7 Playful Techniques to Shatter Your Writer’s Block

by Guest Blogger | 106 comments

Cherryl Chow is a writer who specializes in health, fitness, lifestyle topics, and Japanese cultural issues. She is the co-author of “Hypoglycemia for Dummies” and “The Encyclopedia of Hepatitis C and Other Liver Diseases.” Cherryl has translated numerous books from Japanese to English and is currently working on a YA sci-fi novel with her husband. Click here to get a free copy of “The Writer's Flexible Morning Ritual.”

You’re cognitively constipated.

You want to write, but you’re all dried up.

You want to write, but the words don’t come.

You want to write, but you're utterly blocked.

Writer's block can occur because you let self-criticism obstruct the easy flow of thoughts from your brain to your writing fingers. It’s akin to hardening of the arteries.

writer's block

I’ve been there too. I should get an award for trying all sorts of methods, from the ridiculous to the sublime, to stimulate creativity, none of which worked. Writing prompts only underscored my inadequacies; free writing meant I freely wrote endless loops of inanities. Physical exercise invigorated me but didn’t translate into an improved flow of ideas. Alcohol had the opposite effect: it put me to sleep. And therapy merely enabled my therapist to pay off her mortgage. I’m sure all of them did me some good, but at the end of the day, I still couldn’t write.

Ultimately, I got my creative juices pumping by trying out a collage of activities that were fun and frivolous.

They helped me generate ideas (tons of them) that I could toss around and play with, enough that I could have the luxury of using only the best. These activities also loosened me up. They silenced the rational, analytical side of me that shredded anything I tried to write. They effectively scraped off the gunk of self-criticism and allowed creativity to once again flow through my veins.

7 Playful Techniques to Shatter Your Writer's Block

Without further ado, let's review seven techniques that will refresh, rejuvenate, and ignite your brain. You’re free to modify, mix, and match to suit your needs. I only ask that you give yourself the freedom to play, no matter where, when, or how the spirit moves you.

1. Get a brain transplant

I don’t mean that literally. Just pretend you’re one of the characters from your short story or novel. Or, pick a character from a movie or a book other than your own. You’re going to see things through that character’s eyes. I put myself in the skin of Torin, a teenage cyborg boy from a dystopian future, to get to know him better.

You can start by scrutinizing everything at home, but I urge you to go out if you have the time. In my case, I try to see, hear, and touch everything from Torin’s point of view.

For variation, you can have your character become your imaginary friend du jour and have a (silent) running conversation as you point things out to your friend.

2. Confess your sins

For this, it’s best if you can go somewhere with trees. A forest would be ideal. When you arrive, smell the air, and feel its essence. In Japan, immersing yourself in woodlands is called forest bathing (Shinrin Yoku). It’s a venerated, self-restorative practice. It’ll clear your mind and open it up to fresh ideas.

Now, let your character lead you to a tree, and place his hands on its trunk. When he feels ready, have him confess his deepest, darkest secret to the tree. Let him throw himself on the knotty mercy of bark. Record the confession, or write it down.

Why talk to a tree? It’s another way to mute that critical voice. Besides, trees don’t judge; and there’s something calming about them.

If this is all too “woo,” just interview your character, no props required. But that’s not nearly as fun or as effective.

3. Become a shameless snoop

Go to a public place where you can eavesdrop on people unobserved. Take notes. Depending on circumstances, you may struggle to listen in on just one conversation. In that case, write down snippets of whatever you hear from different groups of people and stitch them together. Then use what you’ve heard as a springboard to write whatever you fancy. Maybe a love story, an alien abduction, or the next scene in your novel.

4. Take an aural Rorschach

Find a song in a foreign language that you are totally unfamiliar with. Download it, or borrow a CD from the library. Sit somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Scribble down what the words sound like to you. Free-associate. Turn the result into a story or a poem. To illustrate, here’s an excerpt of a poem I came up with:

Plight of the Constant Piglet

Hey, Jimmie! Speak piglet, do you?
No, just a little German, Mein Kampf.
I hate to be gauche but do you realize that your
Companion is a piglet with a papier toupee?
Hey, what do you take me for, an idiot savant?

Utter nonsense, as you can tell. And that’s the beauty of it.

5. Dive for treasure

Go to a store, any store, that your character feels drawn to, and pick out an object. While pretending to be your character, describe the item with your eyes closed. Feel it all over. Get all the tactile sensations you can. Try rapping it with your fingers or knocking on it to hear the sounds it makes. Lick it if possible. Finally, open your eyes and examine the object. Describe it using all your senses, and then turn it into a story or a poem. Or fit it into a story you’re currently working on. In what way might it play a significant role? If you don’t want to buy anything, go through the stuff in your home, and pick something that appeals to your character.

