Dealing with Writer's Block

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Q: Do you have any advice on overcoming writer's block? I am currently taking a course on this subject and wondered how professional writers deal with this common problem. —Jane Thomas

A: Writers have only three true enemies: time (or lack thereof), computer viruses and writer's block. Defeating the first two is easy—set a writing schedule and backup your work. But writer's block doesn't have a cut-and-dry solution. It's a chronic ailment that all writers deal with differently.

For some insight, I asked several prominent authors how they tackled this terrible disease:

"To overcome writer's block I try to imagine: What's the worst thing that can happen to my protagonist within the context of this story? Then I do it. Characters should have goals, and my job as the author is to make it difficult for them to reach those goals."—JA Konrath, author of Fuzzy Navel, the fifth novel in his Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series.

"After I’m done feeling sorry for myself, I return to the literature. I first learned to write by reading, so I figure I can relearn to write by doing the same thing."—Matt Rothschild, author of Dumbfounded.

"I use fear to overcome it. I remind myself that my income is contingent on the pages I produce, and if I don't write pages I don't get paid—my mortgage doesn't get paid, my utilities get cut off and pretty soon in my mind I can see myself living in an abandoned truck in an old bathrobe. When the only thing standing between me and that fate is the next paragraph, it comes out pretty quickly."—Hollis Gillespie, syndicated columnist and author of Trailer Trashed.

As for me, defeating writer's block is all about persistence. When I'm stuck, I either find a good writing prompt and take a stab at it, or spend an hour coming up with 10 writing prompts of my own. These exercises give me a nice mental workout and, typically, end my writing slumps. And if those fail, I read. Nothing is more inspiring than taking in another writer's finest work.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.