Every writer fears it: WRITER’S BLOCK. The words alone are enough to make even the most stalwart of writers shudder and clutch their laptop closer. And if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, even a mild case of writer’s block can be deadly.
Our favourite quote about writer’s block is from John Rogers: ‘You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block’. Here are five exercises to help you do just that. They may not make it into your final version but they will give you more insight into your main character (or characters) and help you move past a stubborn block.
NaNoWriMoers, you can easily adapt the suggestions below to suit your narrator if you want to incorporate the exercise into your novel. Don’t worry about making it a seamless fit—this is what first drafts are all about: exploration!
- Let your main character make a list of things they like and dislike. Remember the opening of the movie Amélie, where the narrator introduces us to the quirky things Amélie and her parents like? This can be such a fun way to get to know a character better. Make the list super specific and unique to your character and spend some time on the details. Take a look at the opening of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for a great literary example.
- Take a ‘snapshot’ of your main character before or after a critical moment in your story. You can start with ‘This is me, just before/just after…’ to get yourself rolling. Let your character describe not only what they look like but also how they feel about themselves and their place in the world as if they were describing another character—with curiosity, compassion and a passing stab at objectivity.
- Write a flashback scene where your character has a first. You can start with ‘When I first learned to…’ or ‘The first time I…’. If you have a relationship at the heart of your story, consider writing about the first time your couple met.
- Send your character on a walk around their neighbourhood. Let them observe, describe and comment. You can think of it like they are giving the reader a tour—pointing out spots with personal significance (‘That’s where I…’) and (as with suggestion #1) people, animals, things they like or dislike. Let them interact with other characters they encounter.
- Give them a mundane but revealing task—like grocery shopping. Do they shop at the organic co-op or a big box store? Are they filling their cart with fresh fruits and veggies or cheese puffs? Put a little pressure on your character—make the store crowded, the staff rude and make sure they can’t find some key item on the shopping list. Or send your character to the mall for a new outfit or some other item they’re suddenly in urgent need of. Again let them observe, describe and comment on what they see and experience.
The important thing is to keep writing and without judgement—it’s only an exercise remember. Once you take the pressure off yourself and just focus on your characters, you’re fingers will be flying again in no time.