6. Prognosticate the future

Get out some crayons, colored pencils, markers, or watercolors—whatever you have. Tapping into the visual centers of your brain helps spark your creativity. Draw or paint: stick figures, abstractions, whatever works—to illustrate the kind of life you think your character will be living 10, 20, or 30 years beyond the end of the story you’re writing. Or draw the next scene in your story.

7. Hopscotch through alternate realities

Write out 50 endings or openings for your story. Try radically different plot lines or slight variations. It’ll get you nice and tired. That’s when your brain is most likely to catch fire (figuratively, I hasten to point out). That’s when you’re most likely to let loose with brilliant ideas. So just give yourself a little nudge, and keep going.

Open sesame!

Whenever you feel stale, stagnant, world-weary, and dreary, try one or two of the above techniques, or try them all. Think they’re odd? Skeptical that they’ll work? Consider what Carl Sagan said: “It is the tension between creativity and skepticism that has produced the stunning and unexpected.”

So. Write fast. Write loose. Open your creative floodgates. Go!

Do you have any techniques that help shatter your writer’s block? Let us know in the comments.


Play with one or more of the seven techniques. Take fifteen minutes, and write down the results. Post your results in the comments, and leave feedback on a few practices by other writers.

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  1. Scott L. Sind

    Great post Cherryl!! I’ve certainly tried my share of tricks to snap out of writer’s block. I really like #3 (shamelessly lol), and I try to snoop on conversations whenever I can. I’ve even written stories based on snippets I’ve overheard at coffee shops..so it works!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Scott! It’s great to be “shameless,” lol. Snooping on conversations is a great habit for writers. I do that all the time. That’s great that you’ve written stories based on snippets you’ve overheard.

    • 709writer

      And it’s so much fun to snoop! 😀 You hear different dialects, different ways of wording sentences – it’s great! Thanks for the article. : )

  2. Writers Incubator

    Extremely insightful suggestions from a brilliant writer.

    We will all be better writers if we are able to make it around the layers that come between who we really are and our pens and keyboards. Cherryl has given us 7 techniques for doing that. Just thinking them over begins the process. Very well done, Cherrl. Thank you.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks so much for commenting. I agree completely about getting through the layers that come between who you are and the keyboard (or pen). We all have it in us to access that deeper self.

    • 709writer

      Agreed – often the only thing standing in the way of us and writing is ourselves.

  3. Katherine Rebekah

    Oh, the tree one is definitely cool. I’m going to use that.

    I’ve interviewed my characters several times, however, I’ve never tried pretending I am them. That’s a great idea, especially since I enjoy acting.

    Great tips! Sounds like some wonderful ways to get the creativity flowing.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Katherine! If you enjoy acting, pretending to be your characters should work great for you! It’s a lot of fun.

  4. Ellie

    Awesome tips, really excited to try #2. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Ellie! Would love to hear what results you get.

  5. Jessica Blanchard

    Fantastic post! I especially love #2. Being around trees, especially very old ones, is magical. New Orleans is full of mystical oak trees that are great listeners:)

    • Cherryl Chow

      That’s fantastic that you’re in an area with lots of mystical oak trees! I have to go out of my way to find a good tree. 🙂

  6. Jessica Glendinning

    Fantastic post – these are some really fun ideas to try the next time my brain seems stuck in neutral!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Yes, absolutely! Thanks for reading and commenting, Jessica!

  7. James Wright

    Wonderful article. I’ll have to try one or two of these next time I’m blocked.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, James! Actually, these ideas work even if you’re not blocked. Just some ways to generate new ideas.

  8. Alyssa H.

    What wonderful ideas! I especially liked #4 and #5. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thank you, Alyssa! Love finding out which techniques people like the best.

  9. Maria Mazzenga

    Cherryl, I love this boutique of suggestions for overcoming writer’s block. Sometimes, for me, the block is caused by a logjam of too many choices for a character, a setting, or even a name. The variety here is useful, I like the brain transplant, as getting into the character’s head (or vice versa:) is a great way to get out of that jam. Never heard of the aural Rorschach, I am going to have to try that one just for the fun of it.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Maria, thanks for reading and commenting! I agree, too many choices can get really confusing. One thing I try is to take deep breaths, clear my mind, and see what thoughts pop up. Sometimes that helps. You definitely should try the aural Rorschach, bet you’ll come up with real gems!

