up a new word found in the initial browsing session.

My mother once told me of a personal challenge she undertook while in high school. The subject matter was a spelling list, and as is a common practice with teachers and spelling lists, they had been assigned to write sentences with the words.

My mother, however, decided to take this to a whole other level, and challenged herself to write a single sentence using all of the words. She succeeded, and the teacher was appropriately impressed. You might try this with a random list of words, including a grocery list. What can you create with that? A story? A recipe?

Word Games

Playing word games can be a fun and non-stressful way to stimulate the brain juices. There are many types; oral games; pen-and-paper games; computer word games; or get out the old Scrabble board.

A simple word-association list is also useful. Write down the first word that comes to your mind. Then write down the word that your original word makes you think of next. Continue in this manner until you have a decent list of words--10 or more--and look them over for the roots of a story or article.

A couple of my favorites are “make as many words as you can,” and “find as many words as you can with a certain starting word or prefix.”

Game One: Make as Many Words as You Can

For the first game, begin with a word that has at least two syllables; three is better. A good assortment of vowels and consonants is also desirable. The rules of the game are this:

  1. You may use only letters that appear in the original word
  2. You may use the letters to make other words only as often as they appear in your source word.
  3. You may choose your own rules as to whether one and two letter words are allowed, or whether you must make only words with three or more letters
  4. Archaic and obscure words are allowed (such as those you might encounter as crossword puzzle solutions)
  5. You may choose, if the original letters permit, to include both singular and plural forms for the words you make, that’s up to you
  6. You may set a time limit if you wish, but I usually do not

For example: if I choose the short word, “carpet,” I can make the following list:

  • pet (but not pets)
  • car
  • care
  • peat

and so forth. This is obviously only a partial listing of possible words from “carpet.” I prefer using longer words, such as, “refrigerator.” Why don’t you give it a try and see what you come up with?

Shorter words pose a bigger challenge--are you up for it?

This particular game is a favorite of mine to pass time in places like doctor’s waiting rooms. I always have a small notepad and pencil with me.

Brain Games for Word Nerds
Brain Games for Word Nerds

Word games for starting the creative juices


Game Two: How Many Words Start With...

The next game is to begin with a word or prefix, and see how many other words you can make that begin with that starting point in a given amount of time, without consulting the dictionary.

For example, “inter.” See what you can find. My list is below. No peeking. You have 2 minutes. Go!

Read Something

Just pick up anything and start reading. Your favorite author; an old book you’ve read and re-read before; the newspaper; friend’s posts on social media, anything. Reading is an excellent trigger to make you think, and the more you think, (even if idly and without conscious effort), you start to get sparks of ideas, and inspiration may soon strike.

Make Notes

Keep a notepad with you, or, if you prefer, some kind of audio recording device, so that when you are away from home, and you get that wonderful idea for your next best-seller, you can immediately capture it for a work session later.

Yes--I suffered this exact fate recently--had a great short story idea while driving, and no way to record it. By the time I got home, I had no idea what it was that had occurred to me.

Memory can be a fickle thing, and with all the “information overload” we suffer these days, sometimes we are lucky to recall our own names or remember to make the bed. By writing it down, we won’t forget, and sit staring at a blank piece of paper, wondering what it was we thought of in the grocery store, or when we couldn’t sleep at 2:00 a.m.

The Problem Can Become the Solution

See? It Works!

Guess what? I wrote this article because I was suffering from writer’s block, and needed to play around with some words to break the dam.

And here you go: I ended up writing an article on the matter. See? Absolutely anything can serve as your inspiration!

My Partial List of "Starts With 'Inter' "


There are obviously many more; I’ll leave that to you, dear reader, to play with.

© 2014 Liz Elias

What Tricks Work For You? Do Tell!

Submit a Comment

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, luisj305,

    Thanks very much; I'm glad you found the pointers to be of use. I look forward to checking out your hubs!

  • luisj305 profile image

    luisj305 2 years ago from Florida

    This is great advice. I randomly started tweaking old hubs and really got into it. Now I'm working on several new ones!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, greeneyedblondie,

    Aha! I look forward to reading that article. Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad these tips were helpful for you.

  • profile image

    greeneyedblondie 3 years ago

    I saw the words bucket list and knew I had an idea going! Thanks!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Patricia--

    Thanks; I'm glad you found my tips useful. It is fun to make up imaginary stories from overheard snatches. What fun, and what great exercise for the imagination. Thanks for stopping by!

  • profile image

    Patricia Ferrero 3 years ago

    I really like the idea of writing about overhead conversations! I used to actually play a game with my friends when I was younger. We would sit on a bench and watch people walk past, then make up their life stories. It was fun. Sometimes we were a bit cruel too, but I guess it's always more interesting when someone has a bit of a dramatic life, right?

    Nice post!

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

    Thanks for turning me on to the "doorway syndrome" - happens everyday :) I take it that I'm not alone with this frustration. I'll start re-tracing my steps !

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, vocalcoach--

    Thank you very much. I'm most pleased you found this article useful.

    Now, where were you, indeed? In a doorway, perhaps?

    Have you heard about the "doorway syndrome," which causes us to forget what was just on our mind as we enter a different room? Your brain 'shifts gears' to the new space, and dumps the prior information...which is why going back to where you were when you thought of 'whatever-it-was,' is often helpful in recalling what you were about to do. ;-)


  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

    You've presented us with some excellent exercises to help with writers block. Sharing this on Facebook and more.

    Now, where was I?

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Moon Daisy,

    Ah, I do hate to be 'flummoxed.' LOL--a great word I haven't heard used since my mother passed.

    I agree-pen and paper sometimes work much better; far less intimidating than a keyboard and blank screen--there is something about the physical connection to pen, paper and brain that gets ideas flowing again.

