When the Words Won’t Come

Megan Norris Jones

If you write, then you’re a writer. You don’t have to wait for the validation of publication, starred reviews, or the best seller lists. Writers write. But what happens when you get stuck, when you’re not writing? If a person who writes is a writer, then what is a person who stares at a computer screen and then decides that she’d better go do the laundry?

We all have those moments/weeks/seasons when the words won’t come. Don’t panic. There’s no need for an identity crisis. You are still a writer. You just need to use a little bit of your creativity to come up with something that makes you step back and consider the whole story, instead of that one little element you’re stuck on, something that reminds you what makes this story worth writing in the first place.

Here are a few techniques that have helped me:

1. Write the jacket copy. Jacket copy is those two to three paragraphs on the inside flap of a hardback or on the back of a paperback that introduce potential readers to your story and convince them that they have to read it. This exercise will help you home in on the best parts of your story because they’re what’s going to sell your book. 

2. Put together a school visit presentation. Sometimes picturing the kids who will read your book is the spark of inspiration that will get the words flowing again. Think about how you will talk to kids about your story and about the writing process. What will be important or interesting to them? How can you incorporate those things into the manuscript itself?

3. Write a query letter. The first person you’ll market your book to is an agent. Take some time to consider what an agent might be looking for and how your story will fit into the market as a whole.

4. Write a synopsis. You’ll get back to writing right away, if you try this one. Synopses are so hard they make writing a novel look easy. You have to take your entire plot—including the ending—and distill it to a few hundred words. But, if you can do it—and you’ll have to at some point anyway—you’ll have a bird’s eye view of your entire manuscript that will give you a better sense of how it holds together as a complete work.

5. Read your novel like a reader, not a writer. Take whatever you have written so far and read it in your Kindle app. It’ll be like reading a published book, and you won’t be able to edit anything. The exercise will give you a better appreciation for your story as it stands and inspiration for how to make it better.

6. Lower your standards. Sure, you want to write 1,000 words a day, but aren’t 500 words better than 0? Okay, so the prose isn’t exactly golden. Maybe it’s florid. Or so spare as to be incomprehensible. It’s written, isn’t it? Fix it later.

Have you ever tried any of these techniques? How did they work? What other tricks work for you when your writing comes to a screeching halt? 

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