  10. Karen

    Very fun ideas! For many reasons, I find a brain transplant especially appealing. Thanks so much for the excellent, original, creative tips.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Karen, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Me too, sometimes I feel like I could use a brain transplant. But really, you should try getting into your character’s head. It’s a lot of fun!

  11. wendypearson777

    Cherryl, I just loved this guest post. Such great suggestions! I won’t try the tree hugging suggestion in the dead of winter though. 🙂 My favourite one is #3. I confess I do this all the time. I always find listening to conversations in Starbucks, malls, the movies, restaurants or anywhere else, most fascinating. They stimulate me to write much better, authentic dialogue. An area, I try to improve in all the time. Love all your suggestions and will read this blog more than once, and practice your suggestions, when and if writer’s block strikes me. Hopefully never! Thank you for this.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Wendy, thanks so much! I’m glad you like the techniques. No, I guess tree hugging in the dead of winter isn’t the greatest. Unless of course, your story setting is somewhere really cold. 🙂 I think being a snoop appeals to a lot of writers. It’s a great way to generate story ideas. And please, don’t wait for writer’s block to strike to try out these suggestions. They’re great at generating new ideas at any time!

    • Helene

      I’m taking my small writing group out to breakfast on the 8th of Feb. So we can all listen in to other conversations.

  12. Helen

    Congratulations, Cheryl! This is wonderful! Love love it! Keep your posts coming!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Helen! Hope you can use some of the ideas.

  13. Margherita Crystal Lotus

    Dear Cherryl, a remarkable and engaging article. I now know why I go out and hang out with trees, rather than being with noisy crowds. Your brilliance shines through your words. Blessings forever….

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Margherita! Yes, hanging out with trees is great for your creativity. If you try out any of the techniques, please post them here, would love to read them.

    • Margherita Crystal Lotus

      Yes, for sure Cherryl, I am already visualizing my coloured pencils mind map to get out of my goofy mind today.

  14. LaCresha Lawson

    I would love to go to Japan again, and this time, not for a layover in Narita where I had to sit in the airport.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Japan is great! Even better if you can have fun with some of the ideas from the post. Will add another dimension altogether. 🙂

    • LaCresha Lawson

      Oh, absolutely! Thank you! ☺☺

  15. Victoria Buck

    This post was quite refreshing and made me smile. I have tried the brain transplant before, but not in a while. I think it is what I need now. #2 also sounds promising. Everything in your post was truly delightful. Thank you so much!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thank you for your kind comments, Victoria! Much appreciate it. If you can spare one day or even half a day to try out all these techniques for one story, you’ll generate a lot of ideas. It’s really fun to try!

  16. Terri

    Cherryl, wonderful article and well written. Lots of good suggestions. Best to you always.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks very much, Terri! Appreciate your reading and commenting. Hope you got some good value.

  17. Helene

    Cherryl, loved the whole article. Loved three, five and seven. No trees around here, but would love to try that one. A really terrific article, one that could help all of us writers. Thanks for posting. I am sharing with my small writing group.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Helene, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Love knowing which ideas in particular people like. Hope you can find a tree somewhere soon. Thanks for sharing with your writing group.

    • Helene

      Will let you know how it goes next Monday when my group meets again.

  18. 709writer

    Julia skated up the sidewalk, weaving through the crowds with ease. The sky
    was a soft purplish pink in the late afternoon. She smiled. If she could reach
    the plaza fountain before dark, she could find a good spot to watch the

    Her fingers reached up to touch the raspberry blue star pendant that hung
    around her neck. She remembered the tears shining in Louise’s eyes when she’d
    presented it to Julia for her birthday.

    “It’s beautiful – it’s special, just like you,” her sister had said.

    Julia closed her fist around the pendant.

    She darted around a group of children on the sidewalk and pivoted to follow
    the riverwalk to the plaza fountain.

    She collided with a man. Losing her footing on her skates, she grabbed hold
    of the man’s jacket to steady herself and he pitched forward, down on top of

    A scream burst from her throat as his weight pinned her to the ground. A
    flashback of Sean holding her down flickered in her mind.

    She pushed out her hands, hurling the pedestrian off her with psychic

    “Sorry,” the man said, and he held out his hand to her.

    Julia scrambled to her feet, regained her balance, and shot off in the
    opposite direction. Vomit lurched into her throat. Black dots peppered her
    vision, obscuring the sidewalk in front of her.

    Sean’s voice growled in her mind as he pushed her to the floor, all those
    months ago. “Don’t make one sound.”

    She blocked it out and shut her eyes.

