The Cure for Writer’s Block via Stephen King


I recently read this nifty little book by Stephen King. I’m not a huge fan of his work although I respect him as a writer. But On Writing provided me a chest full of gold nuggets – encouragement, inspiration, solutions to problems every writer faces. You might expect someone who’s come across this kind of buried treasure to keep it tucked away, but fortunately I am not a hoarder. I want to pass on what I’ve learned in hopes that you be enlightened as well. I’m nearly trembling with anticipation of sharing with you all the goodies in King’s book (although you really should go read it for yourself). So what am I waiting for? On with it! The first one is about conquering Writer’s Block.

The Curse of Writer’s Block

What is writer’s block, anyway? It depends on who you ask. The causes are even more varied. In my experience, I’ve found that writer’s block often is this: the excuse not to write. That may sound harsh, but I’m speaking for myself here, not pointing the finger at anyone else. Sure, we all get stuck sometimes. I’ve had my share of big, gaping plot holes to hurdle. I’ve also experienced creative funk (not the kind of funk that’s rockin’) when I had absolutely no motivation to work. It’s miserable. But often what we blame on writer’s block is nothing more than a lack of tenacity – not being willing to stick with it and write through the block. That said, when I get stuck, it’s usually because I don’t know what happens next.

Fighting Bad with Worse

In On Writing, King made an excellent point about his own experiences with writer’s block. He said often the best solution is to add a new problem. Let tragedy strike your poor unsuspecting characters. The moment I read that, I began analyzing periods in my work when writing was a struggle. I found that most of them were indeed at a point in the story where there was more apathy than disaster, more dull tranquility than teeth-gritting struggle. If I’d thrown tragedy at my characters, I’d instantly have something to write about. Not only that, but the times I had escaped some form of writer’s block were often because I initiated a new dilemma in the plot (whether or not I realized it at the time).

If King hadn’t so plainly stated his solution to writer’s block, I don’t think I would have had the conscious realization on my own. When things went bad in my story, I searched for a solution the way I do in life – looking for the bright side, trying to patch up the bad with the good. In life I’m an optimist, but that might not be the best trait as a author. Seeing all the things that can go wrong is an ideal vantage for a writer. I’ve learned that the best way to fight the bad is by letting the plot take a turn for the worse.

If you’re stuck, try it. Let me know how it goes. Or if you’ve done it in the past and it worked, I’d love to hear how.

You might also be interested in:

Creative Challenge: Doodle Your Way to Success

Don’t Give Up

The Power of the Spoken Word (or The One Where I Reveal What Really Happens in the Shower)

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  1. #1 by Lironah on December 26, 2011 - 6:49 pm

    I’m suffering a bout of writer’s block right now, and I’ve already decided to amp up the danger – to no effect. I’ve studied a few different angles on it, like my writing atmosphere and my plot continuity, but still no progress. In my case it might simply be the stress of unemployment, or something else personal.

    Nevertheless, I agree with the method, and I’ve used it successfully once or twice already in my current project. Starts throwing missiles and explosions around, and see what happens. Or magic spells, landslides, enemy assaults or what have you. Makes life interesting for your characters, and brings out their best and worst qualities.

    • #2 by Becca Campbell on December 27, 2011 - 2:44 pm

      I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. I hate it when that happens. You are right though, one other thing that tragedy does is put pressure on the characters, forcing their personalities to really come out.

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your writing!

  2. #3 by Angie (Write_Me_Happy) on December 27, 2011 - 10:14 am

    Great post! I was recommended by several writers to read Stephen King’s On Writing and it easily became my new favourite non-fiction book!

    I also struggled with my characters getting into some trouble. It just wasn’t enough. Now I’m making an effort to stick them in some serious, hard-core, bad news situations.

    • #4 by Becca Campbell on December 27, 2011 - 2:45 pm

      Angie,
      I wish you the best for ruining your characters’ lives. In the best way possible, of course.

  3. #5 by Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse) on December 27, 2011 - 12:18 pm

    Raymond Chandler used to solve writer’s block by having men burst into the room with guns. It seems to have really worked for him.

    And yeah, I’ve found as well that writer’s block is usually just not knowing where to go next. I started outlining, and that’s pretty much fixed it. Now I get outliner’s block. Doh.

    • #6 by Becca Campbell on December 27, 2011 - 2:48 pm

      I do a good amount of prewriting and outlining as well. That really helps move things along. But yeah, sometimes I get stuck there, too. Daydreaming helps, though. I also get a lot of plot ideas when I’m trying to fall asleep.

      Thanks for sharing!

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