HOWTO avoid writer's block

Great advice from Roald Dahl (via Lifehacker) on keeping your momentum going on big projects: leave the last task you're working on before putting the project away unfinished. I always do this when working on long writing projects, like novels: I stop mid-sentence at the end of each session. That way, the next time I sit down to work, I can type several words without having to be "creative," and by the time I've done that, I'm back in the groove.
"When you are going good, stop writing." And that means that if everything's going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter's going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don't go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next?
Leave Your Tasks Unfinished to Maintain Momentum and Avoid Mental Blocks


  1. I’ll give anything a go, and if it worked for Roald Dahl, who was quite prolific, it might be worth trying, but Dahl didn’t work on a computer with internet access. I rather fear going away, falling prey to the million distractions, returning to the draft, and completely blanking on how the sentence was to end. Or shifting the topic of the story to one of the distractions. I bet Dahl was one of those organized people who wrote chronologically too! My approach is a little more… postmodern. Not to say disorganized.

  2. Another trick is to make some weird note or scribble (some unique mark) that captures your thought at the time of leaving your work. When you return to the text you see this mark you’ve left and you can quickly resume your train of thought.

  3. If Kerouac would have followed this advice On the Road might have been a short story. Darma Bums might have moved along a little more though.

  4. I heard this was Hemmingway’s technique. I’ve used it quite often and find that it works well. The important thing is to not blow out your creative juices in one session. Sometimes it can take days to recover the momentum.

  5. What a load of self-replicating meme bullshit. I write for a living. Thus, I don’t get writer’s block, I get bills for my mortgage. When things are going well, you put every damn thing you can down on the page and you’re grateful. You don’t hold off because you’re afraid you won’t be able to start again.

    Silly, silly, silly.

    The kids are asleep, I’ve had enough coffee, it’s going well… I think I’ll stop now cause I’m scared I won’t be able to start again. Oh come now.

    1. Yeah, who would listen to advice from a successful writer blogging advice from another successful writer? That’s just mental.

    2. Bill: perhaps you’re referencing technical writing instead of creative writing? They’re very different animals. (Yes, I’ve done both, including professionally.)

  6. yes, this is the first time I’ve ever heard a tip like this. it seems counterintuitive, but I’ll give it a try! Thanks!

    @Bill Johnson–you seem full of vitriol and it’s pretty unwarranted. Don’t you realize that every writer is different?

  7. And some writers write for pleasure as well, Bill Johnson. I’m sure it’s not the case but the way you just described your writing sounds a lot like a nanowrimo, and one doesn’t have to be a writer to know ‘putting every damn thing on the page’ is not the best way to create a good written piece.

    For me, (disclaimer: I write for pleasure, not for a living) this trick doesn’t work, because I am very forgetful. If I know, one evening, exactly how the story will end, the next I may have forgotten it, and no amount of taking notes will help recreate that vision on the horizon. Resuming a train of thought is something I find incredibly difficult and frustrating, because it’s not just thought, it’s a complex combo of emotion and environment that allows me to see the story unfold. Once I step out of it…

    On the other hand, sometimes the combo is wrong, with one emotion or idea blocking another, and in those cases the only solution is to step back.

  8. Ah, but you know what? I just realised this technique works perfectly for the thing I actually DO for a living, which is illustration. Most drawings I do will have a problem area, (such as the main scene) and an obvious area (such as leaves on a tree in the background). I never finish the obvious area at once. I concentrate on the problem area, and when I am blocked, I go back to the obvious area to get back in the swing without having to think too much. I do a little bit of it and by the time I am sick of drawing leaf # 287986, the block has dissolved. Similarly, every day I sit back down to an already started illustration, I will almost always start with the obvious area of the drawing, to regain momentum.

  9. Hemingway mentioned this technique in his Paris memoir: ‘A Moveable Feast’.

    Actually, I didn’t really like the writing in ‘A Moveable Feast’ at all.

  10. “Leave Your Tasks Unfinished to Maintain Momentum and Avoid Mental Blocks”?

    I always leave my tasks unfinished. The method never fails.

  11. Of course, this is assuming you’ve actually started something to begin with. There’s also the writer’s block that is the terror of the blank page.

    One other thing I’d heard about Hemmingway, when he started to write, to warm up he’d type his name over and over for fifteen minutes.

  12. Live right, take care of your needs. Explore your goals as a writer, examine your mythological commitments, work on learning to live with fear and the discomfort of vulnerability.

    If all else fails, delve into experimental word art, crappy poetry, or just steal the hell out of the ideas of others.

    The ways they teach creative writing are fairly limited when compared with some of the other arts. There is a definite bias in writing world toward writing something that other people are dying to read. That’s a sure way to stay superficial.

    If you have writer’s block real bad, you might consider saying “fuck the reader” and take your writing practice into outer space and actually develop some kind of personally meaningful exercises.

    I don’t understand why the “how-to” write magazines and such don’t focus more on the personal journey of the writer as she works. I prefer to think of myself starring in The Postman or The Orchid Thief as a I write. Instead, what we get in the magazines are articles about how to get an agent to notice you. Ick.

  13. This is very similar to the technique used by many successful joggers. Quit for the day while it still feels good, if possible when it feels really good, don’t exhaust yourself every effing time, if you do you’ll feel less motived to go at for a run again the next day, but if you quit while you feel good you will long to go out again the next day…

  14. I write long-form journalism (and 2 books so far) and do this, for much the same reason: It kick-starts my brain the next day. I don’t necessarily stop in the middle of a sentence, but I will stop in the middle of a section. The essential component is to know what you’re going to do when you sit down again.

  15. Isn’t coincidence a funny thing, I just heard this same advice to stop before the end of a sentence a couple of days ago in a podcast, and now here it is again today, yet I’d never heard the idea before.

  16. Funny. I tend to stop in the middle of a sentence because that’s where I tend to get stuck. (And knowing where the story is going doesn’t help; I usually know where I want to end up; just not how to find the next sentence on the way there.)

    [Anonymous because I’m too lazy to retrieve my password.]

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