    A horn blared. Her eyes flew open – a city bus was zooming straight for her,
    it’s brakes squealing. Julia lunged across the street and reached the opposite
    sidewalk just as the bus flew by.

    Putting a hand to her hammering heart, Julia ducked inside the candle shop,
    where the soft scent of lavender, vanilla, and apple spice enveloped her. A
    wood-burning stove carried tiny sparks into the air in the far corner of the
    room. Other shoppers perused the short aisles of candles on display.

    She still trembled. How could she forget what he had done? How could she
    erase those memories?

    “Are you okay, sweetie?” a female voice asked behind her.

    Julia spun around, fighting to control her shaking. “I’m fine.
    Just…” She swallowed and glanced over her shoulder at the shop door.
    “A car almost hit me.”

    The woman, who was probably in her mid-thirties, smiled, dusted off her
    green apron, and put an arm around Julia in a brief hug. “There, there,
    dear,” she said, then looked Julia up and down. “My, you’re young to
    be out and about during the festival alone. Why don’t you come sit by the fire
    for a little while.” She indicated the wood-burning stove where two other
    women sat.

    With one last look toward the shop door, Julia relaxed a little and let the
    woman lead her away.

    If anyone has feedback/suggestions, I’d love to hear it! Thanks! : )

    • Cherryl Chow

      This is really good! I couldn’t stop reading. I was disappointed when the story ended. Obviously, it’s meant to continue. If you do ever finish it, perhaps you can post it here? Love the colors you describe, and the smells. You’ve added wonderful sensory details. Good, active verbs. I like the mention of Sean and hints of what he’d done to her. When Julia collides with the man on the skate rink, I kind of expect the man to be irate instead of apologetic. After all, he toppled over because she grabbed onto his jacket. Unless of course, it was his fault that they collided and he knows it. One thing that wasn’t clear to me either was when she was on skates and when she was on foot. Seems that one minute she’s wearing skates, then the next she’s not? I was a bit confused about that point. But these are all minor considerations that can be easily fixed. You have the beginning of a fascinating story, with a character I’m already interested in and rooting for. The story flows well, and you’ve more than piqued this reader’s interest.

    • 709writer

      Aww thank you for the positive feedback! And yes when I looked at that part I do see it’s unclear if she was still on her skates or not…thanks for pointing that out, it was a bit confusing. And I will definitely post more! Thanks again! : )

    • Adam Hughes

      I like the color and “scents” of your story, two powerful tools that are often neglected. Smell is such a potent memory-inducer in real life that the right ones can instantly change your mood, and Julia seems to get a dose of that treatment when happens into the candle shop. I want to know if she makes it to the fountain on time, though! Or does she spend the night by the stove? Hmmmm …

    • 709writer

      Thank you so much! I appreciate the positive feedback! : )

    • Cathy Ryan

      I like the way you use activity in this. Julia is moving constantly, not just sitting and remembering. The setting emerges around Julia’s movements, the children, the traffic, the man in his jacket, the small shop with its wood-burning stove. Along the way she bumps into a man, nearly gets hit by a bus as she remembers what happened in the past. I wonder if she still intends to watch fireworks, or is too rattled now to continue, but I hope I remember how you use her movement to promote the story. Nice technique. Thanks!

  19. Pravin Raghuvanshi

    No trees! No problems, resplendent nature will always be there…do ‘nature-basking’, it never fails to amaze you! Another creation of God: Animals… pure unsullied love…engage yourself…fountains of ideas would emerge…

    • Cherryl Chow

      You’re totally right, Pravin! You can tap into fountains of ideas even without trees. There are other forms of nature. Animals, as you’ve mentioned. I get lots of ideas from my cats. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Beth Schmelzer

      1. My MC is my imaginary friend, but I need to explore our relationship more. Thanks for the permission to be with her.
      2. I plan to confess to a shell since I am in FL on a beach.
      3. Snooping at restaurants and stores is so embarrassing for my husband!
      5. Going to the $1.00 store to relate to my MC! What would Jeremy like and buy?!
      7. I have thought about many beginnings and would love to try many endings. Where does this advice fit with “do not revise, just keep writing that first draft”??
      Love your humor and great writing. I hope TWP paid you for your great post, Cherryl!

  20. Adam Hughes

    I love these ideas, Cherryl. Thank you for the article!

    And here is my character Dan’s confession to a tree (although an imaginary one — not going out into the winter night):

    When Troy was a baby, it didn’t occur to me what my condition would mean for us as he grew older.

    Having a Dad who is conscious only three months out of the year is tough for any kid, but especially for a young boy who wants to be a baseball star. At least we had the Spring together and could enjoy Opening Day.