    Glad you liked the article and tips. Thank you so much for your great comment.

  • Moon Daisy profile image

    Moon Daisy 3 years ago from London

    That's very useful, thank you!

    I suffer from this once in a while, both on here and elsewhere, and I also get the forgetfulness thing from "information overload", which really doesn't help. I get suddenly get a great idea, but then get slightly distracted, and just as suddenly forget it again!

    I will definitely use some of your tips next time it happens. I particularly like the idea to just "write anything!". Writing does tend to lead to more writing, so this is a very good idea.

    One thing I find useful when my mind is blank, is turning off my computer and getting a pen and paper instead. Somehow the ideas just flow better when I'm writing in the old-fashioned way, whereas staring at a blank screen can flummox me!

    Thanks again.

  • slcilm profile image

    Shannon Clodfelter 3 years ago from Wilmington NC

    Great piece!! Very usable content...

  • Cynthianne profile image

    Cynthianne Neighbors 3 years ago

    Good article!!

  • greatstuff profile image

    Mazlan 3 years ago from Malaysia

    You have compiled some really great and useful ideas here. Browsing and copying words from dictionary is something that I have never thought of. I like to take photos of almost anything with my smart phone and sometimes these photos give me ideas for my next post. Most of the time it will be there with just a single sentence and months later I might come back and add more sentences. That's what happened to my Dragon Boat Race article. I started probably two years ago and only published it last week!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, saralynw,

    I am happy you liked these suggestions, and glad you will find them useful. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • saralynw profile image

    Saralyn Wilhelmi 3 years ago from Los Angeles

    Thank you for the ideas. I'll be sure to use these the next time I have writers block. :-)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Kevin--

    Thanks very much I'm delighted you liked these ideas and that I was able to trigger some memories of your own tricks. Thanks, too, for adding another suggestion, and for the vote and share!

  • The Examiner-1 profile image

    The Examiner-1 3 years ago


    This was an interesting Hub for avoiding writer's block. I have been into word games all of my life and I have enjoyed them very much. So I was reminded of them as I read this. I gave this a thumbs up and shared it.

    I have another way of remembering items, words, etc. I associate what I need to remember with something which I see, or hear, everyday. It may be at home, work, anywhere.


  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Blond Logic,

    I'm very glad you liked my ideas, and can implement some of them, or already use some yourself. Never doubt the importance of 'trivia.'

    Thank you so much for your lovely comment and the vote and share!

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 3 years ago from Brazil

    A wonderful list of ideas. I have used some of these myself. I must get into the habit you suggested of 'just write it down'. Often my fingers are poised over and keys and then nothing happens. Who knew my drivel was the key to my success.LOL

    I enjoy Scrabble and some of the words do indeed spark some interesting conversations.

    A splendid and useful hub, thanks. Voted up and shared.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, UndercoverAgent19--Thanks much! I'm glad you liked these ideas and I wish you all the best in putting them to use.

  • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

    Jen Corrigan 3 years ago

    These are great ideas. I will be sure to try using them the next time I'm feeling stuck.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, grand old lady,

    I'm pleased you liked this Hub. Thank you very much for stopping by with your kind words.

  • grand old lady profile image

    Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

    Wonderful tips, dzymslizzy. They certainly help out when a person is blocked. At the same time, it brings out the fun in writing.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    @ ChitrangadaSharan--Poems are not silly--they are creative, and can indeed help to unlock your writing ability. I'm glad you enjoyed the article; thanks very much for adding your ideas.

    @ MsDora--Thank you very much! Your comment and enthusiasm are much appreciated.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    Marvelous! Can't have too many of these ideas to remedy writer's block. Some of these are fun. Thank you.

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Nice and useful suggestions!

    I always try to write a poem, whenever I feel bored-- silly or not I don't know, but it does break the monotony.

    Enjoyed going through your hub. Thanks!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, FlourishAnyway!

    Thanks; I'm glad you found these suggestions to be useful. The Federal Register is something that has as yet escaped my reading list. LOL It almost sounds like the type of thing I'd read in order to bore myself to sleep if suffering one of my bouts of insomnia. ;-)

    I look forward to your next offerings that may reduce the crowding inside your head. ;-)

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    Useful ideas, Liz. I love getting lost in the dictionary, too, and I like reading even the boring Federal Register on topics I have the slightest interest in. You can get great ideas just by paying attention to the mundane. My head is so full of stuff I wish I could find the time to get it out.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Jodah,

    Thank you. I'm glad you liked this hub. And thanks much for adding your own clever style of inspiration. I can see that "Maureen" definitely has a story to tell, and I wish you all the best in transcribing her dictation. ;-)

    Thanks, too, for the vote!

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

    Great subject MsLizzy. we all suffer from this and need all the help we can get. One other idea I sometimes use, is to just select a book, any book, from your bookshelf, open it up at a random page and select a sentence. Then attempt to write a story (or poem) using each word in the sentence in order to begin a new sentence or verse. For instance I chose this sentence ages ago (I can't even remember where I read it): "Maureen, 74, told me of when, back in 1952, she entertained a special young man." (I actually chose the entire paragraph)I have been in the process of writing a story from that paragraph for over a year. This is how it starts off:

    MAUREEN was proud of what she'd accomplished in life. 74 years she'd spent on this Earth had definately not been wasted. TOLD of how the new changes to interest rates attached to bank accounts of aged pensioners would effect her, she just shrugged her shoulders. "ME?" she exclaimed, "Oh it won't bother me. I won't be around long enough to worry about that."

    Anyway get the idea. hope this helps someone. Anyway, great hub, voted up.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thanks much, billy--I'll return the favor!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I'll link to mine on the same subject. Very useful my friend.