Generating Story Ideas and Overcoming Writer's Block

Today's topics are generating story ideas and overcoming writer's block.

Mignon Fogarty
6-minute read
Episode #56

Overcoming Writer’s Block

OK, Matt also asked about writer's block, which can affect fiction and non-fiction writers. In my opinion, anything you do to overcome writer's block is just a mind game, but I don't mean that in a bad way because sometimes you have to play mind games to get your work done. Writing is such a solitary experience; it's really all about you and your mind. Here are some things that work for me:

If you're going to procrastinate, force yourself to do something productive. Your choices are folding laundry or writing, not playing solitaire or writing.

Don't get too hung up on writing the first sentence or paragraph. If you have a great quote or a great plot point, and it falls in the middle of your story, write that first and come back to the beginning later. That's how I wrote this transcript. I wrote the tips about generating freelance story ideas first, and then I jotted down a few things about overcoming writer's block. Then I went back to the beginning. I jump around a lot, and I find it helps me to keep writing when I feel stuck.

Free writing. When I was in college, I had a professor who forced us to do free-writing exercises. We had to sit at our desks and write without stopping for 30 minutes. It didn't matter what we wrote. She just watched to make sure that we were constantly putting pen to paper. I found it a very useful exercise, so you might give it a try if you are having a creative block. And a bonus is that it can also be a good way to come up with story ideas.

But nothing focuses my mind like a deadline. So set yourself a deadline and try to make it as real as possible. Line up friends to read your story and tell them you'll deliver it at a certain time. Plan a date, but let yourself go out only if you finish your story. Maybe you're not like this, but I don’t take a deadline seriously unless I know that something bad is going to happen if I don't finish on time. All you listeners are now my “something bad” because I know you'll be unhappy if I release my show late.

One great way to set real deadlines and to meet other writers and get feedback is to join or start a writing group. When I was freelance writing, I met up with about eight other writers every other week. We swapped stories for feedback, talked about our projects, and set goals for the next meeting. It was a wonderful experience, and many of those writers are still my good friends today. Two published books came out of that group: one about employee recognition, called Make Their Day, and another about couples and body-weight issues, called Honey, Does This Make My Butt Look Big?

Writing contests are another way to set a deadline and get inspiration at the same time. I know of three contests with deadlines:

First, there is a blog and podcast called 100 Word Stories that gives out a vague writing assignment every week and chooses a winner from the submissions. Second, the Writers Weekly web site holds a quarterly short-story contest. And third, Writer's Digest has writing contests throughout the year  and distributes weekly writing prompts.

I'm sure there are other contests out there, as well as other ideas for generating story ideas and overcoming writer's block, so please add your comments.

Other Writing Contests

Earth Vision Nature Writing Contest (Entry Deadline: October 15, 2007)


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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