    What’s really been tough for Troy is watching the man in his mirror get older as his father seemingly stands still. Troy is 20 now, the same age I was when he was born, but I’ve barely aged.

    In fact, the doctors tell me that I am, biologically, 25 years old.

    People think we’re brothers, and the girls that Troy likes are always batting their eyes at me.

    I quickly point out that Troy is my son and try to redirect their advances toward him, but the truth is that I enjoy the attention.

    And I savor the fact that, in another 20 years when I’m 60, I’ll look, maybe, 30.

    By then, Troy will be 40, and if he’s not bitter now, he will be when his hairline starts receding and his midsection softens even as I maintain my prime.

    I love my son, but deep down, I’m happy to have found my own fountain of youth. It’s a dark secret I’ll take to my grave — if I ever get there.

    • Cherryl Chow

      You’ve really got me intrigued, Adam! Why is Dan not aging? And why is he conscious only three months out of the year? You definitely know how to hook your readers! Are you going to continue with this story? I hope you will! Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Adam Hughes

      Thanks for your comments, Cherry. I do plan to finish this story, so Dan’s secret will make its way out into the world before too long.

    • Cherryl Chow

      That’s great, Adam! Hope I get to read it.

    • Cathy Ryan

      Hi Adam,
      Niiiiice! I like the father’s confession. So honest! I wonder about his condition and if in the long run he will grow tired of grieving the loss of his wife and child and other dear ones as he ages so much slower. There must be a down side too? And see? I’m intrigued by your character. Nicely done.

  21. John Hartsell

    Great post, Cherryl! Great enjoyable ideas, very well expressed. Love the whimsy and the playfulness. Looking forward to trying all of them in turn. Hmm, where to start? Trees, I think! And definitely #3 whenever I’m out and about. Thanks for a terrific article!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, John, appreciate your comments. I hope you will try out the techniques. If you do, please post them here.

  22. DiyaSaini

    Cherryl… I loved your post. It was not, run on the mill kinds. You made me look at things in a new way. My words, may fall short in your appreciation.
    I have tried one of your pointers, by listening through alienated music for creating my piece of art.
    A small poem…

    Viola Viola look out for me…
    Fire Fire don’t call out to me…
    Why can’t, we still be together ?
    There can always be a beginning
    Viola Viola….

    Viola Viola going on, without me…
    Seeing through my heart
    Why can’t you still love me…?
    Viola Viola…

    Viola Viola love me…
    I’m more than an illusion
    Tell me, why can’t we be one…?
    Viola Viola…

    • Cherryl Chow

      Hi, Diya, wonderful that you were able to try out the aural Rorschach! Nice poem. The opening lines are quite catchy. Good rhythm to them. I like the refrains too. “I’m more than an illusion” really piques my curiosity. Good job!

  23. Linda Coussement

    Love these unique tips! Especially the ‘snooping’ one…it’s a guilty pleasure of mine anyway and I love the idea of turning it into something productive 🙂

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Linda! From now on, I’ll have to be more careful what I say in public since I know there are people like me out there snooping. 🙂 It is so much fun, though, to spin it into a story.

  24. rosie

    I know it’s a weird thing to say, but I don’t often get writer’s block. When I get stuck, I just try to remind myself of why I’m a writer in the first place: Harry Potter completely toppled my world upside down when I was nine. I always loved stories, but from then on I knew that writing was my “Thing.”
    So if you can channel that feeling of awe (nine year olds have an amazing capacity for that) then writing becomes a breeze.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Hi, Rosie, it’s not weird at all! Some people never get writer’s block. When I interviewed a bestselling writer Bonnie Hearn Hill, she told me that she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. That it’s almost always some sort of fear. The techniques I mentioned will help dissipate any fear.
      I love Harry Potter too, and love your suggestion about channeling the feeling of awe. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  25. Camilla Hallstrom

    Great tips in here! I find it sooo helpful to list different headlines (I mainly do non-fiction writing). That really helps connect the dots and get started.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks for sharing, Camilla! Writing headlines and subheads is a great way to generate some writing.

  26. sherpeace

    Great ideas! Here’s to keepin’ on keepin’ on! Writing that is, though I must admit, I am in a slump now. I know what I want to happen. I just need to get writing, knowing that in the process, I will figure out how to have so much happen in such a short time period.
    Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:

  27. Mike Harrington

    Shameless snoop. Never thought of putting that in my arsenal…but im gonna do it today!

    Let’s see how it goes…and hope i dont get punched out in the process. 😉

    • Cherryl Chow

      Mike, thanks for commenting. If you’re discreet, they’ll never catch you. 🙂 I always pretend to be deeply involved in something else. Sometimes I’m typing right into my laptop or my smartphone.

  28. Ann Davis

    Cherryl, Thank you, number one is magical…I tried it and the writers block is history.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Fabulous, Ann! So glad to hear that. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  29. Nicki Lee

    Love these ideas, Cherryl! I’m especially drawn to 1 and 3. Looking forward to kissing writer’s block good-bye!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks for telling me which ones you’re most drawn to, Nicki. Hope they help!

  30. Helen McCarthy

    I love these tips Cherryl. Seems quite a number of us particularly like the idea of being shameless snoops! Reminds me of a friend who was eavesdropping on a couple on their first date. She was so indiscreet (inching her chair closer and closer) that eventually the couple invited her to join them! Ha. True story.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Oh my goodness, Helen, what a story! That is wild! Hey, you could write a story about that! You’re right that many people seem to be drawn to being a shameless snoop. I really better be careful what I share with my friends in public. 🙂

  31. Ann Schwarz

    Hi, Cherryl. Love this guest post. The visual one is one I’ve done before and it is helpful. Taking time to color in an adult coloring book or something like that can be meditative and help you free up your subconscious for ideas for story when you get stuck too. –Ann Schwarz

    • Cherryl Chow

      Hi, Ann, thank you so much! Really appreciate your letting me know. Great idea about coloring in an adult coloring book. There’s certainly a wide variety of coloring books available to adults now.

  32. Margherita Crystal Lotus

    Yahmen! for this Cherryl, reading it again gave me hope for my own writing. Especially the “Hopscotch through alternate realities.” I will try it out. 50 openings and endings. Consider it my contribution to you… will report in when it’s done. Well done!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Margherita! I’m so happy to hear that this article has helped you. That’s wonderful. I’d LOVE to hear how the 50 openings and endings work out for you. Even if you can’t do 50, try 10.

  33. Gary G Little

    I have used number 1, and it worked quite well. I had a female protagonist that just simply would not cooperate at all. So, I plopped her into the body of a male masseuse named Conan. Body of a Schwarzenegger, but gentle as a lamb. It worked, and she quite fighting me … actually, I quit fighting her character in the target story. I can provide links to the two stories in question, but I will not clutter you post.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Hi, Gary, thanks for dropping by and commenting! So number 1 works for you? You have quite a gender re-assignment going on there. 🙂 I love hearing about the relationships writers have with their characters. If you like, you can provide a link to one story, and I’ll comment when I can.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Gary! I replied over at the forum. I’m copying it here too just in case:

      I fun story with a great little twist. I take it it’s his first massage experience.
      Just a minor quibble: Wouldn’t he already know who his massage therapist was? They normally ask you who you want. Even if you don’t know who they are, you can at least specify gender–if that’s important to you.
      Maybe Barny wanted a surprise, or maybe he told the front desk to send their best massage therapist, hoping it just might be the blonde.
      I like how you came up with a neat little story just from a prompt.
      Hmmm, I can see this story moving onto unexpected places….

    • Gary G Little

      Well, looks like I need to follow my own rule: if the story doesn’t do the explaining then the writer didn’t tell the story. I’ll have to fix that. The intent was for Barny’s friends to “arrange things”.

  34. Ruthanne Reid

    The trees kept secrets, but not the secret that they held them. The hushed, constant susurrus teased at secrets, hinted at long-lost stories told by those long forgotten in the world, gently mocked any who’d try to hear those words.

    This was good. He didn’t want anyone to know his secret by accident. No, when this confession came, it would be on purpose, and it would be loud.

    But for now, he’d practice with trees.

    “I am sorry,” he whispered, hand on the rough, thick bark, head bowed as if humble before these arboreal giants. “I should never have touched her. I should have told her no. Ah,” he added, shaking his head. “But even that would be taking away her agency.

    “There was no right choice, was there? Perhaps I can admit it. Perhaps.”

    His sigh echoed the breeze in the leaves, a smaller, younger version of exhaled patience. “There was no right choice. I have done what I could; and now, now, now, to repair what remains, I will have to pay… everything.”

    He hadn’t admitted it before. Relief and sorrow swept in, equally drowning.

    “This will cost me my life.” He looked up toward the leaves, toward the glints of sunlight dancing along their sharp edges, toward the chiaroscuro of shadows and sunshine.

    He was weary, this he knew; it had been a long life, this he knew. He’d never been afraid of death, or at least not in many years. But now, suddenly faced with it… no, being faced with taking that path *by choice* instead of as a result of some bold measure, old and forgotten fear shivered its way into his veins.

    He was going to die. At long last, finally, he was going to die.

    The smile that quirked the corners of his mouth was resigned; sad; contented. His children would be pleased; he hadn’t forgotten how to feel, after all.

    “It will be done.” Was it a vow, or merely a confession? “It must be done. And even if she resists – still resists, hates me, refuses to forgive me – even then, I will do what must be done.”

    As he left, the trees whispered softly. Secrets passed from leaf to leaf, mingling like salt in the sea, and only the wind could hear them.

    • Cathy Ryan

      oh ho! This is lovely! Passionate — I feel the anguish! Well done.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thank you, Cathy, appreciate it!

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Awesome, Cathy! Thanks!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Oh my goodness, Ruthanne, this is breathtaking! I’m not surprised because you’re such a good writer. But I loved, loved, loved, what you’ve done here. You grabbed my attention and pulled me along, right to the end. I like”The hushed, constant susurrus teased at secrets…” Beautiful sentence. Also liked “…toward the glints of sunlight dancing along their sharp edges, toward the chiaroscuro of shadows and sunshine.”
      I was a bit confused — though definitely intrigued — by the first sentence. It’s probably just me, though. I need a brain transplant. An actual one.
      I am so, so, so curious as to what the secret is, and what he thinks he did that he thinks she can’t forgive. And why is he dying?
      Maybe you can write more?
      At any rate, this is really superb.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Aww, thank you!!! There is more being written, I promise! 🙂 This is actually connected to Notte! 🙂 🙂 Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write it out.

    • Beth Schmelzer

      Perfectly sensual, sensory and sensorous as only a professional writer as you can write, Ruthanne. My favorite part relates to your punctuation (which I always notice):
      “Ah,” he added, shaking his head. “But even that would be taking away her agency.

      “There was no right choice, was there? Perhaps I can admit it. Perhaps.”
      I have never seen such a construction that works so well and makes me think and want to read on. Thank you for sharing your writing that teaches us all how it can be done!

  35. Ray Boreham

    Hey, Cherryl,

    As a professional writer’s block sufferer, thank you for saving my bacon! These are great ideas for pros like me and amateurs alike, and I plan on putting these to good use. One thing, though, what is a Rorschach, aural or otherwise? I looked it up and it says something about an inkblot test used to record subjects’ thoughts. So, this is some type of free association exercise?

    Great job, and thanks again.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Hi, Ray, I really appreciate your reading and commenting. I’m glad that the article helped you. That’s what I want to do.
      Rorschach test is one that psychologists give to people. It’s an inkblot test — visual, not aural. Yes, it’s a free association exercise. So what I did was to use that concept, but instead of visual, you do aural free association. 🙂

  36. Cathy Ryan

    Hi Cheryl,
    Great tricks for freeing the mind. Instead of a tree, I use my cat – or , more likely, she uses me.

    The cat purrs only when I pet her with both hands. She lies
    upon my work, inserting herself, demanding affection. He entered the barn.
    Dark, cool shade. Smell of grass, dried, and manure, yes, but not acrid and
    painful. More mellow, ancient and earthy. Remember, he has an unusually keen
    sense of smell. She purrs, blessing the work. Her whiskers stiff and demanding.
    Rub and rub, both hands, no cheating. An old building. How is the “old”
    perceived? Old, is grey weathered board with just traces of white paint
    remaining. (Argh! The new keyboard. I keep hitting the insert key instead of
    delete; = instead of backspace.) The tin roof is streaked with rust. Cobwebs
    and dust are thick. Old bedding is thick and soft underfoot and devoid of any
    fragrance – long since wafted away on cold drafts. Plink, plink. At the far end
    of the long shed is a stone trough, A faucet drips. Half the trough is inside
    the shed, and half outside in the lot. Dirt has washed away, exposing the
    foundation stones below the siding. Can the sheep still reach the cool water
    drip dripping, trickling over the side of the trough outside, green moss
    marking the track of the overflow? Inside again, in the rafters the flutter of
    bird wings, a whistle and slap of feathers. A dove, a pair. Do they have a
    nest? How did they come inside with the doors closed? Ah, there, along the side
    above the feed trough, a row of windows and the glass gone from one. The
    windows are filthy with dust and cobwebs. Only through the empty pane comes
    blue sky and bird’s wings. On the other side a dark window opens into the loft,
    but no ladder leads to it from this room. This is not the barn really, but a
    shed along one side. He sees it now, understands it. The shed has only one
    wall, the long one with the windows. Each end is a sliding door that sways and
    slides on overhead tracks. Ha, the purring has stopped. Pet the cat. Keep her
    purring pouring words like magic through the keys.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Love this, Cathy! I love anything with cats. 🙂 But this is fabulous, thank you for sharing! That’s funny that you use your cat. I do too! Much more accessible for me than a tree. My cat just smirks and gives me a disdainful look.
      Great description; good details. I can see and smell the barn.
      One thing I didn’t quite understand was the reference to “he.” The narrator is “I.” The cat is a she. Is this another cat?
      Love your last line, “Keep her purring, pouring words like magic through the keys.”

  37. Beth Schmelzer

    I cannot wait for morning, Cherryl. Thanks for thinking of us and sharing your great advice. Want to share the advice I found on a writer’s blog today. Hope you all love it, too!

    “I prefer to think of [a writing routine] as rhythm rather than discipline. Discipline calls to mind a taskmaster, perhaps wielding a whip…Rhythm, however, is a gentle aligning, a comforting pattern in our day that we know sets us up ideally for our work.” Dani Shapiro, STILL WRITING. (Thank you to Erika Robuck for sharing this title on her blog Muse! Feb. 2016)

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thanks, Beth, appreciate your sharing the great advice! I LOVE it! There’s something beautiful and really writerly about thinking of a writing routine as rhythm. Discipline, by contrast, sounds nasty! 🙂

  38. Patrick

    Hi Cheryl,
    I love your idea about using “Playful Techniques”. I think that’s a problem that many of us share of feeling that we have to write something profound or meaningful before we’re ready to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Thanks for sharing your secrets.

    • Cherryl Chow

      Hi, Patrick. You’re most welcome. Hope you can use some of these techniques. Thank you so very much for stopping by and reading. Appreciate your time.

  39. Rachel Haverkos

    What a well crafted post, Cherryl! Powerful images; I especially like to think of the “gunk of self criticism” being removed while feeling “creativity flow through my veins!” My favorite idea is #4; look forward to trying it! Thanks for giving me hope that I’ll get through my next “blank page breakdown.”

    • Cherryl Chow

      Rachel, I’m so glad that you found the article helpful. I love #4 too! I’d love to see what you come up with. Really appreciate you taking the time to read and to comment.

  40. Beth Schmelzer

    Cherryl: I have never seen a blogger or a guest writer on TWP or Disqus who answered so many comments. You are a special writer who is encouraging to all in the writing community. Love your humor and insights.
    Just read a fun post on FB this week to share. We are encouraged to read like a writer. Try this challenge of 12 books to select for this year (or 2015 if you have already feel challenged). Read a book published this year; find a book you can finish in a day; what’s a book you’ve been meaning to read?; choose a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller; Where’s that book you should have read in school?; accept a book chosen for you by a spouse, child, sibling, or BFF; discover a book written before you were born; didn’t you always want to read a book that was banned?; finish or restart a book you once abandoned; I’ll bet you own a book you have never read but you wanted to read it…;read a book that intimidates you; and lastly re-read a title you have already read at least once. I rewrote this list to avoid the repetition of the demands of this challenge: as in “read a” this, “read a” that!. It was a good exercise for my writing practice today.
    I would be interested to hear what choices your readers make from this challenge. My challenges for a newly published book include Ruth Varner’s soon-to-be-published book, Libby Fischer Hellmann’s latest thriller “Jump Cut”, and Scrivener Superpowers, all books I read in ARC. Enjoy your reading in 2016!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Beth, thank you so much for commenting here! Appreciate your taking the time out, especially with such a fun challenge.

      Anyway, I’m sooo sorry for this delay in responding! Especially after commending me for answering so many comments. The truth is that I was away for a while and had little to no wifi. Anyway, I am back and will be responding to anyone else who comments.

      I LOVE the challenge you propose! Thank you for the title recommendations. I might check them out. I already have a slew of library books checked out. In fact, I’m re-reading one of them in order to read as a writer.

  41. Lusea Lu

    Cherryl, your writing is a gem! I’ve seen a lot of great writers …but you…are definitely one of those authors that I’ll be following. I love reading your article: smooth, clear, concise, insightful, witty but also very practical. You give some great tips that I’ve never thought about! Can’t wait for your next blog!

    • Cherryl Chow

      Thank you so much, Lusea! I’m happy to hear that you’ll be able to use some of my tips. Love to see what you do with them.

  42. Tom Southern

    Love the idea of playing hopscotch through alternate realities and will give it a go. Thank-you Cherryl.



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